A Million Jagged Pieces [117 Trip Chronicles]

Take a moment to sit with me and relive the ugliest moment of my mission trip. This moment occurred one afternoon at Kidane Mihret Orphanage, a place I had been very excited to visit and serve. Our team walked into the orphanage together, and we had free run of the place; we could snuggle the babies, play outside with the teenagers, or watch movies with the kids. I went into this like I do every event in life – with a plan. I was going to go change diapers, snuggle babies, and encourage the women who did the exhausting job of caring for them day in and day out. After about a half an hour in the baby room, I got bored. There were plenty of missionaries in there, and I didn’t feel like I was serving a purpose, so I headed out, intending to find my husband and go play with the big kids outside. As I stepped into the hall, my teammate Janelle came up to me.

“Jes, have you seen the special needs room?”


“I think you need to come see it.”

“I can’t. I just don’t think I can take it.”

I know it sounds selfish and even cruel to say “no” to a request like that, and maybe I am those things, but let me explain. My answer was one of fear and pain; deeper fear and pain than I can possibly describe to you.

Fear and pain so deep that you would only be able to understand it if you had walked in my shoes.

Fear and pain so devastating that you would only know it if you had shared the experience of looking deep into your own baby’s eyes and seeing that within him something was broken.

You see, nearly three years ago, my own precious son was diagnosed with autism, and I was plunged into a world of confusion, doubt, faithlessness, and isolation. My days are spent juggling multiple therapists, turning my home into a sensory gym, worrying about whether he will ever have a friend, and begging God to put the world right. So you’ll have to forgive me for thinking that the special needs room was more than my feeble heart could bear.

But she persisted. She told me that she had found the kids sitting in their beds all alone and that she didn’t know what to do. I had to say “yes.”

When I crossed the threshold, I felt my heart burst into a million jagged pieces. You see, loving a child with special needs as deeply as I do, I felt totally broken when I saw these precious kids sitting all alone in their beds. One was asleep, but the other was awake, and the moment I entered the room, he locked eyes with me. His name, I later learned, is Baby. Baby is 15, but he has been in the orphanage for seven or eight years, since his family dropped him off at a hospital and never came back for him. Because of his disabilities, he never leaves his bed, and he never goes outside. I cannot imagine a more bleak existence.

As much as I felt my heart breaking, and as badly as I wanted to break down and weep right there for this sweet child, I felt God pushing me to dig deep and come up with something bigger than my own brokenness. I thought, “If I want to turn and run away from this, what do other people do? When was the last time someone sat down with Baby for an afternoon?”

So I pulled up a chair, plopped down next to him, and spent the next few hours singing, clapping, teaching him Spanish, showing him videos of my kids and dogs, messing around with Snapchat, and praying for him. At no point during the visit did I feel like I was capable of ministering to him, but God doesn’t call the equipped; he equips the called.

When we had the choice to go back to the orphanage later or visit a school elsewhere, I knew exactly where God wanted me. I walked right in those doors, up the stairs, and into the room where I knew my friend Baby was waiting. I sat down with him again, ready to show him new pictures from my trip, tell him about tacos, and talk to him about the fun we would have together when we met again in Heaven.

Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about that first day with Baby. Sometimes I pray for him, and sometimes my heart feels so full that I just sit there with tears pouring down my face. I snuggle my own baby a little tighter, and I thank God for everything He has given to us. The brokenness of that moment, the faithfulness of God, the pain of disability, and the pure joy we felt are forever imprinted on my heart.