Strolling through the gate camera in hand, I was delighted to finally be back at the orphanage I have long hoped to revisit. Pausing for a moment to take a picture in the middle of the courtyard, a little boy suddenly came running with arms outstretched and wrapped himself around my legs. Reaching down I picked him up and took him into my arms. Here a little boy who has no idea who I am yet feels the confidence that if I am there, allowed into his space, I must be safe and welcome. This is what happens when children who have lost everything are welcomed into a community of hope. El-Shaddai Hope Center for Orphans is all of these things. It is a place of refuge, as indicated by the Hebrew name for God that is used "El Shaddai". It is a place where hope is built in children who without this home come from hopeless situations. It is a center dedicated to orphans. The place is all about them and Stephen and Beatrice Njau, along with their children and a few staff members, are giving their lives for these children.
The home has grown considerably since my last visit. What was once their one facility is now a boys dormitory and they have two others, one for girls and another for infants. The three homes are all within walking distance and the children usually come together in the evenings at the main center that also serves as the girls' dormitory. Visiting each one of these, I had the opportunity to see 1st graders and the "nursery school" children in class. They sang beautifully, complete with hand motions and even some English songs. Some of the children in the nursery school class requested to touch my hair so I knelt down in the middle of the room and got mobbed by outstretched hands reaching for my soft muzungu hair.
Stopping next at the home for babies, we saw some standing in their cribs and others sitting quietly and staring at their new visitors. One seemed frightened while others were eager to interact. When one of the caretakers lifted little John out of his crib and he began to walk toward me, my heart melted. I wrote more about John and his story in a previous post. He is HIV positive, has lost both his parents. Since coming to the home, his health has stabilized and his tiny body has begun to grow. John is a walking picture of how badly orphaned children need loving care.
When the children had finished school, they gathered at the main home. Some engaged in their evening chores, others sat in line waiting to be washed, and many swarmed around the camera to see their pictures. I enjoyed spotting the familiar faces from my visit several years ago. Gathering the children into a large room, I set up my laptop and showed them a slideshow of pictures that I captured last time I was with them. They shouted with joy at each new picture and called out the names of the familiar faces of their friends.
A moment I will never forget came when I showed them a picture of Stephen, the man who started the orphanage and who the children affectionately know as "Baba". They screamed with delight, calling out his name, and asking him to come from the trip that he had recently taken and not yet returned. It moved me to see how much he and his wife meant to these children as they saw the pictures and expressed their appreciation with loud cheers. Imagine what it must be like to be loved and relied upon by 160 children! I have so much respect for Stephen and Beatrice for what they do out love for these children.
As we were walking away I commented about how much the children seemed to enjoy seeing the pictures from my last visit. David, my host, responded that showing them pictures was the best thing I had done because although the children did not know me, once they saw the picures, they realized that I had remembered them and come back. "By doing this you have become an uncle to them," he explained. What a wonderful thought. An uncle to so many beautiful children. May the Lord give grace to handle this position with care.