By Seth Barnes, Jr.
“After both my parents died, my aunt took care of me. And then she brought me here.” Magdala‘s voice rang in my ears as I approached her orphanage where she lives with 125 other orphans. I imagined the feelings that might be most familiar to her. Loneliness and rejection came up.
As we walked up to their orphanage and introduced ourselves to the people in charge, I watched for Magdala. I wondered if she’d be one to come running or if she was the shy type.
Children began poking their heads around the corners and smiling. One little boy who looked about seven years old had bumps all over his shoulders, chest and back. His face was beaming as he walked up to me. Taking my hand, he placed it on his scabied upper body. My arm dangled at his side. He didn’t let go of my hand either, but turned around and began surveying the room, as if he finally felt safe enough to take in his surroundings.
I impatiently looked up from him to the end of the hallway behind where we stood. Other children appeared from the courtyard there, running by, stopping and making faces. A surge welled up in me with each girl that appeared. I asked the little boy that was with me his name. Jubie. He held fast to my shorts as I shuffled down the hallway. Shuffled, because another little boy led me forward, holding the front of my shorts and his diminutive stride kept him close.
I rounded the corner at the end of the hall and tried my luck at conversation with a man that was there. I asked him about Magdala.
”Magdala?” he asked. “No Magdala. No.”
I wondered if she’d left or if something had happened to her. I looked around at the kids, hoping to find her. Maybe I was pronouncing it wrong. I tried several different ways. Nothing. Jubie wandered off with some friends, leaving me alone to try to find her. I noticed an odd sort of loneliness that came over me as the little orphan boy left my side. I was in unfamiliar territory without the ability to communicate, yet these orphans were all too accustomed to this emotion. I was the amateur.
A woman came up to the man and me to see if she could help. Then he remembered. ”Magdala!” he said, excited that he had remembered. Looking back, it’s easy to see why he would forget her. There were 125 other orphans! He looked around at the others and said something in Creole. They started yelling her name all around. A minute later a little girl in a white princess looking dress, all chock full of fluff and lace, walked slowly and diffidently up. Her hair was put up in hair ties, poking in several different directions. Magdala.
I spent some time with her. I told her with the help of a translator how loved she was and how people were thinking about her and praying for her back at my home. We brought her to a room apart from the other orphans so as not to make them feel less loved. She accepted the doll and letters written to her. One of the orphans peered through the window behind me and started crying. I wished I could be in her mind for a little.
After a few minutes, I made my way to the front room and sat down. Jubie found me again and held my hand. I asked him his name another time. I wrote it down. Two others quickly ran up to me and told me their names. They motioned for me to have them written down on my scrap piece of paper as well, as if to say, “Remember my name too!” Billie and Wenley. A little girl did the same. She tried unsuccessfully to hold back a smile as she told me her name. Sagafina. She was bashful and withdrawn, but her presence was light and peaceful.
They wanted to be remembered. Like Magdala was remembered. They hung on me and fought for my attention, starving to be noticed. Five minutes later I walked out of the orphanage. Jubie followed close behind, hanging onto the back right leg of my shorts. I said goodbye and they waved as we left. I headed back to our safe house with air conditioning, with an abundance of food, with an accommodating environment, with a loving community and with my newly accosted heart.
This is continued from an earlier story we ran called: God Sees Magdala
Seth is from Gainesville, GA and is part of a family of seven, including four sisters. Two of his favorite things are coffee and music.