I knew when I decided to take an eleven-day trip overseas last year that I would see things that would wake me up, things that would change me. That’s partly why I wanted to go so badly. I wasn’t disappointed. Shortly after flying from the US to the Philippines, I found myself at a home run by a group of nuns with some of the most beautiful hearts. It’s a place for the very sick, the very old, and the very young. It’s a place for those that have the least chance of surviving on the streets of Manila. It’s often a place for them to spend a few weeks or days of their lives being cared for and shown the love of Jesus before they die.
Walking inside the front door of the first house in the compound, there were kids everywhere, more than one piled on some of the small beds. Dying kids. Kids with diseases like encephalitis or tuberculosis. I looked at the few nuns scurrying from one child to the next and realized that there was no way they could possibly care for so many children properly. I guess they just couldn’t turn anyone away despite the overcrowding. The smell in the air proved that many of the children needing washing or changing. Overwhelmed, I looked up and caught the eyes of one of the sisters. “How can I help you?” A few minutes later, I found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor holding a bowl of runny rice gruel. Gathered around me in a semi-circle were half a dozen tiny malnourished toddlers. They reminded me of scrawny baby birds, opening their mouths and staring at me with eyes that seemed too huge for their tiny bodies. The bowl was empty all too soon. One of the sisters took it from me and motioned to me that she would take care of the babies.
I stood up and wandered into another room, this one holding children of various ages with handicaps or deformities. I found myself drawn to a yellow crib near the center of the room. In it lay a child whose limbs were badly twisted and bent, looking like nothing more than a tangled mass of skin and bone, really. The child’s hair was closely shaved, and I couldn’t determine the sex. It was impossible to tell the age of the child – could have been 7, could have been 13. The child couldn’t speak and didn’t have much mobility, but was responsive to my voice. I watched as the child’s eyes fluttered open and fixed on me. I reached down and grasped the child’s hand, and my grip was returned firmly. I began to sing softly, an old hymn my mother sang to me as a little girl, as tears began to well up in my eyes:
“I am Jesus’ little lamb
Ever glad at heart I am
For my Shepherd gently guides me
Knows my needs and well provides me
Loves me every day the same
Even calls me by my name”
It struck me how fitting those words were. I didn’t know this child’s name, or anything else besides what I could observe, standing beside that crib. But I didn’t need to. This child was known and loved intimately by the Good shepherd who gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart (Isaiah 40:11). I knew that the indescribable love that I felt flooding through me for this unknown child was not mine, and I felt privileged to be an extension of Jesus, holding that hand and singing the words that He wanted to be sung to that child. I think that my words were understood despite the barriers of language and physical disability.
“Who so happy as I am
Even now the Shepherds lamb
And when my short life is ended
By His angel hosts attended
He shall fold me to his breast
Ever in His arms to rest!”
As the last few words of the song escaped my lips, my friends began to call me, telling me that it was time to leave. I didn’t want to go, but I began to peel those little fingers off of mine. The child wouldn’t let go! I couldn’t believe that a child who looked so weak could have such a vice-like grip. And those eyes, they were starting to bore into me. I gently tugged my hand away. Not ready to give up, the child’s hand closed around a fistful of my hair as I bent over the crib. One of the sisters had to come over to help me disentangle myself.
My encounter with this child had lasted for only about three minutes, but those three minutes were enough to make me a misfit. I turned and walked out of the door of that room entirely wrecked. That’s when everything changed for me. I knew that I would never be able to go back to my life as it was before. That little one’s grip had reached around not only my hand but my heart, and I still haven’t been able to pull away. I will forever be thankful for my three minutes with Jesus in the form of that child.
Hannah Neumann is learning to become a global-thinking Christian. She enjoys random adventures, music, community, and learning from culture and history. You can connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.