This afternoon we visited a place of extremes.
Gertrude's is a special needs orphanage in Port-au-Prince.
It's tucked in amidst concrete structures - some partially finished, many left unfinished - in the heart of a neighborhood. Nearby were pigs roaming about piles of garbage. We pulled up in our trusty blue tap tap, unloaded, and a teenage boy with special needs waited for us at the gate. We hugged and walked through the house into a courtyard void of children. We were told the children were coming home from school soon, and evidence of their existence was all around us: a plastic yard chair-turned-wheelchair, other wheelchairs of various sizes, and a sensory wall out back.
Dozens of children arrived soon thereafter, but I mainly remember one: Rosemarie.
Rosemarie is nonverbal and in a wheelchair. I'm not sure about what happened to her to leave her in this state. Many of the children at Gertrude's were found on the street, uncared for, alone, and underdeveloped. Rosemarie's story is likely similar.
But boy, can she smile.
I mean, she can SMILE.
My first interaction with Rosemarie went like this: I sat down at a picnic table next to her wheelchair. She sat at the head of the table, and I sat at the corner next to her. As I leaned toward her to tell her how beautiful she was, she leaned forward, locked her eyes with mine, and placed her forehead snug against mine. And we sat for what seemed like forever.
And as we did, she smiled...a wide toothy grin that surpassed language. Dimples that spoke volumes.
She possesses unbridled joy and gifted it to me...in the midst of sadness and brokenness.
It wasn't all roses.
We had to say goodbye. Her smile became stoic when she realized what was happening. My heart broke. And just as quickly as I had been filled with joy, I too was filled with sadness.
You know what's beautiful though?
I believe I'll get to see Rosemarie again one day. Or at least I hope this is true. One day Rosemarie won't be nonverbal and in a wheelchair. One day she will be in glory, and she will run freely on her own two feet. She'll have a full family that loves her perfectly. Jesus will enjoy her everlasting smile. No doubt He already does.
I long deeply for that day. The groanings of this world and the brokenness of humanity are hard to take sometimes.
But today, I got to enjoy the smile and her spirit of a fellow human who bears the image of God. I got to spend time with a beautiful daughter of the King who has a gift of radiating His joy. I experienced previews of the coming attraction of eternity, in which language won't be a barrier, and joy and love will flow freely. For this preview, I will always be thankful.
This doesn't negate our responsibility to Rosemarie here and now. People with special needs living in severe poverty are among the most vulnerable people in the entire world. They need our love, advocacy, and support. Jesus cared and cares for them beautifully. We need to as well.
Admittedly, I forget about them. When they're not in front of me, gifting me with their beauty and joy, I forget that there are children like Rosemarie trying to survive in our world.
I guess the moral of the story is this: let's be aware. Let's be sensitive. Let's seek out the people in our neighborhoods and cities who are vulnerable. Let's offer a better way. And let's love them.
Thanks to a group of Haitian Christians doing this in Port-au-Prince, Rosemarie has a home where she is cared for. She has people who love her...who treat her with dignity.
Let's bring the kingdom to earth friends. It's what we were made for; it's what we were redeemed for. There's a bigger story. And I'm really, really glad Rosemarie is in it.
With love and great joy,