Deanne had been told by a former traveler “I see God in those hallways of the orphanage,” so Deanne came, walking down the hallways, literally looking for God.
At first she was disappointed, not sure how to discern the divine in the dim and dingy hallways, with no bright shining light from heaven and no angel chorus… But because our God came to us in a poor, vulnerable child, living in very humble and difficult conditions, as she encountered these children, she began to see…God in the hallways, and the dorm rooms, and the cafeteria, and the gym, and the school.
As we have all come face to face with Sasha, Natasha, Alina, Igor—laughing with them, sometimes crying with them, celebrating, playing, sharing—in this humble place, with these children who have been pushed to the side, we have all, without exception and without fail, seen God.
Tonight (Sunday), we had our final reflection time, gathered in a hotel room, reading the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and enacting that ritual by washing one another’s feet. The sharing we did was so beautiful, as each person articulated “my cup overflows,” that in giving love, they have received it.
We have all delighted in the stories of the children who opened up to us over the course of the week. I think of two girls in particular who were standoffish and seemed impervious to my consistent attempts to engage in conversation or develop relationship. But in these last two days, both of them gradually opened up, one sharing some very difficult feelings of rejection and sadness and the other sharing hugs and eventually smiles. The last day, just as we were leaving, she said in halting English “I….love….you.”
Regardless of whether its happiness or sadness that has opened up, we all give thanks. Because God is present in joy and pain. Scripture reminds us of this all the time. In the footwashing story, Jesus knows that Judas will betray him. He knows that he is going to be crucified. But he also knows that he loves his disciples and he needs to shower them with love and to show them how to love once he is no longer with them.
Our hearts break that we leave these children in their love for us, in our love for them, in the happiness that we have shared, and in the sadness that is in their lives–especially the ones who had just begun to open up as we were leaving.
As Jesus left this world, he knew that the Holy Spirit would come and would be present and powerful and active in the world. He showed them how to love. He embodied the love of God, put flesh on it—hands and feet, eating with them, traveling, sharing, in joy and sorrow. We leave with both heavy and joyful hearts, seeing joy and pain, feeling joy and pain, and having to trust in the presence and power and work of the Holy Spirit to be present with these children, and in our own lives, even as we are away.
One of the things we have noticed this trip is that the children have begun to look us in the eyes in a way that did not during earlier visits. God’s grace continues in between, and the relationships are transforming. The Holy Spirit is at work. Our cups overflow. The children are beginning to look us in the eyes, to look up into faces of love. We, too, are looking up into the eyes of God’s love.
God is in those hallways…no matter how dark or dingy. God’s light is shining in the darkness.