In a small hut in Africa I ducked to miss the woven grass and enter into the small room where a boy lay face down. Inside, an elderly woman has almost finished bathing his bleeding, lacerated back. The eyes of his older brother watch on half filled with relief and half with sorrow for what his brother has endured. Joining the work, I help dress the wounds and promise him I will never let this happen again. Not to him or any of the kids in his community.
Finishing, the boys walk out with us where the community has gathered. African drums beat, bodies sway and the most beautiful African-accented voices sing: You have taken my heart of stone and given me a heart of flesh. A heart of flesh, a heart of flesh. You have taken my heart of stone and given me a heart of flesh. Waking from the dream, the harmonizing voices seem to still fill the room and not until months later did I realize that this song is scripture.
Sitting at the 7th annual Orphan Summit someone quoted from Ezekiel 36, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh,” and my mind wandered back to the hut, those boys and the beautiful truth of what God can do for a heart of stone.
Sometimes even when it comes to orphans and orphan care, we all can have hearts of stone. Believing that our thinking is the only way, that adoption is THE answer or that child sponsorship is the golden ticket. This summit the board of Caroline’s Promise South Carolina and I engaged our hearts and minds on behalf of orphaned children and had some stony parts of our hearts softened.
Challenges and testimonies were varied and all added to the other. Angela Minter challenged us to think about the unborn. She stands weekly on a sidewalk outside an abortion clinic sharing her testimony of aborting two of her babies and the deep regret she carries. She calls out for others to choose life, instead. Then there was Carolyn Twietmeyer who is mom to 14 children. Seven were adopted. Being interviewed by Family LIfe about adopting children with HIV, Carolyn works as president of Project Hopeful advocating for HIV-positive orphans and my heart broke for the hopelessness so many of these children shoulder alone.
Dr. Karyn Purvis of Empowered to Connect shared strategies and findings on parenting children from hard places. Brian Fikkert challenged us that sometimes helping hurts more than empowers. He offered strategies and higher-level thinking when it comes to international aid and orphan care. Then, a doctor from Kenya, Florence Muindi, gave a passionate plea for us to move past the initial response of adoption and child sponsorship to the more permanent answer of empowering churches in communities all around the world to be the answer. But ultimately, she added, we must listen to what God is calling each of us to do because we each are called to do something.
So as the Summit ends, my hope is that we will allow God to give [us] a new heart and put a new spirit in [us]; [to] remove [our] hearts of stone and give [us] hearts of flesh open to do his will. He is the master of reclaiming hope for orphans while shaping us, former orphans, in the process.