Andrea Dobbins is an avid runner and triathlete, a working professional, and wife of nine years to Joe. She attends Family Church in Palm Beach Gardens on Sundays and Bible study on Thursdays, but her deepest calling comes from a coast far from the shores of Palm Beach County.
I just held her, and although we don’t speak the same language we talked to each other. Love doesn’t need a language to communicate.
Three years ago, Andrea visited an orphanage through the non-profit organization, Children to Love (CTL), which was founded by people from her childhood church in Southern California. Her life, after visiting this orphanage, has never been the same.
CTL provides support to the Berachah Children’s Home. The orphanage is situated in the cool, tropical climate along the southern coast of India. Founded in 2000 by Kiran Paul, the home serves over 200 children who have been orphaned or semi-orphaned by tragic circumstances such as severe poverty, parent suicide or natural disasters.
Every child at the home has a uniquely heart breaking story. Some have been rescued from human trafficking, others left abandoned by their family because the parents could not afford to feed them, and others are sold by an aged grandparent that can no longer care for them. Whatever the circumstances were that lead them to this home, they now have the assurance of safety, nutrition, and the opportunity to attend school (all Indian schools are tuition based). Most importantly, they are in an environment that addresses their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, providing a foundation in the wisdom, love and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
For most of them, their age is an approximation because for many of these people, the struggle to provide food and water for the family is more important than keeping birth records. However, most of the children range in age from approximately four years to 18 years.
The first two trips to India, Andrea went with a team of people from all over the United States. The team members were equipped with a variety of talents and gifts to serve the Indian people. These mission trips are about establishing long term relationships, with the single goal of showing them the love of Christ.
Each trip is uniquely planned depending on the team, but the intentions are generally the same: love the kids, pass around lots of smiles, laughter and hugs, and teach widows and single mothers skills to support themselves.
When the teams return year after year, the kids remember even the most insignificant of details. Andrea found that many of the girls greeted her with questions about her husband Joe and her dog Gracie. They asked if she had a good birthday because they remembered it was the day before she arrived and they reminded her of her favorite color–pink.
Andrea delighted in seeing their growth; the tiniest ones now so much bigger, the first graders with their new teeth, their younger peers now beaming their toothless smiles up to her. A few new kids had arrived to the home as well.
Andrea recalls a previous year’s experience while visiting the orphanage, “Last year we were taking 200 children to the beach. Beach day is like Disneyland. We have these big buses and we load all the kids on the bus to go to the beach.”
As they were driving, Kiran and his wife Lakshmi noticed a very small child on the side of the road. This was a busy highway and the child was too close to the road with no adults around. Immediately, Kiran called for the vehicle to pull over. They approached the little girl who was maybe three or four years old, and asked where her parents were. She didn’t know. She knew only her first name: Naga-Lakshmi. When Kiran asked when she had last seen her parents, she couldn’t give him an answer. So they invited her into the car and continued on to the beach. The staff from the orphanage set up their tents and set out their picnic as Naga-Lakshmi looked on in wide eyed wonder.
Naga-Lakshmi ate lunch with the other kids and observed them as they played at the beach swimming and frolicking in the ocean. She was very reserved and approached Andrea and made the gesture to be picked up and held.
Andrea spent the better part of the day walking around the beach carrying this abandoned child on her hip. “I just held her, and although we don’t speak the same language we talked to each other. Love doesn’t need a language to communicate.”
At the end of the day, with the kids loaded back onto the buses with an additional child in tow, the team made their way back to the home. At this point it was obvious that Naga-Lakshmi was getting a little nervous about being confined. Many times she tried to run out the front gate which protects the kids from wandering and keeps out unwanted visitors.
The novelty of the day had begun to wear off and this child was now in panic mode. She was ready to leave and was getting more upset that she could not. The melt downs started. The tears and the hysterical crying ensued but the staff stood firmly authoritative yet loving as they walked through this difficult time with this scared and lonely child. It was not the first time they had to deal with a child like this. Andrea watched in awe as they worked through what was no doubt going to be a long process to get this child accustomed to a new way of living.
Kiran works closely with the local police department, trying to locate the families of the children and Naga-Lakshmi was no different. Kiran provided as much information to the police department as he could in hopes of locating her family and reuniting them. The home offers family counseling if they are able to locate the relatives.
As the days passed and little progress was made to locate Naga-Lakshmi’s family the team saw that she would most likely be living there indefinitely. The last time Andrea saw this child she was inconsolable with tears streaming down her cheeks. It was gut wrenching to see this sweet child so upset. She may not have understood, but she was safe and there was no fear about her being sold into human trafficking or abused in any way. All the team could do was pray and trust that God would work out His plan for her life.
When Andrea arrived this year she was looking for Naga-Lakshmi. She was told by Kiran that the child was still living at the home. The child that Andrea saw this time looked like the little girl from last year and yet she was a totally different child. This little girl was laughing and running around with the other little girls. She knew the routine for meals, to wash up (they call it “fresh-up”). She knew when it was time for homework or family prayer time. And she was now attending school. Andrea had the privilege to sit and help her with her studies after school. “It was incredible to see her practice her writing with such intensity and have so much pride in her work, that it brought me to tears”, Andrea said. “How can this be the same child?”
I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40
This was a clear example of how one life was transformed by the Berachah Children’s Home but could only be possible with the truth from God’s word and the love of Jesus Christ. Matthew 25:40, “…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” That is the mission of CTL, to meet the needs of the suffering children of the world, providing help and assistance to empower ‘the least of these’.
Naga-Lakshmi will continue to grow and thrive under the Godly instruction she receives from Kiran and the staff Berachah. God willing, Andrea will return to India visiting the kids, being reminded of her favorite color, and being asked how her dog Gracie is doing.
There will be many smiles and much laughter, but the deeper understanding is knowing that we are walking in obedience to God’s Word by serving these precious children. So many people need to see the love of Jesus in this dark and dying world. What is God calling you to do? Will you answer the call?