Abby Martin stood at the giant iron doors, waiting to see the children of the Guatemalan orphanage. The prison-like surroundings was not what this 17-year-old expected to see. Barbed wire lined the top of the concrete walls, and iron bars decorated the windows.
Abby and nine other interns with Buckner Orphan Care International, an organization that focuses on the restoration and care of orphans around the world, rang the doorbell and waited for the locks to open. The dark place gave its first signs of life as the pitter-patter of little feet was heard from behind the iron barricade, and children's voices proclaimed with excitement, "The Americans are here!"
These ten young women had come to serve. They arrived July 1, and weren't leaving until their four-week stint had ended. Their task—to work with church groups that came each week to teach Vacation Bible School. They made crafts, read books, told stories … anything they could do to be involved with the children.
Abby, who learned of the internship through her father Doug, director of FamilyLife's Hope for Orphans ministry, would visit three orphanages during her month-long stay, meeting many children. But the one that had the greatest influence on her was 12-year-old Louisa. "We connected right away," Abby says. "And for as long as we stayed there, I was never without her. She was attached to me." Literally. Louisa hugged, touched, and sat in Abby's lap the entire two weeks that Abby spent at the orphanage.
Abby learned that numerous churches had visited these orphanages, and the children had heard the gospel. "But what they didn't know was what the gospel meant in their everyday lives," Abby says. "Later I came to realize that we were there to show them Christ, not just tell them. We were to be Christ in their lives."
Whether reading a book, making a craft, saying prayers, or tucking the kids into bed, Abby worked hard to love these children like Christ. She made sure to tell each one that God was their loving father and that He would watch over them and take care of them. She eventually gave Louisa a Spanish Bible with a note inside, encouraging her to continue in her spiritual growth.
Many children, like Louisa, were overly affectionate. But some children simply didn't understand what it means to be touched in a loving way, like one 4-year-old little boy who sat withdrawn in the corner. His uncle had trained him not to talk or walk so that as they begged on the street, people would feel sorry for a mute, crippled little boy. This boy was actually neither mute nor crippled, but as a result of his uncle's abuse he had never learned to talk.
"When I first met this little boy," Abby recalls, "he wouldn't make eye contact. He would just turn and move away. But I just kept sitting by him and talking with him and asking him to come and play with me. By the end of the two weeks, he would let us pick him up and hold him. It's amazing to see the change in these children with just a little love."
Although the trip was challenging and sometimes emotional, it was a life changing experience for Abby. "For the first time, I saw how self-focused and caught up in ourselves we are here in America. It caused me to really embrace my faith as my own, and I learned the importance of prayer, using specific scriptures for the poor and the needy."
She encourages other teens and young adults to experience an internship like this one. "A mission trip is great," Abby says, "but going on a longer trip takes you out of the routine of life and let's you see how these children live day to day. It enriched my relationship with Christ by showing me how to depend on Him."
As Abby left the orphanage and looked back at the iron gates closing behind her she found it difficult to leave, "It's hard when there's nothing you can do about the children's situation—you can't give them a new family," she says, "But looking back, it felt good, knowing that in such a dark place, there was a little light left on their faces."
For more information on how to get involved with orphan ministry, call 1-800-FL Today and ask about how to start an orphans ministry in your church. You can also visit FamilyLife's Hope for Orphans online.
Taken from the February 2005 issue of The Family Room, FamilyLife's online magazine. www.FamilyLife.com/familyroom. Copyright© 2005. All rights reserved. Used by permission.