This is an excerpt from a book by Beth Guckenberger, Tales of the Ones Led Out.
Esther wrung her hands. There just weren’t enough gourdes for next month. Lord! What are you doing? What is your plan? What is it that you want? She needed air. The woman walked down the little dirt drive that led up to the house where she had run an orphanage for most of her adult life. When she reached the His Garden Orphanage sign, she leaned against the post and thought about better times, when the home had been filled with children and she, with the help of many donors, had been able to provide for them. They had had their ups and downs, yes, but nothing as bad as the situation she was in now. If something didn’t change soon, she would have to shut the doors. Permanently.
She closed her eyes and lifted her face up to the hot Haitian sun. Then what will happen to the children?
Six months later, the funds that had been dwindling were now used up. It’s been two years since the great earthquake rocked the island country, and the world has moved on to other disasters and needs. The white vans that used to show up full of help and hope and resources were seen less and less. Haiti was no longer a celebrity cause, and while the needs continued to grow, the hope was fading fast.
Esther had seen this coming. Over the past year, as visitors came and family members made contact, she had informed people that if they could take the children back at all, or knew of someone who could (friends or family), this was the time to do it. Esther had knocked on every door she could think of, but many people were in the same situation. They had nothing left to give. No food, no money, no room.
But slowly over the next year, kids left for vacation and never returned, as they went to stay in new homes. Esther hated to see their little family break apart and she prayed regularly for the kids as they came to mind. Were they eating? in school? with safe people? Now the home that started out with thirty kids was down to twenty. That’s ten less mouths to feed and ten less bodies to clothe. Esther sighed, knowing it wasn’t enough. She prayed diligently for the ones left behind. Who will come for them?
Derson grew up knowing God had a plan for his life. He didn’t always understand it, or even like it, but he felt like there was a holy stamp in his heart, meant for something to come. When he arrived at Tom’s house, a place for boys without fathers (or direction), he soaked up the teaching and ministry opportunities. Tom nurtured in him the gifts God had given him. One day, they began to talk about destiny.
“Why do you think all of this happened to me? to my family? Why did God allow it?” Derson asked Tom, while they were out on a gas run.
“I think you are asking the wrong question,” Tom replied. “Ask instead: How are you going to use what has happened to you? How will you allow him to use your story line? What will you do with what he has placed in your hands? How will you comfort others in the way you have been comforted?”
Derson shrugged his shoulders and went quiet. He had never thought of it like that before, like he had something more to offer now instead of something less.
They rode in silence for a while.
Finally Derson said, “I guess I could talk to other kids without fathers. Tell them what I have seen God do for me. How I’ve seen him protect me, provide for me, guide me . . .”
Tom nodded in affirmation. “Maybe God is stirring in your heart someone specific he wants you to reach out to and comfort. Ask him. He will answer.”
Christmas came and went on the island and by Easter, there were just twelve children left at His Garden Orphanage. These were the neediest of all; they came from families who never visited. Esther began again to reach out to extended families of family members, and friends of the families. With any contact she came across, she followed up by asking, “Is there anyone you know who could take in this child?” She called and inquired, begged and encouraged, and occasionally someone would come to the gate. At this point, the child usually didn’t recognize the person, and Esther had to spend as much time convincing the child to go with the family member or friend as she had convincing them to come. It was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting.
The other children watched from their hiding places, waiting to see who would come to the gate, and who would leave this time. By now there was no way to spin the story, all the kids knew what was happening. They were worse than orphans; they were the orphans of orphans.
Derson had more questions than answers, but he remembered Tom’s words of encouragement to keep his eyes open and his feet ready, and the rest God would make clear. One afternoon, while walking home from school, he saw a small sign on a tree with an arrow pointing down a dirt road. It read simply, “His Garden Orphanage.”
“That’s funny. I’ve never heard of an orphanage around here before and I’m sure I’ve never even seen this sign,” he mentioned to his friend, who was walking home with him.
“You haven’t? It’s been here in the neighborhood for at least twenty years. One of my neighbors grew up there and he seems pretty old.”
“Let’s go and check it out!” Derson said excitedly. “Maybe there are children I can help, right here in my own neighborhood!” His friend smiled at him, hit him on the shoulder, and replied, “That’s great. You should go there. I would, but I have to get home and take care of my brother so my mom can go to work. Tell me tomorrow what you find out.”
And just like that, Derson was alone. He was wondering if this was what Tom meant about keeping your feet ready. Ready for what, Lord? Ready to walk into the orphanage and introduce myself and say “I don’t have any money. I don’t really know how to fix many things, but I do know how to talk about Jesus.’ No one wants words, they want money, they want action. Before he knew it, he had talked himself out of going.
You know how to love.
Where did that come from? It was a thought he heard in his mind, but felt in his heart. Then he heard it again.
You know how to love. Just go and leave the rest up to me.
Derson shook his head and hesitated. Then he turned on his heel and walked down the road to His Garden Orphanage.
Summer came to the island, with its unbearable heat. Now there were only six kids left in the home. The staff had dwindled to just Esther, so her time was split between maintaining the home as cook, teacher, laundress, office manager, and house mom, and calling around to see who had any interest in taking the last of the children. Meals were scarce and good news didn’t come often.
Anne-Marie was one of the six remaining children. There was another girl, named Kim, and then a set of four brothers. Anne-Marie had been watching and listening to Esther closely in the last few weeks. She could tell Esther was frustrated and didn’t know what else to do. When Anne-Marie thought about leaving this home—her home—she felt sad and angry at the same time. So she just tried not to think about it much at all. But now even that was hard to do.
It was clear to everyone at the home that Esther had run out of leads and out of money. It used to be that sometimes, someone would show up at the door with some extra food, but that was happening less and less. Then one day, in the middle of June, a pastor who had stopped by several times over the years came with a group. He told a story about a family an hour away who was looking for a girl to help them with their younger children. It wasn’t the ideal situation, but ideal had stopped being an option long ago. The girl, Kim, left at the day’s end to go with this new family.
As Kim was packing up to go, Anne-Marie overheard Esther talking to the pastor. “It’s going to take a miracle for the rest of the children to find a home.” Anne-Marie lay down on her mattress alone in the dorm that evening and cried and cried. She cried for all the friends who had left, who she didn’t know if she’d ever see again. She cried for a family she didn’t know and didn’t remember. She cried because she was tired of not being in control. She cried because she was hungry. Finally her gasps slowed down and the tears dried up and she fell asleep, dreaming of the day when someone—anyone—would come for her.
Someone was tapping on the gate with a key. Esther could hear it from her room. Two knocks this week! What are the odds? I wonder who it could be. Maybe one of those leads panned out.
Her heart sank when she was greeted at the door by a young man with nothing in his hands.
Derson had been practicing what he would say all the way down the road to the orphanage. As soon as Esther opened the door, he took a deep breath and started in, “My name is Derson, and I live at the Lighthouse with Tom.” He hesitated. (Everyone knew Tom—right?) The woman at the gate showed no glimmer of recognition, but Derson plowed on. “I have been praying and feeling like God wants to use me more in the life of fatherless children . . .” His voice trailed off and he realized he had run out of things he had planned to say. “I mean, like me. I am fatherless. I want to tell them how God found me.” He looked pleadingly at Esther, “Can I come in?”
Esther looked dubious. Derson could tell she was sizing him up. No money. No food. No supplies. Derson started feeling extremely self-conscious. Thankfully, at that moment, the littlest of the four brothers came running around the corner, being chased by one of the older ones. Derson scooped him up just in time for him to avoid a stick to the leg. “Hold on there, little man! Where are you going so fast?”
The woman watched him as he played with the boys and talked with them. Derson had always had an easy time getting children to warm up to him.
“Well,” the tired woman said, “I’m Esther, and these are four very active little boys. I am tired of refereeing them. If you could stay for about an hour, you could watch them while I try to make some dinner.”
Derson nodded. He couldn’t even find the words to say; he was just thrilled to be able to help. Less than fifteen minutes ago, he’d just been on his way home from a normal school day. Now here he was, taking a step toward what he thought God’s plan was for him.
The hour passed quickly. Derson played basketball with the boys and by the time dinner was ready, they were hanging all over him, asking when he would come back. Derson promised to be back as soon as he could, but told the boys that in the meantime, they could feel safe knowing God sees them and cares for them. He prayed briefly with them before he walked out the gate.
The whole while Derson was playing with the boys, Anne-Marie had been watching from her balcony.
Does God really see me?
Anne-Marie couldn’t believe it. No!
The four brothers weren’t her favorite playmates and she wouldn’t even call them her brothers, but still, there was a bond. They were orphans in this home together, and had shared meals, experiences, and a roof for as many years as they could all remember. So when an uncle finally came forward to pick up the boys, Anne-Marie felt sick to her stomach.
It’s not fair! She silently screamed inside as she helped the boys gather their few belongings. As they walked out the gate with their uncle, Anne-Marie couldn’t even look at them. She didn’t want to see them looking back at her, with eyes full of pity.
No one wants to be last.
Esther put her arm around Anne-Marie’s nine-year-old shoulders and squeezed.
A tiny feather of hope floated into Anne-Marie’s mind. Well, since everyone else is gone, maybe Esther will let me live with her forever.But at the same time, Esther was thinking, Only one more to go, and then I can leave for the DR and finally finish my studies.
Anne-Marie wanted to talk with Esther about staying with her. There were all kinds of promises she was ready to make: I will be good; I won’t eat too much; I will do well in school; I will help you if kids come back here to live . . . But she just wasn’t sure how to start that conversation. She tried moving into Esther’s room later that day. (You know, since it’s just the two of us now.) But Esther encouraged her to stay where she was.
Confused and hurt, Anne-Marie went to climb her favorite tree. She hoped no one would see her up there. She just wanted to disappear.
Derson walked up to the gate, happy to get to spend some time with the kids again. But as he got close to the building, a voice seemed to float down from the sky. This time he was sure it was not the voice of God. It sounded very much like a little girl.
“The brothers were picked up an hour ago by an uncle. And I don’t know where Esther is. So you might as well just turn around and go too.”
Derson cocked his head to the side and looked up through the branches at the angry little girl. “Have I seen you before? I don’t remember you from the other day. Are you new?”
“New!?” Anne-Marie half-laughed, half-spit the word out. “No, I am not new. I’m old. That’s why no one wants me. I’ve been around for a long time and I will be for a long time more. What about you? Are you new?”
Derson ignored her mocking tone and replied, “Well, I guess I am a bit new. I just came over to see if any children would like to play.” Derson looked at her and then around the yard.
“There aren’t children around anymore,” Anne-Marie replied. “There is just me. Only me.” Her voice dropped a bit. “But . . . we could play on that swing over there, if you could fix it.
Derson smiled. “Let’s see what we can do.”
Anne-Marie had a wonderful afternoon with Derson. Although he was a lot older, he was fun to play with, like a big brother. Before he left, he reminded her that God loved her. “And sees me, too!” she blurted out.
“Yes!” he grinned. “Were you listening the other day when I was talking to the boys?”
Though she never would have admitted it before, now she happily shook her head. “Yes, I was hiding and watching you all play. I am glad you came back. Please come again!”
Derson prayed in his heart as he replied. “I hope to. I am asking the same God you are for direction, protection, and provision. As he answers, I will go. Let’s both listen for him.”
After watching Derson leave, Anne-Marie set off to find Esther to tell her all about how her day had gotten so much better. As she hopped from stone to stone in the yard, she remembered truths Derson had spoken to her. God loves me. God sees me. God has a path for me. God leads me. God speaks to me.
Her thoughts were shattered when she came up to Esther’s office. She didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but the door was open and unfortunately, Anne-Marie could hear Esther clearly. “Yes, I am hoping to be able to travel by August. I would like Anne-Marie to be settled somewhere for school before I come to the Dominican Republic.”
There were some “hmms” and “ahhs” as Esther listened to the person on the other line. Then she sighed heavily and said, “I’ve tried everywhere, but no one wants her. She’s a great girl, but there isn’t anyone out there who cares about that. Then again, I can’t believe someone came and got those boys. Maybe there’s still hope for her yet.”
No one wants her.
No one cares.
Maybe there’s still hope.
Anne-Marie quickly buried her face in her hands and turned away before Esther could hear the sobs that were rising up in her chest. No one wants you. No one cares. No one . . . With each step those words seemed to burn into her eardrums. Those thoughts were hard to take captive. They rolled round and round in her head until she thought she might explode. She threw herself on her bed and sobbed deeply into a blanket. When this fresh disappointment had grown a little less sharp, Anne Marie tried to encourage herself. She tried to remember the words Derson had said to her. And she tried hard to believe that a miracle, like Esther had told the pastor, could still happen for her. But how, God? Where am I supposed to go? What is your plan for me?
When Derson stopped by the next time, about a week had passed. He had brought with him some leftover dinner from the Lighthouse meal that night. “Anyone hungry?” he called through the gate. The shadows were long and all was quiet.
Anne-Marie barely looked up when she heard his voice. She had been troubled all week by the call she had overheard. She waved Derson over to where she was sitting at the picnic table.
“Hey kid, what’s going on? You look like you’ve been crying.”
Anne-Marie just groaned and buried her head in her crossed arms.
Derson waited a moment, then nudged her some more. “Come on. Look up. I felt like God was nudging me to come here tonight and share some spaghetti with you. But I don’t think he sent me here just to bring you some spaghetti, OK? So spill it. Why have you been crying?”
Anne-Marie wiped her face with the back of her sleeve and shrugged. “It’s just me. No one wants me. Everyone else—someone came for them. But not for me. Not one relative. Not one pastor. Not one family friend. And I know Esther has tried. I can hear her from her office.” She imitated Esther’s voice: “Anne-Marie is a generous girl with a sensitive heart. She would be no trouble at all . . .”
The tears start streaming again down the little girl’s face. “No one. NO one. No one wants me.” She hid her face in her arms again, embarrassed by her emotion. But she couldn’t help it. She had been so lonely, and Derson was the only person she could talk to.
Not knowing exactly what to say or do, Derson dedicated the rest of the evening to lifting his little friend’s spirit. He told her silly stories about life in the Lighthouse. He taught her fun songs he had learned at church. He told her all three jokes he knew and adventure stories that were mostly true . . . maybe. He also asked her about what she knew about her family and about the kids who she had played with before they all left.
The sun was almost gone and Derson had to leave to get home before it was completely dark. He left the dinner with Anne-Marie and squeezed her hand, saying, “Remember, God sees you. And he will lead you out.”
Uh-oh, what now? Tom thought, though he was certainly used to answering knocks on his door in the night. As the director of a home mostly filled with abandoned boys, he knew that not a day would ever go by when someone wasn’t experiencing some kind of minor or major crisis, at least once in the day. He just wished they could all happen in the day and not when he was just about to shut his eyes. Oh well. All in God’s time, not mine. “Yes? Come in.”
“I know you are getting ready to sleep, but I need your help. I don’t know what I can do, but I think we need to do something.” Derson blurted out. He had been seeing Anne-Marie’s troubled eyes looking at him all night, even when his own eyes were shut. He just had to talk to someone about it.
“Do what, about whom?” Tom asked, sitting up.
Derson took a deep breath and launched into his story about feeling led to His Garden Orphanage and meeting the kids there, and how they all had to leave. “It’s all coming down to this one girl.”
“Ohhh,” Tom said, rolling his eyes. “It’s always a girl.”
“No, it’s not like that. She’s little. She just needs a family. And . . .” he spread his arms out and waved them around, “we are that. We are a family. And she doesn’t have anyone else.” Derson sat and waited for Tom to respond to the question he hadn’t voiced yet. And Tom sat and waited for Derson to say it. Finally, Derson said, “OK, fine. I’ll say it. What if we just brought her here?”
Tom stared at Derson and squinted his eyes, cocking his head and pausing too long for Derson’s comfort. Derson felt like he was holding his breath.
“Let’s go. Let’s go get her.”
“Really?” Derson practically squealed. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Welcome to this adventure we call following God’s voice.”
Oh Lord, it’s always like this, isn’t it? Impossible situations, broken people, then the opportunity to step into your story. I don’t know what you have in mind, but my answer is always ‘yes’. Yes to supporting Derson as he listens to you. Yes to providing a family for this girl. Yes to knowing Who, before I know I where, how or when.
The next day, Tom told the group of his plan to pick up Anne-Marie in the afternoon so she could settle in before all the kids arrived back from school. But the Lighthouse kids had other plans. Derson’s enthusiasm had spread to them all, and they all wanted to meet Anne-Marie.
“Can you wait until we are back from school? So we can all go and get her?” one of the boys shouted out.
“Oh yeah! Can we come?”
“Tom, can you take all of us? Please?”
A chorus of voices rang from around the room and Tom looked at Derson, who sat speechless. He looked at all the faces of his brothers and sisters, bound together not by blood, nor by family history, but by this common experience of feeling found after a lifetime of being lost.
Derson nodded at Tom and answered for them both. “Yes. Let’s all go and lead her home.”
After school, Tom piled them all in the tap tap and they traveled the short distance to His Garden Orphanage. He was surprised by how run-down it had become since his last visit. Esther came out to meet them when she heard the ruckus at the gate.
“Tom!” she exclaimed and they hug. An understanding passed between them—the challenge of raising children in this country, at this time, is a call so few have responded to. They exchanged some words and Tom shared with her what was happening with Derson. He thanked her for allowing him to serve there and then went on to say why they had come.
Esther was dumbfounded. She had never imagined God answering her prayers like this. She and Tom talk a few minutes more about the logistics and then Tom turned to the crowd of kids he had brought with him. They had been waiting, but were getting impatient.
He smiled. “It’s has all been worked out, it’s all good.” They giggled nervously. Then Tom turned toward the yard and said loudly, “We’ve come for Anne-Marie.” Derson stepped over to the tree he knew was her favorite hideout and motioned for Tom to say it again. “We’ve come for Anne-Marie!” his voice bellowed. He chuckled a little and said to Esther, with a wink, “Esther, is she here?”
“I am HERE!” And at that moment, Anne-Marie did not care how she might appear in front of this group of strangers. Someone wanted her! Someone came to the gate for her! She ran to Derson and hugged his waist. “You came for me!” Tears were pouring down her cheeks.
“No. Jesus came for you. I am just following his lead.” Derson led her over to the crowd of children who were watching on tip-toes and climbing up the side of the bus to see what was happening. Each one was reminded of the time they first came to the Lighthouse and were welcomed into this mixed-up family. Derson introduced her to the boys and girls. Although shy at first, Anne-Marie soon began to laugh and talk easily with the others. Tom gave her a hug and a certificate the kids had made for her: an official invitation to join their ragtag collection of once-lost children, now found. She hugged it to her heart and looked up at him with a grateful smile. Tom squeezed her shoulders and whispered into her ear just one of the many promises God has for her. When he pulled back, he saw what kept him and others like him going—the face of a child Jesus has moved heaven and earth to find.
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