They say a picture is worth a thousand words. How many words would it take to encapsulate this one? To the casual viewer, perhaps it is nothing more than an odd-looking piece of arts & crafts near the face of a happy young child, one who is made all the more endearing by her moon eyes and her imperfect teeth. A closer look brings out the more hidden details–a smiling face in the background, a flower lei in the corner, hands from a friend that hold and display the playful caricature of the girl, the overall bright palette of colors that compose the image, the orange overtone that gives clue to the late afternoon outdoor setting. Piece it all together and one feels the sense of a festive party. Truly, fun and joy fill this photo, and for those who know, they also fill the rest of the story outside of the photo’s rectangular frame.
It’s the story of a place where one enters to be welcomed by eager young hearts ready to give themselves to you. First time visitors may find themselves slightly embarrassed to be discomforted at the sight of some of the children who clearly have both physical and mental ailments. However, the embarrassment quickly dissipates after just a few shared moments because one discovers that they are much less concerned about their own deficiencies as they are about playing and sharing with you. Quickly they tell you their names and just as quickly they learn yours. But even names are really of no necessity in the end–the goal is just to be together, to share each other’s presence. This warm spirit seemingly marks all the people who live there in everything they do, from the way everyone greets you brightly in the morning, to the quiet but clearly evident self-sacrifice put into making meals hearty and comfortable, to the unseen acts of service that make it seem like the place magically cleans itself up every night. Even the actual place breathes care and nurturing with its lush garden full of rich greens and bright flowers that can’t help but seem to point back to a miracle that is nothing short of Eden, especially when one considers that the place was only just some years ago a collection of dust, dirt and rubble. And there is definitely no shortage of creatures–bugs of all shapes and sizes, countless frogs, chickens, goats, fish, and even the occasional hedgehog. In the midst of such a beautiful backdrop, life goes as one would hope it would for any child growing up. It’s no surprise to see any number of the kids jumping on the trampoline in the playground, playing an impromptu game of three-on-three at the basketball court, or casually riding their bikes as they ring the handle-bells to kindly let you know of their approach.
In such an atmosphere, it’s easy to forget that this place is an orphanage–an orphanage, meaning that by no choice of their own, these children began their lives void of love and community and deeply within the grips of pain and rejection. And if one really cares and dares to let the current story represented by the picture fade for a moment, and allow all the individual stories of each child’s life journeys come into focus, it’s hard not to feel. It’s hard not to feel broken knowing they have suffered more hurt than any child their age should suffer. It’s hard not to feel angry at the injustice that has been served to them at the hands of their “caretakers.” It’s hard not to feel powerless in knowing there is nothing in your ability that can reverse what has happened. It’s hard not to feel ashamed for the weakness and selfishness that is exposed in your own heart as you watch the children courageously carry their burdens and scars. Simply, these stories are hard to deal with. It’s easy to choose to ignore the feelings and forget about those stories, just keeping in mind the brightness of the current story, the story that is made clear by the picture above.
But the truth is, the story of love in the present orphanage is not made complete without the stories of suffering and injustice from the past lives of the children. They do not exist counter to each other, but as one whole that forms the heart behind this House of Love. The story of the joy that fills the children’s faces like it does in the picture runs much deeper than being a simple story of a girl having fun at a party. The joy comes from knowing that the burdens they carry are not carried alone, but are carried with the help of a loving God who shows great urgency in being a Father to the fatherless. Though they may not know all the facts and details that many of us “educated Christians” often argue over, they seem to have a deeper understanding of the story of the Child sent by the Father who will wipe away every tear from their eyes, even the countless tears that fall because of such deeply scarring pasts as their own. Pain, though we often rightly seek to avoid it, is an essential element of the human condition, a darker shade of color that’s added right along side the brighter colors on the very same canvas. Life is a matter of choosing whether you allow God to paint the picture or yourself.
Being with the children, it becomes clear that many of them have chosen God to be the artist. Coupled with the fact that this orphanage is in China, one can’t help but begin to wonder at the miracle of how freely they express their faith there. It’s another part of what makes the joy represented in the picture such a deep one. It’s not just a party, but a party among people who share in the love of a common Lord and Savior. But while there’s enough freedom to party this way now in that orphanage, the future holds interesting questions, for it is certain that the whole nation of China is in need of such freedom, not just for the Christians, but for people of all faiths in China who are suffocated by those in authority. Though unapparent on the surface, the picture goes one more level beyond that of a resilient orphan girl–it’s a picture of the future, a picture of the hope and possibilities within the children at the House of Love that one day, they will be able to join the good fight in China and rise up to be powerful agents of change, even as they are considered the outcasts of society.
May God use the foolish to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27).