the orphanage that ruined me

Our first full day in Honduras we went to the government orphanage in San Pedro Sula.

I knew this day would be hard. I knew it from the day my friend Anna told me we would be going. I started praying for strength that very day.

To not be able to grow our family is hard.
To be in the middle of what seems like a stagnant adoption process is trying.
To go to an orphanage and spend time with precious children that you can not take home is excruciating.

I am going to tell you all about my time in that orphanage and I am not going to sugar coat it for you. I will say (not to sound superior or all-knowing) that my words will not suffice to paint the picture of the conditions of this place.

Our van pulled up to a 20 foot tall concrete wall, topped with barbed wire. The guards opened the huge iron gate for us to pull in and then they promptly closed and locked them behind us. Clue number one. I stepped out of the van and caught my breath. The "orphanage" we were at most resembled a prison. Iron bars on all the windows and nothing but concrete and tile inside. Not a soft surface to be found. We were told that maximum capacity was 120 children...and that they were at about 160 at last count. The first thing I smelled was urine. The entire place was covered in it. The children came out in droves and lined up for their treat. We brought fruit for them since they don't get much to eat to begin with and they need some sort of nutrition.

You have never seen brighter smiles than the ones that graced the faces of those who had received their fruit. What innocence.

During the fruit I felt a tug on my shirt, and then a pulling on the back of my neck. A little boy, I can't be sure of his age but if I had to guess I would say 9 or 10, was pulling me down into him. He made sure my head was resting on his shoulder as he kissed my cheek over and over and over. He wouldn't let go. I felt the lice crawling all over my cheek and my neck and I didn't care. I wasn't letting go either. It was by the grace of God that I didn't break down right then and there.

I didn't want those kids to see any more sadness than they already had. We were there to bring hope and joy and smiles and love, not tears. This was not my day to be selfish, I was to be the light of Christ in  a dark dark place.

We then toured the orphanage where we saw rooms covered in dirt with not enough beds and mattresses whose springs had long worn through. We saw sick child after sick child laying in beds motionless. We saw special needs children whom could have had a completely normal life had it not been for the beatings and neglect they had seen in such a short little lifetime. We saw bare feet and nakedness. We felt the intense heat with no air conditioning. We smelled the urine and feces that covered the floors. We touched those who hadn't felt physical touch in days or weeks. We heard the laughter of little ones who found joy in just playing with two marbles.

Finally, we came to the baby room. This room contained about 30 children...and one worker. I would venture to say at least 60% of them were sick. There were two babies to a crib. Blankets were propped up under bottles so that they could feed themselves. Most were under the age of 2, except for the precious few in their teen years who had disabilities you can't even fathom. I was overcome with despair immediately upon entering that room. I stopped and prayed for strength and peace and wisdom and guidance and everything I could think of before I could run out of that room and pretend I never saw what I saw.

And God heard. He gave me a measure of grace unlike any I had ever had before. He directed my steps to a 9 month old baby boy who was smaller than most 3 month old American babies. I gently turned him over from his belly and immediately noticed his insanely high fever and the green, sickly snot running from his poor nose. I picked him up. I didn't care that we weren't really supposed to (we had been told it is more traumatizing to them to be held and put down than never held at all...) I held and cuddled and talked to and prayed over this little boy for what seemed like a lifetime and a millisecond all at the same time.

I should have run out the door with him.

He was so hungry, but the worker would not feed him because of the fever. My heart was breaking. He finally fell asleep and I laid him down. I repeated the process all over again with another precious little boy (I really have a soft spot for boys...) until we were told it was time to go. I know I was the last one to leave that room and I honestly don't remember doing it. I think God picked me up himself and placed me outside the door because I surely wouldn't have removed myself.

On the way out I was bombarded by little ones who were fascinated by my camera. They wanted pictures of themselves and I was only more than happy to oblige. I don't know how long the others waited in the vans for me, all I know is they were fully air-conditioned by the time I got in.

You love those children more than I ever could, and that's a love that I will never understand. You will take care of them, you will provide for them, and one day I will see them in Heaven. Lord, help me to be obedient to your Spirit and to never forget the sickness and deprivation of that place. Protect those little souls. It's in your son's holy name I pray, Amen.

"Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” - Matthew 19:14


  1. My heart is breaking as I see this place through your eyes. Praying with you.

  2. Amazing words and pictures that brought tears to my eyes. I'm praying along side you.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, even though it made me weep and my heart break. Joining you in prayer.

  4. My heart is so broken by these pictures. I saw those beds, the bars on the windows, and the sick little baby... I know my little ones are in a very similar place right now in Belize. It is so agonizing to be unable to save them right this second, isn't it?

  5. Crying with you over here, friend. I love you... nothing is impossible with God's strength behind us, huh?

  6. "we had been told it is more traumatizing to them to be held and put down than never held at all..."

    This sliced me in two. I have tears streaming down my face.

  7. How heartbreaking! =( Oh what a difficult life for these kids and something, I am sure, you will not soon forget. Thanks so much for sharing this experience with us.

  8. Heather, I hesitated to read this and I'm still not sure I should have (as the tears pour down my cheeks). But thank you for your honesty, for just putting it all out there. Your strength in Christ is remarkable.

  9. you never realize how bad it really is until you see it for yourself. i hate it. i hate that this is their life.

  10. oh heart is broken. i don't know how you did it, heather...i'm joining you in that prayer. and i'm thanking the Lord for my little boy who is home.

  11. Heartbroken. You went where I have always wanted to go. And sowed seeds of kindness and real love that will allow God to work in their hearts.

    What can we do to help?

  12. Heather, thank you for sharing this. Even though it broke my heart reading it, I cannot even imagine the emotional toll that it took on you.
    Praying for these precious children.

  13. Heather! Wow. Just WOW. Thank you for sharing!

  14. That is so heartbreaking. Esp the babies that are not held. It is detrimental to their futures and their ability to form attachments... I am surprised that the conditions you describe are far worse than the orphanage I visited in India. The one I went to in India, is funded by Europeans though, so I think they have more money. I hate that there are so many children suffering and in America so much is taken for granted...God bless you and the work you are doing.

  15. Hi! My name is Emily. I was in San Pedro Sula at this same government just about two weeks ago on May 24, 2013. I googled pictures of the orphanage because they told us not to be using our cameras often so thank you for the pictures. I know exactly how you feel in that moment. I got to a little boy in the nursery who was probably about three years old and still not moved from the crib. I held him and they let me take him to the balcony and he was looking at everything like he had never seen it before. Broke my heart that he is cooped up in the room without getting loved. I had to bring him back in the room and a little girl had to hold him back from running back to me. I had to leave him behind the door crying. I still think about him everyday and miss him so much. Thankful that our God is holding those kids and loves them so much. Thank you for your story. I thought you might be interested to know that there is now a pool on the bottom open floor that the kids swim in.


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