I just made this photo my cover photo on Facebook, and while I was looking at it, I realized there are about 1,000 reasons that it gives me all of the joy in the world…so I wanted to share a few of those.
This picture is of all of the girls from Pasitos de Jesús, the orphanage I worked at this summer, along with the last group from Hebron that came to the Dominican and the group from Westside Baptist in Florida, a group we team up with year after year to do ministry with. So thing number 1: the fact that so many people I worked with and came to love in the past month are in the same photo is awesome. It also includes two of my favorite translators and best friends in the DR, Laura and Patricia, as well as our bus driver Franky, who probably got sick of seeing me on his buses so much in the past five weeks.
Front and center is Charina, the girl with Down Syndrome who started it all, kissing Dalma’s cheek (the founder of the orphanage). Chari is the funniest in that she will not socialize if she’s not in the mood. I walked past her countless times going, “Hola Charina!” and would get “no!” in response as she’d stick her hand out in front of me. And I’d still go “Como estás?” and she’d just stare at me like, “I am not communicating with you right now.” And yet a few hours later she would warm up and come give me a hug and let me talk to her (she can’t actually talk except for making a few sounds, but I’d still sit there and talk when she’d let me). So this picture, capturing her in one of her loving moments is just awesome. On top of the fact that Dalma exudes happiness.
In the lower right hand corner is Kambell and me, with Kambell turned and laughing. I’ve blogged about her before and shared part of her story, but for those who missed it: she has experienced so many bad things in her life that when she arrived at the orphanage three years ago, she didn’t even believe in God. Because of her background, everyone expected her to fail in life and turn out just like her parents. She came to know Christ, though, and is now the most loving, joy-filled person I have ever met. (Sorry I keep using the word “joy” here, but I really don’t have another word for it.) She shines, and it is incredible. And that joy is just so apparent in this picture. No one would ever guess that three years ago, she was considered “aggressive.” No one would guess that she’s dealt with more than any 14 year old should ever have to. That is God at work.
Also around me are Anely and Carmen. Anely is Dalma’s daughter, and Carmen is the oldest girl at Pasitos. Those two plus Kambell were always around when I needed something, dealt with my lack of Spanish vocabulary, and truly became my friends while I was living there. Anely and I even had a bonding moment on that last day at Pasitos, where all she had to do was raise her eyebrows at me and we both burst into a fit of giggles because I knew what she was thinking. And I loved that, because it made me feel so close to her. Also, the fact that I look normal in this picture and had spent the previous 20 minutes crying was quite an accomplishment.
I love the fact that so many of my friends are hugging so many of the Pasitos girls—that after spending a few hours at the orphanage, they all grew that close and all had their specific friend there. The fact that this was taken in their expansive yard, when I know their old house had no yard outside for them to play in. That Verenice is floating above everyone in the background, just like her outgoing personality. That 5-year-old Jenny is being held because Jenny is always wanting to be held. That the sixth person in from the right in the white t-shirt is brand new to the orphanage—she got there four days before the photo was taken, another girl rescued.
Most of all, I love how joyful everyone looks. All of the Americans, yes, but also all of the girls from Pasitos. Knowing their backgrounds, knowing their stories of abuse and abandonment—and now they’re in a home where they are taken care of, by Dalma and her family, but foremost by the Almighty One, the Great I am. It is seriously incredible to see how God moves through that place.
Sometimes when groups would leave Pasitos, Anely would give this speech that I’ve done my best to remember. It brought me to tears the first time I heard it, and of course now it does because it’s where I spent a little piece of my life and left a little piece of my heart: “We hope that when you’re in the United States, you might pass by something—a postcard, or a little thing that says ‘Dominican Republic.’ And we hope that you will see this and remember that there, in a small corner of the country—a small, small place—is Pasitos de Jesús, a home for you, and a family for you.”