My favorite Bible verse is Hebrews 13:5 where God says, "I will never leave you, I will never forsake you." I particularly like the French version which says, "I will never abandon you." When I was living in Haiti, that verse took on a whole new meaning as I became close with 60 orphans who have been abandoned by almost everyone they know. My biggest goal became helping those kids really understand that although their mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents might have abandoned them, God will never do that. When I left Haiti, I gave each child a good-bye letter in which I told them that although I had to leave, God did not and therefore, more than I wanted them to remember me and maintain a relationship with me, I wanted them to do so with God.
I grew up with a wonderful mom and dad who have been there for me (emotionally and spiritually if not always physically) every year of my life for 22 years. I cannot fathom the distrust, the fear, and the uncertainty that the HFC children must feel when they start developing a relationship with someone. The hurt and the constant question, "When is this person going to walk away from me?" must be so haunting. I know that they feel this way because they challenged me with it every day that I was living with them and every time I have come back to visit.
The girls had numerous ways to test my love for them. The most common was simply holding back; instead of approaching me to say "good morning" or to sit with me, they would wait and see if I would approach them. At first, I thought those girls didn't want to be my friends, but I slowly understood. Even girls who had initially been extremely open and friendly, such as Jessica, Nounoun, and Stephanie Q, played that game, as if they were willing to be friends up to a certain point, but they needed to know that I was serious before they let me in any deeper. Many of them stopped holding back during my 5 month stay, but started again when I left and make me work for it every time I come back to the orphanage. I can understand that; I left them, and even though I maintain a relationship with them by email and telephone, the fact remains that I left them, just like everyone else.
There were other ways too. Some girls would get mad at me for no reason just to see how far they could push me, at what point I would decide I didn't love them anymore. A few of them would write me letters and whether or not I responded to them indicated how serious I was about loving them. The best technique, though, was pitting the interns against each other. Ever since Kim worked at HFC, the girls have compared us interns to one another relentlessly. They will talk about the past intern as if she was the most amazing thing since sliced bread because they want to see if you will love them anyways. They will make you feel as though you'll never be as loved, but what they're really saying is, "It hurts that she left and we need you to fill her shoes."
The boys were never as subtle about their testing of our love. Their main concern was getting me mad; they are, to this day, worried that if they make me really mad, I won't love them any more. Drisk is always asking me if I'm mad and then telling me that I am, which has the obnoxious tendancy to actually make me mad when I wasn't to begin with. Emmanuel, of course, is another whole can of worms; I won't even try to explain how he goes about making sure that I really love him. Duck and Peterson will ask me straight out, "Keziah, what would you do if you had to leave Haiti tomorrow? What would you do if Dr Bernard didn't want you to come visit anymore?" They know what I'm going to say, but they need to hear it one more time.
For a while, I thought that it was only the kids who were sensitive, shy, and insecure who needed that reassurance, but it has become blatantly clear that every single one of them needs it. I was sitting on the roof after a night with the boys and Bernadin started to take off the "K" necklace that I always wear. The necklace was given to me by a very special little boy that I coached in Belgium several years ago and I would be heartbroken if the necklace were lost. So I told him not to touch it, but he said he'd be really careful and hold it so the "K" would not fall off. I trust him so I let him. A moment later, he looked at me, absolutely stricken with guilt and fear. "Bernadin, what did you do?" He didn't say anything, just held up the chain and no "K". I got up slowly and started sifting through the sheets around us, shaking out my clothes, lifting the mattresses. Then Bernadin said my name. I looked up and he was holding the "K". "What? Did you do that on purpose?" He ducked his head, "Yes, I wanted to see if you would get angry." I couldn't believe it. Of all the kids, Bernadin is the last that I would have pinned to pull a "Do you really love me" move on me, but he had just done it.
Stephanie Q, probably my best friend among the girls and someone who has incredible maturity and leadership, also shocked me by pulling the "Do you really love me" card. I had been calling the girls regularly after I left Haiti in September, but I had not talked to her. She goes to a different school so sometimes she isn't available when I call, and I assumed that she wasn't asking to talk with me because she either wasn't there or she was too busy with homework. Several weeks later, the girls were trying to tell me something and I just couldn't understand, so I asked if Stephanie was there to explain it. She took the phone and the first thing she said to me was, "I thought you'd forgotten about me." I wasn't asking for her, so instead of asking for me, she started to think that I didn't care anymore. Oh, the heart of an orphan! To so easily be bruised, so easily be convinved that love isn't real. I am not someone who says "I love you" very easily, but I say "Mwen renmen ou" at the end of every single phone conversation with the kids. Whatever hope and self-confidence and healing that can come from believing that one person really does love them, I want them to have. And then maybe they'll take me more seriously when I remind them that God will never leave them or forsake them.