by Leigh McGruder
I can barely put into words how I feel when I’m with the children at Imani. Their love that they show me is so beautiful. Every time they hold my hand, hug me, kiss me, and smile at me with the biggest eyes full of happiness… I’m speechless, warm, and I am just so thankful.
I’m thankful for the moment when Abigail was holding my hand while we were watching the other children play a ring toss game. There was yelling, cheering and jumping around. She opened my hand and still held her fingers in between mine, and then she kissed the palm of my hand. I just thought how precious that was. My hands were dirty, sweaty and really needed a wet wipe. Abigail didn’t see the dirt. She didn’t see the dirt and turn my hand over to kiss the back of my hand. I just see that as a beautiful example of how the Lord takes us by the hand in all the craziness, and looks at our most sinful parts of our being, and kisses them. He doesn’t care about the dirt, the grime, or the desperate need of a wet wipe. He wants to show us that He loves every part of us and he can clean my unworthy hands.
In John 15:16 it says, “You did not choose me but I chose you.”
I recently read this verse and it sank in deep. I’ve always known that He loves me no matter what, even when I choose sin. But I guess the wording of this verse just really puts it to me straight. I’m guilty of days that I haven’t chosen him. On those days, he looks at me and says, “Leigh, I still choose you.”
I feel like the Lord couldn’t of made it any more obvious that Imani is my mission. My life mission is to love them, to provide for them, and pray for them until I die. This orphanage isn’t apart of some organization that helps the kids get education, food, or housing. The government hardly gives them anything either. My family and one other couple from the United States help Imani.
It breaks my heart when we leave because all of their hearts are breaking to see us leave, and knowing we wont return for another year. They cry. Some try to hide their tears and keep them under control. Some children seem fine until you hug them and let go to see their eyes filled with tears. I absolutely hate to see them cry. I am so not worth that much hurt. I only give them a week of my year. I try my hardest to make every child feel so loved, but its just not enough. They deserve so much better and I have to help them be the best they want to be. It is the least I can do.
So here I am, God-willing, going to try my hardest, to create something better for them.
I want to start a non-profit organization to help give these children the education that they want and need. I want it to be called Imani’s dreams.
One day I was sitting in the grass with some kids and our guide/translator David. I wanted to ask the kids some questions that they may not get asked very much. I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. Smiles started to spread on their faces and some became shy to tell me. So David started asking the children individually and I got answers like pilot, pastor, nurse, chef, and tour guide. I could tell they weren’t asked this question often. This is probably because of the unlikeliness that they would get to be these things. These jobs demand education, and education demands money. There is not enough money to go around Imani to pay for one of these children’s pilot-school or medical school.
I loved to hear the words and see the smiles that came from every child.
But then one child asked David if I was going to pay for their schooling. I didn’t know what to say, so I told them to study hard, stay in their school (elementary, junior high and high school) and then follow their dreams.
I then asked them if any of the girls wanted to be a mommy and I got an unexpected answer. They weren’t smiling. They told me “No, if I was at home with a baby then who would make money?” Their dreams are to achieve and be something more than they were handed in this life. They want to work and make money. But the sad thing is, without the money to get them there, almost all of them will end up at home with children, and disappointed, not because they weren’t smart enough, or good enough but because they didn’t have the money to make those dreams come true. I refuse to accept this.
I woke up at 2 AM that night and started thinking about this. My mind starting racing when I started to think, maybe God placed me at Imani for this certain purpose. He randomly had me ask them those questions and now I can’t stop thinking about it. It kept me up until 4:30 AM.
Words were just flashing in my mind… dreams, education, money, ambitions. What could I do to make money for the sole purpose to help them make their dreams come true? What could I do? I can’t go home and do nothing. I must do something for them. They asked me if I would help them get an education. What would that say if I just ignored that?
Dreams…then it clicked.
I can make dream catchers. I can make them and sell them at home and tell people about these kid’s dreams to be, to thrive, and to be their best.
I thought about how cool it would be if they could make the dream catchers and then ship them to me for me to sell but it just wouldn’t work. I didn’t want to ask that of them either. I want to give them my time when I’m not there with them.
The next day we wanted to stop in a shop that sells a lot of African art, beads, and pretty much everything you can think of. When we were there, my mom asked if I wanted to get any supplies to make dream catchers with the kids. I was doubtful but as I started looking around, the materials were there, they weren’t what I was used to, but they were there. So I got the materials to make ten dream catchers. I later asked the ten oldest girls to come sit with me in a circle on a blanket. I had David explain for me that I loved hearing their dreams of what they want to be when they grow up. I told them I wanted to help them get the education to make that possible. I asked them if they wanted to make a dream catcher today and I could take them home, sell them, and send the money right back to them. Then after I sell those, I will make more dream catchers to sell. They all smiled and thanked me.
I want them to know that so many people believe in them, and Jesus believes in them. I love them so much; I can’t imagine how much Jesus loves them.
I want to work to make things possible for these sweet precious children. I know that its not me that will make it happen, but God will.