Day 7 - Continued...
Yesterday, we were not scheduled to go to Manchen because everybody was still being sequestered after the massive escape/vengeance attempt 4 days ago. But, we went there anyway to stand outside and pray for them and their safety. As I went to the door, I could see the faces of the girls I'd come to love pleading back at me from behind the bars of the inner gate. Some were crying, some seemed stoically resigned to the disappointement of being deprived. I knew I shouldn't let them see me, but they knew I was there and they were calling my name. Luz wanted to tell me goodbye. Greisy wanted to give me a note she'd written for my brother, Mike. Maria Jose had written a folder full of letters to give to the friends she had made from our group of gringos, especially the boys she'd met. They were allowed to come into the antechamber one at a time to hand me letters, kiss my face, and tell me they loved me. I was able to touch their faces as well, tell them that I was always thinking of them and loved them more than they could imagine and that I would return in the weeks to come. At that, the huge wooden door was closed and I joined my companions as we held hands and silently prayed for the girls left inside to deal with (and be subject to) the aftermath of a failed prison break.
The truth is that Luz, Greisy, Maria Jose, and all their sisters inside Manchen have better chances at a better life if they stay inside the high walls of the orphanage, take English classes, and become educated. Many of them have families that they want to return to, but either their families cannot care for them or they simply do not want them. But, how do you tell that to a 15 year old girl, whose only thoughts are of a home where they can be free and loved by the people they love, that such a place does not exist? That they have to make it for themselves? And that I will help them if only they'd let me? Too many times I have witnessed the reality of those longings for the outside world when visiting day comes and the girls have been promised a visit from family. They wait and they pray and they wait for people that will never come and when the clock chimes for the last time, they crumble into themselves, inconsolable, to a place where I cannot go until they permit me inside. So, I am here. We are here. Because each of us has a relationship with one or more of the 110 girls living at Manchen, and now it is up to us to continue that relationship and be there.
As I was meditating on my girls and silently willing the walls to disappear, I could hear the locks on the heavy door being undone and suddenly the door opened again. We were being allowed inside. All of us. I almost burst into tears right then and there. It had been 4 days since we were last permitted to go inside. I did not know how much damage had been done or if any of the girls had been hurt or involved. I was a desperate woman. I flung the letters I was clutching in my hands at the people they were destined for, tucked the one for my brother into my pocket, looked to my leader for the final go-ahead, and then launched myself through the door and into the antechamber. The barred gate had not been opened yet, but that did not stop me from shoving my arms through the openings and holding Luz's face in my hands as she was always waiting there for us. As the gate was opened, we finally embraced as a few other girls gathered around for a big group hug. I turned and saw Greisy, with eyes red and swollen from her sobs. A few minutes before, I'd taken a letter from her to my brother and barely had a chance to promise he'd receive it before the door had been slammed between us. The cruelty of that moment was in its brevity and now she looked at me with eyes that told me she barely believed I was there, that I wanted to be there. I held her close as she heaved into my chest with tears still running rivers down her perfect face and we rocked together for another moment. Finally, she cracked a smile we began laughing together at the insanity of the situation. She said, "Te amo," and I answered "Te amo tambien, mi vida." I promised her that my brother Mike would get her letter and we unlocked ourselves with the knowledge that we had been one in our torment of separation. We had connected and now live in each other's hearts and minds forever. We parted and I turned again to see Maria Jose. She had made me a gift. Something she'd begun, but did not finish due to the lock down. It was a little piece of construction paper with a tiny hand-made fuzzball in the corner. She'd used some of the colored sand we'd brought the previous time we'd been able to visit to create a decorative border. I believe, had she had the time, a note would have been written inside the border, but as it was it was perfect. I hugged her and told her I loved her, too.
All of this happened in the space of 20 minutes. I did not get to speak to everyone and many faces were missing from the sea that engulfed us in front of the antechamber. I was shocked when Luz told me that 23 girls were involved in the escape attempt. Only 4 or 5 were friends with the girl who was sent away. All 23 had been placed on highest level restriction and place behind the bars of high security. We could see them leaning from inside their cell against the bars that were punishing them as they watched us gather with the other girls who were not involved in the incident. They had broken windows, light fixtures, and tore up the tiny chapel area inside the antechamber, which indicates that they came very close achieving their foolish goal of escape. They must have been planning this for some time and they definitely made their point, but at the expense of everyone else. All 110 girls have been stripped of computer and television privileges for one month and no one can attend extra-curricular activities such as painting class in that time as well. I remember being glad to see that the girls could enjoy some television in their downtime so that the walls around them might seem less persistent, but now that is over. I understand the necessity for strict enforcement and I do not pretend to know what it must be like to run a state orphanage in Guatemala. But, I am glad that we were allowed a few seconds to share their discomfort and wipe away their tears before leaving for Huehuetenango. After our 20 minutes were over, we said our final goodbyes and pried away the small hands that clutched as us to stay. We walked away solemly, exhausted and sick with sadness. We were told that another visit may be possible in a few weeks, but as I have already written... things change.
Pray for these girls and the continuance of hope that rests deep in their hearts, that it remain a source of strength for them and pray that they never forget how much I love them and that the Lord loves them so much more.