Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Boy

Because I mentioned him yesterday, and because I miss him all day, everyday, I thought I should introduce you to my boy, Innocent. Innocent is a smart, fun-loving, cow-loving, 12-year-old, living at the Noel Orphanage in Gisenyi, Rwanda. He stole my hand and my heart the minute I met him.
Image courtesy of Rebecca Brown :)
Some quick background: We had neared the end of our two week journey, and with 2 days left before it was time to head home, our eyes had already seen more than our heads and hearts could understand. As we pulled in to Noel it was much like every other orphanage we had visited. Our bus pulled up to a gate, followed by a long driveway that was sprinkled with children who had been anxiously awaiting our arrival. As the bus pulled to a stop, the children kept coming and coming...and coming. Noel is home to 620+ kids. We braced ourselves for the impending mob we had grown so accustomed to, but it didn't come. The kids were, definitely, excited to see us and desperate for love, but there was a sense of reservation. We toured the property and it was overwhelming to see the conditions in which these precious babes were living. The smell was unbearable. I fought the tears as long as I could and all at once they spilled. As I turned to look out the window, gasping for air and choking back audible sobs, a hand sweetly touched mine and as he stroked my arm he said, "I'm sorry."

My sweet boy. Was telling me sorry? Innocent exists as a number in an orphanage with twice as many children as there is room. He is a leader. Likes music. Good at sports. Wants to be a cow-herder; he often tries to skip school to spend time with the cows. And I love him. 

Innocent and I spent the next two days together. We listened to music on my ipod that is probably (definitely) not appropriate for a 12-year-old, but I justified it by the fact that he could sing the tune, but couldn't say any of the words correctly. Every now and then he would look up and me and smile and say "T-Pain?" This is a child after my own heart. His English wasn't that great and as I reflect on our time together, I realize there wasn't much conversation between us. We toured the animals; the cows (of course), pigs, goats, guinea pigs and rabbits. I watched him play football (soccer). And we attended a funeral together.

Saturday morning, which would be our first day at Noel, we learned that a 15-year-old boy had died. We didn't know the specifics, but they told us that it was malaria. Any one of us had enough anti-malaria medication in our suitcase to cure that boy, if that was the case. We, later, found out that when a child dies of unknown causes, they typically say it was malaria. A child, 15-years-old, dying of unknown causes? 

The children arranged benches for, what would be, a very long, Catholic funeral. Innocent sat quietly, next to me, occasionally putting his head down to cry. After the funeral, we walked a short way to the burial. Innocent and I sat at the back. This time he hugged me and sobbed. I prayed over this boy like I have never prayed in my life and I loved him with everything in me.

The next morning when we arrived he was there to greet me and we started our hike (seriously, HIKE) to church. Good thing we had Akon. It was another long, Catholic service in Kinyarwanda, no less. Innocent sat and looked through the pictures on my iphone and giggled. After a while, we got some dirty looks and he, reluctantly, put it away. After the service, the kids took us to a memorial site at one of the churches that many Rwandans fled to during the genocide. Innocent had a hay day with the camera. Here are a few...

As we walked back to the orphanage, Innocent pulled a large "coin" out of his pocket. He said, "Souvenir, you." Oh, good grief. How much more can my heart take? (I'm currently having the coin made into a bracelet.) And he said, "Souvenir, me?" Uhhhhh....I said, "Yes, yes. Let's see what I have in my backpack." He touched my hand, "No. Ipod, me." I tried to explain to him that he wouldn't be able to charge it. "No problem", he said. I wish everyday I would have just given it to him. Next time, I will.

He was waiting for me after lunch, he grabbed me by the hand and said, "You. My mom." Dear Jesus, there is nothing in the world I would love more. I smiled and said, "Yes." As we walked, we found Chelsea, Jean, and Billy doing a little recording session with Jean. Jean is 15-years-old and blind, he has beautiful singing voice and an even more beautiful heart for the Lord. But that is a whole other post...

During this time, Billy snapped a few pictures of Innocent and I. He is so sweet and he just recently sent them to me. At the time, I had no idea the devastating look on Innocent's face.

It wasn't long after this picture was taken that he started pulling away from me. He would wander off. Wouldn't let me touch him; wouldn't talk to me. I asked Jane to please ask him what was wrong and he would say nothing. For the next two hours he lingered around where I was, but wouldn't come close. I let him be, but it broke my heart. I couldn't leave Noel, leave Rwanda, like this. 

When it was time for us to go, I walked up behind him and put my arms around him. I hugged him tight and, maybe, said the most words he and I had spoken. I love you. I'm going to miss you. I prayed, aloud. And walked away. When I was in my seat on the bus, I asked God, "Why?" Why me? Why Innocent? Why had he brought us together only to tear us apart? And who was I, to think I was helping this child in some way? I loved him and he loved me and I was leaving. 

As I was throwing myself a silent pity party, a hand slipped through the window, and I saw his face, streaked with tears. I wanted him to see mine, too. I sobbed as the bus slowly pulled away and he walked alongside, holding my hand, sobbing. My precious boy. That night I prayed. Hard. For Innocent and for me. Faithful, as always, God reminded me that, first and foremost, Innocent is HIS precious boy and the very next day he answered my prayer. 

On the way to the airport, we had to stop by Noel to pick up some skirts that we were having made. We had been told that, even though the kids were starting back to school that day and they probably wouldn't be there, we would not be pulling into the orphanage. We would park across the street and two people would go in and get the skirts. I sat in my seat staring, longingly, out the window, missing my boy. Then, I saw him in the distance! As we waited, he came closer. He was in his school uniform and he saw us, too. When he reached the gate, he just stood and stared. My mind was racing, my heart was pounding and I asked to get off the bus. I ran across the street and hugged him tight and he hugged me back. When we pulled away, he stared at the ground and I raised his head, "I. Love. You. And I will see you again." I knew then, that I would. No matter what. He smiled and so did I.

I did give a souvenir to Innocent that day. It was some stupid laser fingers that I had in my backpack, but more than that, he has my heart. One day, soon, I will go back for it.....and him.

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