By Jillian Dagley
If you’d shown up at Rivers of Hope yesterday around 11 am expecting to catch a peak at forlorn Haitian orphans, you would have been a little confused. No orphans here! Just a few princesses, a couple firemen, several superheroes and one very cute cowgirl. Dress up time at the orphanage yesterday was just one of several moments that had me checking my expectations at the door.
This is my first foreign mission (definitely not my last) and my first time to step foot in an orphanage. If you’d asked me a week ago if I was excited I would have given you the same answer I gave serveral others: “Excited but nervous—I know this trip is going to break my heart.”
I guess I was expecting to come to Haiti and see a bottomless pit of need. Neglected children. Despair.
This is where I mentally roll my eyes at myself. Besides filthy and exhausted, I sit here on day three, a number of things:
Impressed. Rachel Danache is running a tight ship, folks. Not only has she carefully and efficiently managed every dollar of support that has come to “her babies,” to ensure the children benefit to the utmost, while simultaneously advocating for them legally, she also has created an atmosphere within Rivers of Hope of love and joy and —get this—order. Those children know what is expected of them, whether it’s prayer time (I may have passed out from cuteness overload at this point), eating time, or time for naps (I couldn’t even get my one toddler to nap!). More than anything they know they are loved. Loved by Rachel. Loved by their nannies. Loved by their sponsors. And, above all, loved by their Lord.
Inspired. I can make a difference for these kids. I am making a difference for these kids. And I’m what you’d call a “realist.” Too often I have to see things to believe them, and I’m telling you, I’m a believer.
On Sunday, we went to the orphanage, and I was so nervous. Would they like me? Would I scare them? We entered the gates, and nearly two dozen children paused in their running and playing to check out the white people. I crouched down in front of a little boy and tried desperately to remember how to say, “my name is Jillian” in creole. I was certainly not making the impression that I’d hoped to. Then I looked up to see my daughters snatching up toddlers into warm embraces. The kids immediately snuggled in, wrapping themselves around their new friends, eagerly accepting the affection without question. I can do that!
My point is, I was overthinking what I have to do to make an impact in the lives of these orphans. I was intimidating myself into believing this issue is too big. But all I have to do is act out of love! Throw my love at them right where they are in whatever form I am able to! So that’s what I’m doing. That’s what I’ve done all day, along with thirteen other volunteers, playing, cuddling, crafting, bouncing, feeding…
And when I get home I will continue to throw my love at them in the form of sponsorship. Because I know that’s what makes it all possible. That’s what draws the thin line between their world of love and security and the oppressive poverty that lives just outside the gates of Rivers of Hope. Marc and Jeff and Kevinson will have a loving home to keep them safe until they go to their forever home, I guarantee it. And they also will have more volunteers coming to hug them and play with them after I go (maybe you?), I’m committed to that.
Heartbroken. Am I heartbroken? I think changed forever would be a better way to put it. There’s no going back to normal from here. The faces of thirty-five beautiful Haitian children will forever reside in my mind, reminding me. I’ve witnessed joy chase out despair and true hope take root in its place. I’ve seen the face of God.
Interested in sponsoring the family-like care for an orphan at our Hannah’s Hope partner home? Learn more about our Haiti sponsorship program here.