By Dave Atkins
As I hop out of the white van, I pretend not to see her. I’ve been here before; I know her name and she knows mine. It’s a game we play.
So I look about, calling for her, “Sharon? Sharon?” Of course I see her. She’s standing 10 feet in front of me, grinning, looking at me, and playing our game. The others gather around her, saying, “This one! This one! This is Sharon!” I look left, I look right; I turn around looking for her, still pretending. Behind me I hear her laugh, and then she runs around to plant herself directly in front of me, hands on her hips. “Here I am!” She said. So begins my sixth trip to Kenya and my third visit to the Seed of Hope orphanage in Kitale.
Of all the memories that I collect in Kenya, Sharon’s is one that stays with me. I feel for her hurt and her struggles. And to make the story more tragic, one afternoon, I found out that she is HIV positive.
The social worker told me her story of abandonment, and how she and her siblings were left to fend for themselves in filth and hunger. How the calamity of HIV, the only thing given to her by her mother, was beginning to tear apart her little body. I listened to this tale of loneliness and desperation, and it darkened my vision. It is true that this child is now much better off in the care of Buckner. Seed of Hope clothes her and provides the medicine she needs. She looks healthy and strong. She’s in school and has friends. Still her story remains fixed in place, unchangeable. How does she hide it? Where does her laughter and joy come from?
It wasn’t until we were leaving, as the tears rolled down her face, that I began to understand the other side of her story. She’s scared, I think, and I feel certain she longs for a mother and father. She’s lonely, and uncertain. She wonders: will we come back? Do we love her? Do we care?
Yes, I care. I care more than I can express. I think of her every day. Like others before me, I think of these children and ask God, “Why is this so?” By grace, my faith gives me just enough strength to allow the question to hang unanswered.
For me, perhaps the answer isn’t as important as the fact I care enough to ask—I really don’t know. What I do know is that in the end, having found few answers, I can only fall back on my faith in God and on my knowledge of who God is. I know that as much as I love this girl and desire good things for her, God loves her infinitely, unimaginably more. So I step out in faith and prayer, trusting our Heavenly Father to tend to His wounded daughter. I pray that if I can somehow be an instrument for this task, then please, Lord, use me, tell me what to do.
For now, I do what I can. For me, this means that I go back. I go until I just can’t go anymore. I’ll show her that because God cares. I care. I’ll show her that because God loves her, I love her. I’ll show her that because she matters to God, she matters to me. As long as God’s plans make room for me to go to Kenya, I’ll hop out of that white van, look around, and call her name again and again.
Dave Atkins has made six trips to Kenya since December 2005. He has visited the Buckner Seed of Hope Orphanage three times.