Note from editor Michelle: Our theme at the blog this month has been caregiving. Offering practical nurture can take many different forms. Amanda and I are pleased to share with you a unique story of caregiving that stretched for many years, across thousands of miles.
Twelve years ago, Charm Britton’s daughter Michelle went on a missions trip to Guatemala to serve in an orphanage. While there, Michelle formed a friendship with 17 year-old Sarai, one of the children housed there. Michelle “introduced” Sarai to Charm and her husband Gary through pictures and anecdotes when she arrived home. Typically, that’s where most stories of short-term missions trips end.
But this was not a typical story. Sarai’s sad saga captured the God-fueled imaginations of Charm and Gary, and the couple made some inquiries into adoption of the young teen. Though that door closed, the couple stayed in touch with Sarai. Last month, Sarai invited them to Guatemala to attend her wedding – and asked Gary to walk her down the aisle. Today and tomorrow, we’ll be featuring a Q & A I did with Charm about this inspiring story.
Q. Can you tell us about what it was like getting to know Sarai at the beginning?
A. We met her very late in her teen years and did not have the ability to have much contact with her for the first 5 years or so. At the time, her availability to technology was non-existent. We exchanged a couple of letters, translated through Michelle, but we were not able to foster a deep relationship with her while she was still living at the orphanage.
We lost contact with her for a few years. Once she was presumed over 18, Sarai was required to leave the orphanage. Because of Michelle’s involvement there and at a full immersion Spanish school (Xinabajul), Sarai fell under the care of Yesi, a teacher at the Spanish school who had also gotten involved with some of the legal proceedings when we were trying to see if it was possible to adopt Sarai. Yesi had a soft spot for Sarai and she spent the next few years bouncing between staying in a small room with Yesi and a small spare room at the school.
Sarai didn’t have a complete education or a way to support herself with a job. Most of the young girls who left the orphanage ended up in prostitution and we wanted badly to keep her from that situation. I believe a door opened up through Yesi and Facebook of all things. Once we realized she had no way to have a job that would allow her to support herself, we asked if she would be willing to go to school if we paid for it and and she agreed. Schooling in Guatemala is fairly affordable when compared to American education.
Because she didn’t even have the equivalent of a solid high school education, we knew jumping into a college curriculum was going to be very hard. She had a heart for care-taking and was interested in nursing. We agreed to pay the tuition for her to get the equivalent of a CNA. It took her about 2 years to complete the program.
Once she got her certificate, Sarai got a job working at a maternity hospital assisting the nursing staff. It was long hours and meager pay, but sufficient for her to actually get a small apartment of her own! During this period, I generally had more contact with her since Gary wasn’t on Facebook. She had (has) a lot of emotional scars from her childhood to overcome and we had long, tough talks through Messenger dealing with her painful past.Thank GOD for google translate. While not precise, it allowed us to get the gist across to each other.
Sarai was growing her faith, but had many questions about why she had to suffer through so much in her life.I had a story of my own to share with her. It was very difficult to try to convince her that God was a loving Father who cared deeply for her when she had been wounded so badly for so long by so many people. While she loved God and wanted to trust Him, it was an ongoing battle between her past and hopeless future.
Q. How did it come about that Sarai asked Gary to walk her down the aisle at her wedding?
A. We knew she was dating David and considering marriage. We were skeptical at first, hoping that she wasn’t just grabbing at straws to find a way to ‘escape’ from her situation. She had messaged and said she was considering marriage but we were flabbergasted when she messaged on FB asking if Gary would give her away. I rarely check messenger while I am at work, but since we had been having some deep discussions recently, I opened her message and was floored!
I texted Gary immediately and let him know. She had been very reluctant to even ask, since we had never met, she assumed it was too big a request and that we would say no.
There is a back story to this – Oh, our amazing God! Gary, like any father, had always had a life-long dream of walking his little girl down the aisle. His daughter Rebecca died at 2 days old and it took him a long time to get over the fact that he would never be able to fulfill that dream. When his step daughter (Michelle) was getting married, she asked him to walk her down the aisle. Gary knew that could place a huge irrevocable rift between her father and any possibility of restoring their relationship, so he cautioned Michelle to think long and hard about who would walk her down the aisle, dad or step-dad. She decided ultimately that it should be her dad despite their very fractured relationship.
Gary couldn’t explain why he’d always longed to walk a daughter down the aisle, but a few month’s before Sarai’s message arrived, he made peace with God about the issue. He was beyond words when Sarai made her request as it meant as much to Gary as it did to her!
Tomorrow on the blog, we’ll share more about what Charm and Gary learned as they spent time with Sarai. Sneak peek: God doesn’t waste a single experience in our lives.
Photo by Artsy Vibes on Unsplash