I had been trying for a while. It seems like the kids need so much love. But it was awkward and I felt out of place. It kept burdening my heart, so I kept stepping down the path that led to the dorms and cafeteria building. But when I got there I didn’t know what to do. I would give a little wave and smile. Some of the kids would gather around, wondering what I was doing. But that was it. I didn’t know how to make in-roads with relational development. They couldn’t hear me. I couldn’t use sign language. We were only inches apart, but I didn’t know how to cross what seemed like such a wide barrier.
But I kept feeling that I should engage, that I should keep trying. One hundred and twenty kids, ranging from 5 to 20 years in age. Three house parents. Including staff at the deaf school, 9 total adults to pour into the hundreds of souls and lives. On the best and most intentional day, every child wouldn’t get attention, most wouldn’t get touched. Love spread so thin doesn’t even usually feel like love. If there were “the least of these” in my world, they were probably there in that school, there in those dorms. What if I could somehow, with a few hours a week, pour out just a little to let them know that someone cares, that God cares.
A midwife is here, one of the first volunteers that I have had within the Ob/Gyn department. She bubbles with excitement at everything. What are burdens to me, she waltzes into. People who are hard for me to connect with as their boss, I find her laughing with and enjoying. So, after church I asked if she wanted to go to the deaf school with me sometime in the afternoon. She was thrilled to agree.
We turned off of the dirt road to enter their silent world. At first it was the same old awkward – longing to communicate, wanting to engage. But then, I deciphered the invitation. Soccer (football) was being played somewhere. My sign language may not be good, but I could figure that out. I shook my head, excitedly. A quiet, but thrilled entourage of deaf children accompanied us down the path to the football field. Crowds more joined us there. The older boys were engaged in a football match. But swarms of younger children were hanging around on a small playground dotted with sparse, old jungle gym equipment.
Guttural noises and rapid hand signs kept coming. But I helplessly shrugged my shoulders over and over indicating that I didn’t understand. I spelled out my name in the alphabet, and then spelled out doctor, then imaged a big pregnant belly followed by a downward sign indicating a baby coming out. Name and role, that was about the best I could get across. But then – lighbulb!!! I remembered that on my hip was clipped the i-phone that someone had given me. I grasped it, and began to type. “How many children? Girls? Boys?” The oldest girl, who had been most engaging in trying to communicate, typed back “120 - 70 boys, 50 girls”. She typed her name. On and on and on we went. Then I typed, “I want to learn, tell me the names of these”, and showed pictures of animals. The children delighted to teach the signs - zebras, giraffes, lions, cheetahs (though they thought that was a tiger and so I just went with it), elephants – my hands learned to say their names. Then it was time to play. I wrapped my skirt between my legs and twisted up to the pull up bar. Swung up and hung by my legs, no hands. It was the most impressive that I could still accomplish from childhood without checking my health and disability insurance policies first. The children copied. Shelly (the midwife) climbed the dilapidated jungle gym. She, and it, became so covered with children that she disappeared in and under the piles of faces. Finally I saw unveiled what I knew was there. The need for and delight in adult attention and engagement. And somewhere deeper – my soul saw a glimpse in their eyes, and I felt it in my heart - hope. Hope for relationships. Hope for the future. Hope that my love might make a difference in these kids.
I brought back out the iphone as the sky became dusky and the night threatened to set in. “Good to meet everyone! I am excited to come see everyone again.” I left with a happy heart and new dreams. Too many dreams – Christmas party, Easter party, next weekend, Bible stories, cooking classes… I had to reel it back in. One day at a time. Relationships just started. But I’m super excited to dream of this new place to pour life out. Such great needs unleashed. Their need for love, my need to love. This could be the start of something wonderful.