Orangewood Children’s Home
A few weeks ago I and about four others went to the local Red Cross near Euclid and Bastanchury and donated blood. Afterwards I shared with my fellow donors that the experience of lying there with blood slowly being drained from me gave me a greater appreciation for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for me. They responded that they wished they had made that correlation while they were donating their blood because it would’ve made the experience much more meaningful and spiritually significant for them. From their response, I realized that Christians do not naturally make a connection between merciful acts and spiritual acts of worship. That is, many Christians can make connections between singing a praise song and imagining Christ’s sacrifice, but they are not used to correlating their reflections on spiritual matters with things they have actually experienced in physical reality. For that reason, I wanted to share some spiritual connections I’ve experienced at Orangewood Children’s Home to encourage others not only to go, but to be on the look out for them as well to make the most of the experience.
“The heart is the most deceitful of all things, desperately sick; who can fathom it?” Jeremiah 17:9
One of the biggest struggles I must overcome each and every month the opportunity to go to Orangewood presents itself is a sense of futility: “What difference could just one hour a month really make in these kids’ lives?” Sometimes this sense of futility stops me from going. But in truth, why is it that futility does not stop me from watching two hours of television every day? Why do I only allow a sense of futility to stop me from giving abused kids one hour’s worth of a happy memory? This contradiction has underscored the truth of Jeremiah 17:9 for me.
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Genesis 1:3
These abused and neglected children are filled with so many terribly dark memories. So each time I go I am humbled and awed and often overcome by the God-like power He has granted me to simply speak, “What a beautiful picture, Joey, can you sign it for me?”, and by mere words see happiness, gratitude, and confidence spontaneously created in a 5 year old’s emotionally traumatized heart. There is nothing quite like it.
“But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.'” Luke 18:16-17
In order to bless the kids at Orangewood, I learned that I must become for one hour like a little child. Playing chase or getting my hands messy with fingerpaint is still very awkward for me; it disturbs my sense of dignity and propriety. But it is at Orangewood where I can experientially know what I only theoretically know as an adult, that is, there is a relationship between being like a little child and receiving and entering God’s kingdom. The verse sounds foreign until you actually experience its truth, which can be done at Orangewood.
“The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” Revelation 21:23
This may sound strange, but each time I go to Orangewood, my face is bathed in the warmth of God’s pleasure like few other places in Orange County. It is like enjoying the warmth of the sun at the beach on a beautiful day. Instead of the soothing sound of waves, my heart is calmed by the sound of children’s laughter. My description comes off as B-rated poetry. But it is my testimony.
Though I could not think of verses to support these final two observations I experience at Orangewood, I’d like to share them anyways. First, the privilege to actually be part of a happy memory for a child who has been robbed of his or her childhood cannot be overestimated. Whenever I think of it I am blessed. I was one hour’s worth of a happy memory for a child who has had such a small number of hours that he or she could call happy. Thank You Lord for such a precious gift. Second, GK Chesterton once described children as those who “exult in the monotonous.” I tossed a stuffed football to a 6 year old girl on a swing about two dozen times, but she never got tired of it. She only responded, “Do it again!” Chesterton connected this reality to the spiritual reality that God may also exult in the monotonous. When God creates one flower, He is so delighted that He says to Himself, “Do it again!” A field of lillies is a testimony to God’s child-like wonder and excitement.
Every Saturday I go with Jeff to the convalescent home in Anaheim. It has about 60 elderly grandmothers and grandfathers of Korean-descent. Originally I just wanted to practice my Korean conversation skills and improve my vocabulary. Since the elderly there had a lot of time on their hands and spoke only Korean, I thought it was an ideal place to learn. It has been in more ways than one.
Each time I open the entrance door, I smell death. I walk down a hall and hear a grandmother whimpering in pain. I look into a room filled with about 30 wheelchair-bound grandmothers staring with glazed eyes into a big screen t.v. which broadcasts programs in a language they do not understand. If they have any particular needs, only a handful still try to communicate in Korean with the Filipino and Hispanic nurses. A different Korean church daily visits and for 15 minutes their members pray over the grandmothers. The pastor then gives a sermon for 30 minutes. The only time the grandmothers get to say anything is during praise time. Otherwise they mostly listen.
The above is a brief glimpse of what it’s like to visit the convalescent home on a typical day. I’d like to offer two “spiritual connections” to also encourage people to go to the convalescent home and make the most of the experience.
“But I call to God, and the LORD saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.” Psalm 55:16-17
What I do each Saturday is for one hour sit and listen as a grandmother talks about anything on her mind – her life stories, current events, daily struggles. Every now and then I jot down some new words or phrases to look up in my Korean-English dictionary. During that one hour, the feeble, wheelchair-bound patient who is routinely ignored or condescended to by everyone (her family, the nurses, other patients) becomes my invaluable teacher, a person worthy of respect. Simone Weil said that doing mercy is first and foremost giving a sufferer your attention. This is because suffering due to poverty, sickness, or abuse cruelly strips a person of his or her dignity. It makes them not worth listening to very closely. It makes them a less valuable human being. Isn’t this true? I don’t take very seriously what a homeless person has to say to me. And for the first few weeks, I didn’t take very seriously what the elderly in their wheelchairs had to say. But then I realized what Weil was talking about. That is, each Saturday I help give back to a grandmother her sense of dignity by listening to her; just as God restores my dignity during times I’m just a whimpering sinner by hearing my voice in prayer.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
The Bible often mentions orphans and widows together (e.g., Deut 14:29; Job 22:9; Ps 68:5). I think one reason is because they are both people who have been abandoned by their families and as a result are extremely lonely and defenseless. I and the others who go have been unofficially adopted by several grandmothers at the convalescent home. One grandmother always asks me whether I’ve eaten and tells me to sit down with her to have lunch. Another grandmother always addresses me as “bachelor” and asks whether I’ve found someone to marry yet. I think God our Father accepts as pure and faultless Christians looking after these grandmothers at the convalescent home because it’s a reflection of who He is: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” Psalm 68:5. Each time a grandmother is thirsting for water, or wants to go to her room, or has an upset stomach, instead of having to wait half an hour to an hour for the off-chance that a sympathetic nurse will walk by and notice, I am her able feet, I am her strong voice and ensure immediate attention from the nurses. I am a weekly reminder to the staff that this grandmother is not someone without a family, someone who can easily be ignored without worry about complaints.