Thursday, August 4, 2011
I just learned of the death of a great man, and one that was extremely influential in my life. Today, Pedro Hernandez passed away after many years with illness. Pedro and his wife Donie are instrumental in forming a children's home and ministry for orphaned/abandoned/neglected children in the Guatemala City, Guatemala area. Their ministry is called Casa Bernabe. I first met Pedro in the year 2000 when I traveled to Guatemala to care for orphans. I thought I was going for a few weeks of fun with adorable kids and travel in a beautiful, beautiful country. When I stepped off that airplane and onto Guatemalan soil, I had no idea how my life would change.
To inadequately explain it, I fell in love. Big time. Pedro and Donie put all of their time, finances and lives on the line to create homes for children who were absolutely desperate. These are children that have been prostituted. They have been pulled from a dump, buried alive in garbage. These children have been abused in every way possible and sniff glue to stave off hunger pains. These are not children that are easy to love, and yet you can't help but love them.
Pedro and Donie created a safe place for children to be loved and cared for. Pedro was so much fun! He had an incredible zest for life and was always laughing. When he would come in, the children would flock to him, hanging on him and playing with him. Pedro was officially a father to several children as it was, but he was also a dad to hundreds of children that would never legally belong to him.
As soon as it was time for me to leave, I knew I had to return. I had to return as SOON AS POSSIBLE. As in, like 10 minutes ago. A few months later I went back for a three month stay. I learned so much from Pedro about being selfless, using humor to break down barriers, and using love as your greatest resource to make a difference in the life of others.
It all seems so far away and so foreign now. I spent extended time in a third world country with people I didn't know? I was fluent enough in Spanish to be the only translator for a group of dumb Americans, Brits and Canadians? I stayed somewhere that required me to know, intimately well, the Spanish words for lice and fleas? I washed my clothes using a garden hose? I could tell when the local volcano was going to erupt because of earthquakes? For extended periods of time, I took showers without getting water in my eyes or mouth, and never flushed toilet paper? ME??
And yet, when I think about it, or talk about it, a flood of emotions so deep and overwhelming crush me to my core. It's hard for me to talk about, because it was such an important part of my life. Sure, I love speaking Spanish and was completely fluent at that time. Yes, I enjoyed teaching orphans in a private school. Of course, I LOVED Guatemala - the color, the food, the sweet people. But that wasn't what was so incredible for me. It was the children.
Just writing this makes me bawl. Even after all of these years, I still cry thinking about the children. It was my honor to care for them. I loved every minute of it. These poor children have nothing. They are beautiful inside and out. Life has dished out the crappiest things possible for them, and yet so many of them were so very grateful for what little they had. They constantly would seek your attention. I used to spend quite a bit of time watching a group of boys roller skate. They would purposely crash and come to me to bandage them up, just because they wanted attention (of course I was more than happy to oblige!). One little boy called me Mami. I would always correct him, but I loved it. Shortly before I left for good, we took the children to a water park and one of my little shadows, William, sat down beside me. He leaned against me, very tired. Instead of going to play with the others, he eventually made it to my lap and dozed off. I let him sleep in my lap for an hour, a big 9 year old boy. As I traced his hairline with my finger, his eyes fluttered open. He reached up, put his hand on my cheek and said "Please don't leave me."
My heart burst into a thousand pieces.
I wish I could tell you more, but I can't honestly bear to think about it.
In the end, I chose to make my career a priority back home and leave that part of my life behind. I would be lying if I didn't admit that I regret that a tiny bit every day. For months I grieved after I left there. I think that leaving behind those precious children was almost like a death to me. When I see pictures of the children today, I can still tell you so much about each of the kids. They have never left me, even though I left them. Time has not healed that wound, at all. I still get very upset when I think about that part of my life and that it's "over." It is so odd. Part of me wishes I could just live there full time. Part of me wants to be here. None of it would have been possible if it weren't for Pedro and his tenacity. Casa Bernabe has changed dramatically since I was there. They had very few resources, and lived in some pretty sad conditions. But it still provided the children with at least two meals a day and shelter. Today, Casa Bernabe is extremely developed and nice. It is giving children with few chances a big step forward in their lives.
I'm happy for Pedro, because his suffering is over and I know that he's so happy to be with children who were sick and passed away while at Casa Bernabe. He had such a heart for children and it would crush him to not be able to do more for the children.
Thank you, Pedro, for all you did for the children, and for the opportunities that you gave me to grow and learn more about myself. Thank you for showing me how amazing adoption can be, and for planting a seed in my life for a family of my own. Thanks for all the dinners at your house, and for driving me all over creation showing me your beautiful country.