I would like to tell you a short story about a little girl named Hannah at the orphanage I oversee. Hannah’s father abandoned the family when Hannah was born, leaving behind a broken-hearted mother, two boys under the age of 3 and a darling little baby girl. That was 12 years ago. He has never been seen or heard from since—no phone calls, no money and no checking up to see how his own children are doing.
After her husband abandoned the family the mother’s life quickly spiraled downward. She could not sleep or eat and soon began to drink heavily. Within a short period of time she became an alcoholic mired in depression and tuberculosis. Soon she took no thought of her children and it was as if they hardly existed anymore. In a way they now were abandoned by both father and mother. Even as toddlers they learned the value of plastic and cardboard as they slowly learned the trade of being a “trash-picker”—scavenging the streets and alleys every morning and night for recyclables.
But their abusive neglect became so profound that eventually their aunt came and took them into her home—a cramped 12 foot by 12 foot leaky shack made out of banana leaves, bamboo and pieces of tin rescued from the trash… a place that few Westerners would even feel comfortable boarding their animal in. Despite their new surroundings their lives did not change in any significant ways. For their aunt, uncle and cousins scavenged through trash for survival too. There simply never was enough food to eat or money set aside for school.
So each day as other children would ride their bikes to school they would meet the rising sun with their heads lowered and arms thrust inside smelly trash bags tossed aside by neighbors from the night before. When Hannah turned 5 years old the situation simply became too financially dire for the aunt and she found herself unable to continue to feed Hannah and her brothers (Samuel and Mattai) as well as her own children. Shortly after she brought the 3 children to our home. They quickly became an indelible and cherished part of our family.
The particular story I want to share with you comes through a photo that has endeared itself to my heart on so many levels—specifically forgiveness. As the years began to pass and Hannah and her brothers continued to flower and bloom with their new family in ways never afforded to them before, we received a surprise visit from their mother—still an alcoholic and still unable to even care for herself. But her children, Hannah in particular, showed no anger, bitterness or resentment towards her mother for the
abusive neglect at being practically abandoned years before and deemed less valuable than the next bottle. On the contrary she threw her arms around her mother and drew her close with such a genuine joy that I couldn’t help but capture it with my camera. It was one of the most stunning and beautiful pictures of forgiveness I have ever seen. Before she left Hannah and her brothers prayed for their mom and told her that God loved her.
Shortly after this photo was taken the mother succumbed to tuberculosis—but not before joining a church and distancing herself from her former alcoholic bondage. In a day when so many frivolous things are shared and re-shared on the internet it is my hope that sharing this photo with you will put your soul on pause long enough to contemplate the joy of forgiveness and the freedom it gives ourselves and others.