Part of my personal interest in adopting Bethany came from time spent overseas working in what basically amounted to orphanages. No one likes the term orphanage so they clean the name up and give the kids a type of permanence and dignity they deserve but have been so remiss in receiving. They go by names like "home, foundation, shelter, and institute".
The Prince of Peace Foundation in Ecuador was my introduction to the reality of such a place. It’s place for kids to escape the grip of abuse, neglect, drugs, cultural indifferences, overpopulation, and a host of other situational malignancies. While the goal of these places is to “reunite the child and the family”, the reality of that seemed slim. These were beautiful children who wanted desperately to matter, to be loved and to have some degree of predictability in their lives but so many things were working against that goal. Big, things that aren't easily changed in short bursts of time.
One boy had been abused by his father, another - from a large family, sent out to beg at the airport, a girl of 5 had spent most of her life living in the pig shed next to the family shack. None of these kids were looking for pity, they weren't in search of charity, they just wanted to be kids - to matter in someone's life, to be safe and most importantly, to be remembered. The older boys would slide up next to you and ask in broken English what your shoe size was, and then during the week they'd see I'd you'd be willing to give them away when you left. Another little boy wanted to see my home in “el norte” so I showed him a picture of my house in Michigan. He was amazed – it seems he thought the garage, with its cupola and weathervane was actually a church. “How many families live there”? he asked… One girl wanted my Bible - "hablas englais"? I asked her, she responded "no". In Spanish I told her that my Bible was in English. She quickly explained that she'd learn English if that's what it took.
To this day, I use a bilingual Bible for everything - just in case. Lesson learned.
Once the director of the home realized I could drive a stick shift, I was pressed into service as her designated driver for the week. Add to that a basic ability to communicate in Spanish and you have a new type of migrant laborer. "Piñata blanco" was what I was as a driver on the roads of Guayaquil; a big, white target driving an ancient, dilapidated truck, loaded with kids, cargo, and director named Ana, who took her direction from Jesus and her grit from the Apostle Paul.
One evening, late, after midnight - Ana came pounding on the door of the room that 6 of us were sleeping in. I happily answered the door even if only as a way of escaping the noxious odor of over flown toilets, sweat, filthy clothes, and snoring. Ana clearly instructed me in Spanish of the importance of the task she had in mind. I had no idea of the task, the importance nor why she was even at the door at this hour.
My brain has to switch between thinking in Spanish and thinking in English and the exchange rate between the two is not an even wash. In fact, I thought she was asking me to wash the truck, which was really odd given that it was the dry season and water was at a premium. It turns out she wanted me to get the truck and bring it to the front office. One of the children had not returned from the city that evening and she felt lead by the Lord to go looking for him. Actually, she felt lead by the Lord to go have me go look for him.
Driving an old truck with one functioning headlight down a 22km, washed out road in the middle of the night, looking for a young boy in a city of two million... My kind of adventure!
There was a nice government controlled road that circumvented the boneshaker, washed out road. It was easier on the cargo, easier on what was left of the truck, and easier on my nerves. It also had a guard-shack with a little dog and a grouchy man with a sawed-off shotgun. I'd come to meet him the day before, when he leveled the gun barrel through the truck window at me and told me I was not permitted on this road.
That's all I clearly remember - other than the stern voice of the director, Ana, arguing fervently with the man that we had permission from "Senior So-and-so" to use this road. The two were screaming at each other and the only things budging in the discussion were his shotgun and my bowels. As he waved the gun in my face I tried to croak out that it was no big deal, we could go around on the washed out road. I have no idea what actually spilled out of my lips but it must have been amusing as the debate roared on in spite of me.
Taking the washed out route on this night seemed preferable; given the vague assignment and the addition of two young boys who were sent along to help guide me in my search; it was surreal enough without the possible drama of me adding insult to injury by driving past the guard again. He'd lost the argument with Ana and I had no intention of entertaining a rematch.
We searched the back roads for an hour or so and then decided to wait at a crossroads where the children usually gather to ride on the back of the trucks coming from the limestone quarry, past the foundation. We waited another hour in the cool of the night. Pitch black surrounding us, the truck engine, now long cooled and silent, sleeping in the same manner as were the two young boys next to me. One asleep on my shoulder, the other, asleep on his.
By 3am it became apparent that I'd failed on my special mission. I never saw that boy again, never heard what happened to him, never found out why he failed to return. Softly shifting the truck into gear and then shifting the lump of boys off my numb, soggy shoulder, I started the engine, recited the "truck prayer" that Ana insisted must be done at each corner of the vehicle to ensure safe travel (angel bumpers I called them), and flipped on the one, yellowed light for the bumpy ride home.
That trip opened my eyes to the beauty of children globally. It opened my eyes to the intensity of righteous anger, the joy of giving, the beauty of simplicity, the wisdom of children. These same children would bless me again on a special trip in a few years during the month of September when the gift I brought to their school, a television, would reveal an early morning horror in New York City. Those wonderful children who had nothing material, held hands in a circle surrounding our stunned group and prayed out loud in Spanish for safety and protection on our families.
For me, this beauty was part of a calling. Part of a calling which would radically change my family, nearly destroy my marriage, and put me at the edge of an abyss that I can only hope never to see again. Is it worth it, you may ask? I may not answer you, but I welcome the question. I think of Bethany, I think of the adoption process and my mind goes back to an impossible task on a dark road late at night, the sound of strange bugs and frogs, the warm night air and the sound of two little boys snoring lightly on my shoulder. For them and for me, family was at hand.