I will not sugar coat this trip. It started difficult and soon escalated into an all out avalanche of tears, fatigue and gut wrenching heartache. I left for Eastern Europe at the end of my rope. My youngest son had been hospitalized two days prior for an infection in his jaw relating to a rib graft surgery he had 8 weeks prior. There was no reason for infection and the IV antibiotics were not working. My departure time was quickly approaching and I was begging God that he would not need surgery. I was staying at the hospital with my son and called my husband to tell him what to pack for me. The night before I was leaving to Europe, I was awoken at 4 am by the night nurse. The surgeons had met and all agreed that his infection needed surgical intervention. The surgery had just been scheduled for that morning. The best case scenario was that they would be able to clean out the infection and continue IV antibiotics. The worst case was the infection had taken hold of the graft and they would have to remove the graft from his jaw. I was broken and in my mind I was not leaving. My husband was adamant that he could handle the surgery and that I was supposed to get on the plane. I literally walked beside my son being wheeled to surgery carrying my bags packed for Eastern Europe. I kissed him at the door and ran to catch my ride to the airport. I sat ugly crying the first leg of the trip waiting for a phone call post-surgery. My control had been wrenched from my fingers.
The long plane ride meant zero cell reception and I arrived in Eastern Europe exhausted and emotionally spent. The surgery had went well and my son’s rib graft was preserved. So I mentally struggled to switch gears and ready myself to meet my son; it all seemed surreal.
We drove up to the crumbling building that looked gray and stark. It houses over 100 special needs children, yet looks abandoned from the exterior. My heart is sinking as I look at the building that is considered home to so many children. The crumbling brick facade is stained by years of weather and disrepair.
We walk into the building and the oppressive heat hits me like a wall. The smells and sounds are overwhelming. The whole moment seems unreal and very much like a nightmare. I am escorted to the directors office that is air conditioned and appointed in black leather and new furnishings. It is a stark contrast to the rest of the building that is sweltering and old. I sit on the leather couch and paste a smile on my lips.
They begin hammering my translator with questions. Why would this family adopt a broken, unhealthy child? What is their motive? Am I going to sell his body parts? Will I receive money for experimentation on him? All of this just adds to the nightmare of this moment. And then, the door swings open and he is wheeled in. I wish I could say it was love at first sight. I wish I could talk about how I knew he was my child the moment I laid eyes on him. I can’t. He was unhooked from the old umbrella stroller and thrust into my arms. His breath was decayed teeth and the smell of urine permeated off his sweaty little body. My senses were reeling and my mind revolted. Why am I here? This is not what I had imagined. They make him kiss me and hug me. “Call her mama,” and my mind is screaming, “NO!” He doesn’t even know who I am. He cannot call me mama and hug and kiss me. You are ruining this for him and this is not how it’s supposed to work. The little boy obeys with fear in his eyes and kisses my cheek and says “mama”. It sounds hollow, because it is hollow. Words to please the American lady who might just take this “broken” child off their hands. I learn that he was to be transferred to an institution this year. This tiny boy just turned 4 years old and already they are ready to move him to an institution. The reality is that he probably would not last a year. Yes, dead within a year.
Fast forward two days….I am on my knees. Praying to God to break my heart for this boy. Help me have a mother’s heart to love him. Crying and pleading on my knees in a bathroom in Europe. Break me God, give me your heart and vision for these children. Everyday I have visited my son, I have sat in a bleak meeting room and felt sick to my stomach. I’ve felt numb and have wanted to run screaming down the road. He seems so broken and his needs overwhelming,…and then the miracle happens, slowly unfolding. When we arrive at the orphanage for the daily visit I am told the boy is sick and cannot visit outside his room. Would you like to see where he lives? I am dumbfounded, they do not let visitors back to the rooms. And so I follow the worker and I enter through the doors that are marked “Section for Malformed Children”.
I see the cribs lined along the glass walls and the children laying like scattered objects. Left alone by a staff that sits outside the glass walls and watches television. For two hours I visit my son and I hear no cries. All I hear is an old children’s record that plays the same song over and over. And mixed with the scratchy record is the thumping of a baby beating her head on the wall and mattress…over and over. I watch through the glass and see children remain as statues in the oppressively hot room. No one plays or acts out. I hear no children’s laughter or even the whimper of a cry. They are parts in a macabre play, set in an orphanage in Eastern Europe. Unwanted, unloved and unnoticed. And my soul cries as God gives me the bigger picture. These children are kept out of public sight and left here to die quietly and unnoticed. They will not cry out because who will hear? They do not whimper because who would pick them up and quiet them?
And in one fell swoop, my heart sees. I see past the urine, the brokenness and the horror. I see my little boy and how perfectly and wonderfully he is made. It is I who am broken, not a little boy who has not been allowed in the sunshine because the public “does not want to see the malformations”. And I look at my son and I am angry because I almost bought the lie. I almost didn’t see past the broken, urine-soaked body to the absolute treasure within. And I thank God that He saw past my brokenness.
I spend the rest of the week with a very sick little boy, yet he smiles when I visit. He is enamored with electronics and excited by the attention. The last day, his fever was very high. He was tied to the crib and I was told it was to keep his IV in. When I walked into his little glass walled room, he is all alone and sitting with a broken toy. Quiet and emotionless. His face lit up when he saw me. I was angry at the ignorance of the staff. You do not tie a child up and leave them. I spent the two hours unable to hold him, yet giving him attention and love through bars. A mother’s love through crib bars and a peace that God was going to help me rescue my son from this place. My son….how beautiful. Psalm 139:14 – I praise you because (my son) is fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.