Her tiny frame caught my eye immediately. The little girl hung on her mom’s back like a sack of potatoes wrapped securely in a raggedy scarf that knotted around her mom’s shoulders and belly. As the knots were loosened, the little girl was carefully lifted to the bamboo floor where she sat in front of her mom. I watched the exchange between mom and daughter and couldn’t help but sit next to them. And the connection began.
My family and co-worker and I traveled to the border of Burma and Thailand a few days ago to visit the new soon-to-be location for Jury’s Orphanage. Accessible only by boat, it is a remote location inside the jungle of Burma. We arrived to the welcome of 30 tribal villagers who live nearby. They came to see Ga-Bleu, Jury’s orphanage director. Her plans to move to this new location are giving hope to the villagers here. They live on the edge of Burma, far away from the homes they once inhabited inside their own country. The Burmese army on one side and the Thai river bordering the other, leaves them a small space in which they are sandwiched on the side of a hill. It is here their huts are spread apart so as not to draw the attention of the Burmese army who attacks and burns down tribes of ethnic minorities. They live subsistence lives. There is no economy, no jobs, no clean water, no electricity, no development.
As we sat among these people, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of smiles. The faces of the villagers were void of emotion. They don’t see white people here…in fact, I’m not sure most have ever seen a white person. They came and watched us as we watched them. Our smiles and greetings were met with shy responses, hand shakes, and just small hints of smiles. The children stood at a distance; their deep brown eyes conveyed fear mixed with confusion. It was in these moments that I noticed the emaciated little girl and her mom. I took my seat next to them.
What I learned about this little girl in those few minutes have left a mark on my heart. It’s often like that. The little things God uses to break my heart. Named Pa-Reely, her body was the smallest I’ve ever seen for a 10 year old. Her legs were sticks, mere twigs really, small bones covered with thin skin. The same was true for her arms. It was clear she was starving. Pa-reely suffers from what appears to be Rett Syndrome, although that’s purely my guess. She’s not able to talk, nor walk, nor feed herself, she wrings her hands consistently, and is incontinent. She can’t chew and eat food like a normal 10 year old so her mom feeds her milk, when she can find it or trades the wild mushrooms she picks in the jungle for a few ounces of white treasure. Milk is terribly hard to come by as is evidenced by the withering body of Pa-Reely.
As I listened to their story, I picked up Pa-Reely and held her like a baby. Her longer legs are the only things that make her not seem like an infant. I loved on that sweet little girl and talked to her about Heaven and how I can’t wait for her to go there and enjoy a new body. She just watched me as I talked to her. Her deep brown eyes focused for short intervals; every once in a while a slight upturned smile graced her olive face. That face is burned into my memory. Her eyes are imprinted in my mind. As I talked with her, rocking her and smoothing her short hair, a warm sensation filled my lap beneath her body. Yep, she had pee’d on me!
I’ve thought often about Pa-Reely since the short time we spent in that village. To be honest, I don’t have a well-rounded conclusion to sharing this story. I was able to leave some money for Pa-Reely’s mom to buy milk for the next few weeks, but that truly is merely a drop in the bucket. Answers feel impossible for her or for this village that seems to be living without much hope. Their lack of emotion conveys a depth of fear that we don’t see in our other work. Development and sustainability feel like unrealistic dreams. While there, we learned that many in this village know Jesus (praise the Lord), but I didn’t see a hope displayed. They live in fear of the army that should protect them. The Lord won’t let me forget this sweet tiny one. My mind's eye sees her big eyes and faint smile many times each day. And I wonder what the Lord has in store as we continue to support Jury’s Orphanage in the coming months. The children and staff of this orphanage will move to the new location inside Burma and will live and minister with the villagers here. They will care for each other and for sweet little ones, like Pa-Reely.
I am praying for clarity and direction from the Lord as we continue to support Jury’s Orphanage in their new location. Would you pray with me? I question what bringing His Kingdom to such hopelessness looks like. It’s hard to see. Support and development can, at any time, be destroyed by an army intent on ethnic cleansing of these very villagers. Those sweet brown eyes keep appearing in my mind and I know God has us there for a reason. He allowed that connection to be made…even being pee’d on! So I trust Him. I desire to continue finding ways to be a part of bringing His Kingdom to that place. To see His will be done on earth…in Burma…as it is in Heaven. Thanks for praying with us as ministry continues here.
One final note, my husband, Todd, returned to the states just a couple days ago. Boy do we miss him and his leadership and love of us all. He is busy preparing for a Cadence mission-wide conference in Wisconsin the end of this month. Our interns and staff return to Cambodia tomorrow to host our next team both at the MineField Village and at a new ministry location with the urban poor in the border town of Poipet. Please pray for safety as we all make our way to that town. And pray for strength, wisdom and engagement for this next round of short term missionaries coming from an international church in China. How I appreciate your prayer covering over me, our family, interns, staff, and teams that continue ministering together.
So grateful for you…