Although I love all the kids that I work with here in Liberia, there are six teenage girls that have a very special place in my heart. I meet with them every Wednesday afternoon for our small group. We talk, laugh, pray, read; the activities will vary depending on the day. One thing I always try to communicate, however, is that each one of the girls is special, uniquely created, and deeply loved.
Living in an orphanage means that these girls often feel like just another face in the crowd, simply another number in the midst of many. They don’t have a lot people in their lives who can affirm or encourage them, to help them see and reach their full potential. As teenage girls, they struggle with self-esteem and image issues. They often put themselves down and call themselves ugly or stupid. I look at them and see some of the most beautiful, talented, amazing young women I’ve ever met—and it breaks my heart that they don’t see it in themselves.
In November, I planned a “special” lesson for the girls. We read You are Special by Max Lucado and talked about how all of us are wonderfully created by a God who loves us more than we could ever know. I had also written little notes to each girl, letting them know how much I love them and how much they mean to me. It was a beautiful, memorable afternoon.
Yesterday, when I went to the orphanage, I brought a surprise for the girls. I had ordered them each a copy of You are Special and gave it to them as a reminder of how treasured they are (by both God andme!) As each girl unwrapped her gift, a huge smile lit up her face, and many of them started giggling. After hugs and thank-yous, I asked them, “Do you know why I gave you this book?” All at once, the girls replied, “Because you think we are special!” My heart smiled, as I realized that they finally are starting to believe what I have been telling them for weeks. They have begun to understand just how special they are.
For the rest of the afternoon, we had “girl time.” We painted our nails, sang songs, did an art project, took photos, and just talked. It was one of the best afternoons I’d had in a long time. As Janet, who was sitting on my left, grabbed my hand and held it, and Teddy, who was on my right, rested her head on my shoulder, I started tearing up. ‘This is what it’s all about,’ I thought. I’ve been meeting with these girls faithfully each week, hoping that love, care, and attention will help make a difference in their lives. And in the process, the relationship we’ve built has totally changed me.