One small child, two big brown eyes. Without a single spoken word, he had captured my heart. How could a young boy, with a single encounter, impact my life forever? I had the immense privilege of traveling to the vibrant land of Guatemala on a training trip last fall where I came face-to-face, for the very first time, with children living in extreme poverty. In preparation for this journey, I tried to rid my mind of any preconceived notions of how I might feel or how this unique experience would touch my life. Still, I wondered if culture shock would turn me into an inconsolable mess for the entire trip or if I would feel so deeply for those trapped in the snare of poverty, that I would return home feeling helpless and completely wrecked.
The very first time I saw them—lining the streets, filling it with joyful song, their tiny hands waving and reaching out to touch the hands of their “honored guests”—my heart was instantly overwhelmed. How humbling to think that our arrival warranted such an exuberant welcome. Day after day, our visits to multiple child development centers delightfully began with the same heartwarming grandeur. Children in the busy cities quickly invited us into their world while those in remote, mountainous regions were more reserved and slower to engage with their visitors. But our frivolous playtime with the children revealed the common thread among them all; the radiant joy in their faces that shone in spite of daily overcoming difficult circumstances.
Our week was filled with uplifting moments as we painted hearts on eager faces and rhythmically turned jump ropes; the contagious laughter of children continually filling our hearts to overflowing. I intentionally sought out those hiding in the corners, too shy to approach the “strangers from a foreign land”, and quietly slipped finger puppet animals into their hands, sharing a mischievous grin as if it were our secret to keep. My emotions were heightened with every touching interaction, and when evening came, I collapsed in my bed with exhaustion, attempting to process a myriad of unfamiliar feelings.
Then the day came that I met Marlin, his big brown eyes like windows to his soul. At just nine years old, he carried himself with confidence and purpose. Through his translator, we learned that he loved to play soccer and wanted to be a doctor someday. While Marlin was raised by his extended family, it was evident that he was deeply cared for and loved. We learned that his mother, who appeared indifferent, had only returned home after hearing of our planned visit. She worked out of town seven days a week and was not an integral part of Marlin’s young life. I couldn’t help but think of the void in his heart for his mother’s love. He deserved so much more.
We never exchanged a word, but I had discovered an effective way to make him smile and to show him how special he was. At the moment I amicably placed a tiger finger puppet into his slender brown hand, Marlin and I became instant friends. Throughout the whole day, he stayed close by, wrapping his lanky arms around me in the tightest hugs he could give. We broke out in laughter at our silly attempts to take “selfies” together, posing Mr. Tiger to look at the camera too. Throughout the day, he’d sneak up behind me, playfully tap my shoulder, then duck as if no one could possibly be there. Amidst the hundreds of beautiful young faces we encountered in Guatemala, it is Marlin’s that will forever be etched in my memory.
My heart was so full upon returning to Canada, yet it ached with the longing to be in the presence of these vibrant children once again. Most impactful was the realization that those considered extremely poor by worldly standards, were exceedingly rich in what truly mattered most; community, family, and faith. I marveled at how they were devoted to helping one another, always giving sacrificially, and heavily relying on God for their daily needs. Their relationships were deep, their bonds unbreakable, and their faith unshakable.
One small child, two big brown eyes. Without a single spoken word, he had captured my heart. My friendship with Marlin gave me eyes to see the world in a whole new way. He will never know how our single day together has impacted my life. How crazy to think that, in my early fifties and finally experiencing the freedom of adult children, I was considering derailing all of my future plans of… (sigh) selfishly focusing on a quiet and comfortable life for myself. I just couldn’t imagine remaining so complacent after my moving experience in Guatemala.
I desire to make a meaningful difference; to live my life with greater purpose, even if it feels uncomfortable, even if it deeply hurts. Little did I know that while my thoughts were being driven to this radical way of thinking, my husband was feeling stretched by an inspiring book, “Counter Culture”, that challenged him to live radically and give sacrificially. Together, we are embarking on our new adventure, focusing our energies on a mountain of paperwork, weeks of intense learning, medicals, home studies and interviews. Our hearts are dedicated to the pursuit to foster or adopt a little boy or girl in desperate need of a loving family. Each methodical step of the way, I can’t help but picture Marlin’s face. Our lives have been, and will continue to be, forever changed by one small child. ❧