Can a twenty-year-old American adopt a sixteen-year-old from Moldova? This question started as a joke, but as I ask each member of our team, I'm realizing that my heart is becoming more and more wrapped up in the answer.
This week, God has turned a spark of concern into some sufficient flames of compassion and heartache. I've never been particularly attracted to Eastern Europe, and going to Moldova was never in my plans. But I'm surprised how at peace I have felt in this place and how going home is not an appealing idea (sorry everyone!). Also--and I hope the team waits until after we get home to read this--I've never been what I would call a "kid person." I do not ache to babysit my friends' children or to serve in the nursery at church or to have children as soon as I get married. It's not that I don't like kids, but I don't know what to say to them or how to play with them or how to get them to like me. But this week, God has opened their hearts to me just as much as he has broken mine for them--particularly an angel named Elena.
At the beginning of the week, Elena was quiet. She would hide behind the other girls who felt immediately comfortable jumping on us and stealing our cameras and kissing us all over. When I would look over at her and smile, she would smile, look down, bashfully look at me again to see if I was still looking, and then smile bigger. After a few episodes of this, she felt comfortable coming up to me and letting me hug her. Every second of attention and inch of love I showed to her was life-changing and would illuminate her face with the purest light. One day when we painted the girls' nails, I learned the Romanian word for "beautiful," and I told her I thought she was beautiful. Her surprise overtook her bashfulness and she looked straight in my eyes. "Me?" She said in Romanian. "Da!" I said, and she hugged me with all the love that has ever existed in the world. The joy in her eyes did not fade for the rest of the day.
Elena looks like she is twelve, but I learned today that she is sixteen. Because the orphanage we are working in is an auxiliary house for children with mental handicaps or disabilities, her stunted growth clearly marks some physical deficiency. She's so bright, though. She quickly caught on that I couldn't understand Romanian, and now when someone comes up to me and speaks Romanian (these kids forget very easily), she directs them to a translator. When she's around me (which is often), I don't have to do any of the work. I just shrug and smile, and she'll catch my eye and smile bashfully. She also learned how to say thank you in English, and she's quickly learning how to count to ten. In the pecking order of the orphanage, though, she's weak. When another little girl who grew attached to me was jealous, she tried to lock Elena in a kitchen; if I hadn't been around, I'm sure she would have succeeded. This incident scared me about leaving tomorrow, when Elena won't have me around to protect her from those who bully and persecute her.
I wanted to share about Elena, not only to increase the love and prayers sent to her from abroad, but also to demonstrate God's ability to change the heart of a stubborn, kid-phobic brat like me. I never would've guessed that I would grow this attached to a Moldovan orphan, but now I can't imagine how I am going to leave Elena tomorrow. Even though I know she is God's to protect, I don't want to say good-bye. The only comfort I have at this point is best represented by an image we saw on our way back to our house yesterday. The sun was shining, and it started to rain. When we drove by the incinerating dump next to the orphanage, there was a flawless rainbow crowning the horizon. It was a needed reminder of the reality we face: a spoiled, despicable world and God's perfect promises reigning beautifully above it. God is in control, he protects those he loves (including precious Elena), and as I am learning here, he whispers his love for every inch of the world into unexpected hearts.
Please pray that we may trust in these promises as we say good-bye to the children tomorrow. I know that if I don't see my beautiful Elena again on earth, she will one day run into my open arms, with our language barriers melted away and eternal smiles and hugs as we share the presence of the Lord who brought us together.
"I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord. Praise the Lord!" Psalm 104
Posted by: Tessa Tompkins