Part of the Family
The beauty, love, and hope of a child’s life restored
by Brooke Hartman
It was about halfway through our time with Tiny Hands in Nepal that I discovered a sweet spot tucked away in their ministry. I was so dazzled by the anti-trafficking work detailed in the previous article—the border stations and interceptions, maps, analytics, and all things undercover—that I sort of forgot about everything else, like how the ministry started in the first place: children’s homes.
Before we were scheduled to visit one of the homes, I flipped through a stack of old newsletters and magazines produced by Tiny Hands throughout the years and read that the founder, John, had originally established Tiny Hands as an organization caring for orphaned and abandoned street children. He launched the ministry after he noticed a stark contrast between street kids in Kathmandu and the smiling, laughing, singing, dancing kids of a local organization’s family-style children’s home. He determined to find those who need help the most—vulnerable orphaned or abandoned kids on the streets—and use the best strategies, the most qualified people, and a “do much with little” philosophy.
Tiny Hands opened their first children’s home in 2003 as a family, not an orphanage, which I thought was interesting. My image of a children’s home had always been a gaggle of stray kids collected together and organized by age and sheltered until they were either adopted or released into the world at age 18. But kids in Tiny Hands’ homes were not waiting for adoption or shoring up dreams of a future family—the home in itself was a family. They had two parents who were called to serve them attentively and individually, a quality education in both Nepali and English at a nearby school, spiritual nurturing, health care, protection, solid nutrition, games, laughter, fun, and on-target development.
So that was the plan. Tiny Hands opened that first home, and then grew a handful of additional homes in Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Chitwan, caring for Nepal’s orphaned and abandoned kids.
It was only through the work with vulnerable kids, however, that John became aware of a more desperate injustice: sex trafficking. Girls and kids were harvested from villages and streets all around him and taken across the Nepal/India borders for the purpose of sexual slavery. Quickly, victims of trafficking moved to the top of the list and the organization began specific anti-trafficking initiatives.
Desperate for Help
Ultimately, I understood, it wasn’t about the specific issue. The entire vision of Tiny Hands follows a few commands of Christ: love your neighbor as yourself, and whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me. If you found yourself alone on the street or without parents, would you be desperate for someone to help? Then Tiny Hands would be desperate to help. If you were kidnapped and raped, would you be desperate for someone to find the courage and conviction to save you? Then Tiny Hands would be desperate to find the girls and save them.
Tiny Hands is living this philosophy out, in addition to their sex trafficking programs, within their ten children’s homes. In total, they serve 138 kids.
How could we have overlooked this?!
Well, I imagine it happens all the time. There are no blockbuster movies starring Liam Neeson about children’s homes. The injustice and responses aren’t as dramatic as trafficking. Raising 14 kids that aren’t your own isn’t glamorous. What would the title of the movie even be? Cared For.
This movie would feature early morning wake-ups, preparing a ton of breakfast, wetting down rogue hairs on an eight-year-old, morning prayers, packing book bags, socks and uniforms and bow ties and ponytails and braids and shoe-tying, walking several kids to several different schools, laundry, parent conferences, more food, homework, lots of math and spelling help, playtime, singing time, devotions, dinner, teeth-brushing, hair-undoing, night time prayers, uniform ironing, sock pairing, shoe-lining, and several deep breaths.
The thing is, it was riveting when I saw it in action. And the tiny little faces that welcomed me into Tiny Hands’ Bethany Home are just as valuable, precious and deserving of attention as their counterparts at the borders with equally as desperate circumstances. All these vulnerable kids are just trying to make it in Nepal, and Tiny Hands is doing everything they can to ensure they more than make it, that they are loved, cared for, protected, educated, healthy and successful in the process—belonging to two parents and a handful of siblings for their entire lives.
We—my husband Jeff and I, along with a Tiny Hands staff member—arrived at Bethany Home one evening during play time, and noticed about a dozen kids ranging in age from three to twelve playing on a colorfully carpeted floor in front of an entire wall of toys and games. The room was painted purple and green, decorated with construction paper handprints, photographs, and crafts from each of the kids.
We were pummeled with hugs and kisses and laughter and tickling and displays of ABCs and number counting, and we were eventually serenaded with several songs that included coordinated dance moves and hand motions. They also waited expectantly as Jeff and I struggled to come up with an equally impressive impromptu song with coordinated dance moves—Father Abraham was brilliant, we thought, until they all joined in. Old news, Father Abraham.
We met the youngest kids, three-year-olds Samuel and Sudin, who are not brothers, but were inseparable and off-the-wall silly, inciting monkey noises and matchbox car races and wrestling moves from Jeff and the other staff.
Samuel and Sudin were typical three-year-old boys in every way possible—rambunctious, playful, and full of energy. I looked at the house mom, who was acting as base for several other young kids who would run back and forth from her lap to the toys, and shook my head. How does she do it? And why? She and her husband had two healthy biological kids in the mix somewhere in the room and could surely be making more money for an easier life. But she smiled back and wrapped one of the boys in a bear hug, patiently redirecting the other who was break-dancing on top of another kid’s puzzle.
We wanted to hear their stories—the kids and the parents—but we’d have to come back. Being an attentive mom to 14 kids under 12 doesn’t really allow for efficient side conversation, so we enjoyed the tea served by one of the older kids and jumped into the playtime scene around us.
A Bright Future
Livingstone Academy is a fantastic Christ-centered school in Kathmandu where over 500 students receive one of the best educations in Nepal. Close to half of the students come from local children’s homes, including those run by Tiny Hands. Here are a few of the beautiful faces of kids whose lives are being transformed by education.
Because it’s a law in Nepal that foreigners can’t spend the night in children’s homes, we made arrangements to sneak in the next morning for breakfast just to see what a typical morning is like in the home. We also hoped to visit the kids’ schools and spend some quality time getting to know the house parents.
We arrived early the next morning to sleepy faces and hot breakfast. The kids lined up at the table, prayed together and gobbled up their steamy platefuls of lentils and rice. We had such fun watching the little and big girls do each other’s hair, the older kids fix the uniform neckties of the younger kids, and little feet everywhere pulling socks on and off as they found the right sizes and matches. You would never believe the effort it takes to find and fit 14 pairs of little feet into shoes, but they did it, and the entire family gathered for dad’s morning prayer before leaving for school. I was in awe. Throughout the entire getting-ready-for-school process, I never felt tense or overwhelmed. The house parents emulate a feeling of peace and patience throughout the house, and it’s impossible not to just soak it up. When was the last time you spent a few hours with 14 kids under 12 during those hectic morning hours and walked away feeling peaceful?!
We walked with the family hand-in-hand to three different schools, including the two youngest—Samuel and Sudin—who attend a Montessori playgroup. Montessori playgroup. Such opportunities afforded to these two little guys! I wondered if a Montessori playgroup would even have been a possibility in their other lives prior to Bethany Home. Where had they come from? Why were they here?
Questions were piling up as we walked with the parents back to the house, and I patiently sat, sipping my tea and visiting, until the conversation lulled and they asked if we had any questions about the kids or the house. Finally!
“Tell me everything,” I said. “Beginning to end, front to back, yourselves, the kids, the entire story!”
I’d heard from Tiny Hands staff that Bethany Home was a special place, that the parents had a unique story, and that some of their youngest kids had the greatest margin of growth despite desperate beginnings. I wanted it all. So we sat cross-legged on the floor of the colorful playroom over Nepali tea for several hours, and the Gurungs shared their own story, and the stories of how several kids had become their own.
Raju (the dad) and Gyanu (the mom) were no strangers to orphanages and children’s homes, it turns out. Raju had grown up in an orphanage, and Gyanu had been the daughter of house parents in a children’s home. Their entire lives, they felt, were equipping them and calling them back to serve orphaned or abandoned kids in some capacity. They just didn’t know how. With this in mind, after they got married, they went to Northern India to complete a theological orphan ministry study for several years, and upon their return to Nepal, Raju started a small church fellowship. Orphan ministry was still on his heart, but he was waiting for the right time and trusted God to open the right doors.
In the meantime, a summer intern from Azusa Pacific had come to Nepal to learn about the Tiny Hands ministry. After returning home, she shared with her family the uniqueness of the children’s home ministry and the impact it has had on the children in those homes. Her family quickly decided they wanted to help start the next Tiny Hands home. They raised money for the startup expenses and then made the decision to sponsor all the children in the new home. Their money opened the home and sponsored all the kids the Gurung care for now.
Tiny Hands, Gurungs told us, has a rigorous process for finding, hiring and training house parents: prayer, interviews, testing, consultation references, paperwork, and a ton more training.
Each Tiny Hands home is overseen and spiritually supported by a board of Christians from a local Christian church, and Raju and Gyanu had heard about Tiny Hands through a previous chairman on one of those boards. They began the long application and interview process, ultimately becoming the parents of Bethany Home and folding an additional twelve kids into the family they had already established with their two young daughters.
After two days in the home, I still couldn’t identify the Gurung’s biological kids from the other kids in the home. Everyone called the parents mommy and daddy, each was treated with individual love and care, and the kids behaved toward each other as lifelong siblings might. It did not feel like an orphanage or children’s home—maybe because the Gugung’s felt these kids were their lives’ purpose. When the Gurungs became house parents at Bethany home, they committed to raising these kids as their own for life! They are parents 24/7 with no vacation or time off, and when asked about free time, they told us with a laugh, “Maybe when the kids are grown up and married off we’ll have some free time!”
These families are for real!
And real families aren’t all rainbows and butterflies. Raju was quick to point this out as I stared dreamily at the awe-inspiring couple.
“Sometimes our love is not enough,” Raju said, point blank. “Someone else’s biological genes are running through their bodies, and when they move in, there is always an adjustment. We may tell them something 2000 times, and our hearts break as they make the same mistakes over and over. But God’s eyes and God’s grace and God’s patience are enough, and that’s what we’re given during those times when our own love is not enough. And it has to be a calling—anything less won’t work, our selfish desires take over. But it’s a privilege to nurture them in that way and let them know how much God loves them. We are their family until they stand in their own faith, 25 or 30 years until marriage.”
Wow. I couldn’t even understand this type of faith and supernatural gifting of patience and peace.
Raju and Gyanu went on to describe the especially difficult circumstances they faced with the two youngest in the house, and celebrated the kids’ tremendous growth in the face of their precarious starts.
Sudin, who is three, Gyanu explained, has a mother who is developmentally disabled. While she was living on the streets, she was raped and became pregnant. She tried to perform her own abortion, but someone found her and informed the leaders at a local Christian church. The church intervened, took her in, and now cares for the mom while Bethany Home raises Sudin. She can visit Sudin anytime, and receives updates and pictures.
When little Sudin came to the home at 18 months, he was developmentally delayed. He had no speech abilities, but would cry and make other noises, had minimal motor skills, and no relational skills. Raju described how Sudin would just sit in the corner, scared, refusing to interact with anyone.
Could this be the same Sudin who jumped into Jeff’s lap earlier, tickled him, made monkey sounds as he ran around the room, and cracked up when Jeff pretended to be a monkey chasing after him? No way.
“That’s the same kid!” Raju answered. “When he first arrived, he didn’t sleep for four entire days or nights. We didn’t know what to do but pray. On the fifth night, by God’s grace, he slept for two hours. His sleeping gradually improved, his behavior has improved, he interacts with others, and he loves singing and music.”
Sudin is still slightly behind in height and weight, Gyanu told us, but he is catching up. He is also still a little bit behind his peers developmentally, but improving.
The Gurumg’s prayer for Sudin is that God will continue to mold him and that he’ll grow up to understand God’s love for him.
Samuel, the other rough-and-tumble three-year-old from the night before, was equally as inspiring and elicited a smile and an unexplained desire to tackle him in a hug whenever we saw him.
Raju explained that Samuel’s mom died shortly after giving birth, leaving him in the care of his dad, who was deaf and mute. His dad cared for him for about 18 months, homeless and traveling through villages working for food and shelter. Can you imagine this? Your wife has died, you’re deaf and mute and homeless trying to feed yourself and your infant baby?! I loved Samuel’s dad in that moment, considering how easy it would have been for him to discard the baby.
A man from one of the village churches noticed the man who took his baby with him everywhere, and saw that the baby was starving and not developing. The man contacted Tiny Hands, who offered to care for Samuel in one of their children’s homes. The dad agreed and Samuel came to live with the Gurung’s at Bethany Home. Samuel was mute for several months and malnourished, but eventually began developing verbal and motor skills. He is now only minimally developmentally behind his peers and continues to improve.
Caring for Orphans?
Though we only had the privilege of spending time in Bethany Home, I learned through Tiny Hands staff that Bethany is just one of ten homes in Nepal, with two more homes on the way and a waiting list of kids. Each home has caring parents with inspiring stories, and each of the 138 kids in the homes has a history that could break your heart and then fill you right up to the brink with hope. Each home is spiritually supported and overseen by the local church, each child is identified through local churches and vetted out by Tiny Hands, and each child is sponsored by someone like you.
All of these roles together are being the kingdom to vulnerable kids who need it most. Tiny Hands relies on the local church to identify the kids and raises them in loving homes with parents who have completely set aside their own lives to grow the kids in a family setting and with a church family already in place to receive them.
I was pretty amazed as we left Bethany Home, and also frantically stuffing my own personal feelings back down as they bubbled up and around me—bright shining reflections of all I was seeing acting as flashlights into my own dark spaces.
About two years ago, my husband and I began a deep and murky journey into unparenthood. We didn’t set out on this path; we definitely chose the trailhead marked Easy, Happy and Suburban with Babies. It would include things like t-ball games, and family middle names handed down, and dinosaur shaped pancakes on Saturday mornings.
Instead, we found ourselves hiking up steep inclines of doctor visits and fertility treatments, carrying heavy packs filled with medication and confusion. We navigated around tricky financial crevices, tiptoed along emotional ledges and trudged through empty ultrasounds. Our hearts broke and rebroke more times than I thought possible.
After two years, we stepped off the trail entirely and pondered these things: where are we headed, and is there another way to get there?
Of course, we thought of adoption and fostering. We know of kids near and far who need homes, and we don’t believe our own gene pool is innately better than anyone else’s. But I am a social worker, and my compassion for vulnerable kids comes with a knowledge of all things adjustment related. I am more than willing to help a kid through it, but live inside the adjustment period 24/7 as my own life?
I think my kindness gland is broken. Or my discernment is finely tuned—one of the two. To this point, my compassion—no, not compassion…my calling—had not extended that far. Would Jeff and I ever parent an orphaned or abandoned kid? Malnourished? Mute? Developmentally delayed? What about two? What about 14?! And then I wondered, does caring for orphans mean actually parenting them?
To Raju and Gyanu it did, and they were so sure about this calling they actually abandoned their previous lives, quit their jobs and became full-time parents, supported by sponsors and the church. Ten homes with ten sets of parents who’ve stopped their lives to raise someone else’s 14 kids.
I thought about Raju saying it has to be a calling. And I’ll never forget when he admitted his own love wasn’t enough. I don’t feel so bad for wondering if I’m cut out for it—none of us are. But if it’s a calling, God’s love, patience and eyes take over our own and God’s love is enough.
Right now, that’s not our calling. I don’t know if we’ll ever be called to raise 14 kids or one kid or no kids, but I do know that as Christians, we’re all called to care for them. And caring for orphans doesn’t always mean parenting them. Sometimes caring for orphans means supporting the ones called to be parents, like Raju and Gyanu.
In the meantime, I can’t wait to see the picture and name of the new kid we’ll be sponsoring through Tiny Hands, and my heart has opened a tiny bit wider to let that little guy in
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