Yesterday, we shared the first part of this remarkable story of caregiving across miles and culture. Click here to read that story about the way that Charm and Gary Britton reached out to provide an education and spiritual support to an orphaned teen named Sarai their daughter Michelle had met on a mission trip to Guatemala.
Today, more about the wedding, and join us in marveling at the way in which God connects us to one another over time, across miles, beyond culture, for our good and his glory.
Q. Where did Sarai meet her husband? Are they believers?
Gary and Charm, flanking the happy newlyweds
A. Her husband is significantly older than her and she has known him for probably 12 or more years. He is Canadian and has been doing charity work in Guatemala for at least 20 years, including serving at the same orphanage where Sarai was living when our daughter Michelle met her. His biggest endeavor in Guatemala is a rehabilitation center a few hours drive from Huehuetenango, primarily for disabled children that need physical therapy. Many are extreme cases that would have no other avenue in the impoverished areas they live in for any type of rehab.
Both David and Sarai are believers which is of great comfort to both Gary and I! We were a little troubled at first by the age difference, but down in countries like Central America, it is not as uncommon a situation. Older men are more mature, stable, and have jobs that can provide a future for young ladies. We have several acquaintainces that share similar kinds of relationships. His daughter and brothers were all very supportive as well.
Q. What was it like to meet Sarai in person for the first time?
A. Meeting her for the first time just days before her wedding was surreal! We had spent so much time in the previous 5 years building a text relationship that it felt in many ways like we already knew her. But there was something about touching her face, smelling her hair, looking directly into her eyes that made the love just blossom in our hearts instantly. We felt immediately connected even though we spoke no Spanish and she spoke little English. But she practiced hard before we arrived to meet her! It was odd feeling so comfortable with each other without being to exchange much conversation. There was something so comforting just being near. The first day we just spent most of the time snuggling, hugging and smiling at each other.
Q. What was it like to be at her wedding in such an honored role? What struck you most about this whole experience?
It was amazing for both of us. Few people get to choose their parents. You are either born to them or adopted by them, but how often to you get to select people you value and respect and want to be involved in your life in that way? Gary had the honor of passing her to her husband, but I also had the honor of being a mother who helped her dress and prepare.
Gary, Sarai, and Charm
There were the hours, days, and weeks prior to her wedding of counseling her on this decision and making sure it was out of love and not just a hope of escaping poverty and her past. We had been able to pray over her and for her for the last decade that God would direct her steps and protect her from all the ways that people can take advantage of the less fortunate in impoverished countries. It was also wonderful to see the circle of friends that had grown to love her and care for her. We have never experienced such a hospitable group of people in all our lives!
Q. Anything else that stands out to you about your visit with her?
A. Our last day together, she knocked on our hotel door. She sat on the bed beside me and placed Gary on the other side of me where it would be hard for either of us to see her face. She asked David, her husband, to translate. She wanted the lights dimmed and it was clear that she was going to share her heart with us. She told us how she ended up in the orphanage. We knew some details but not all.
She had several older brothers in her family. As a very young girl, one of her older brothers began to abuse her. Her father lived mostly away from the family for his job and was not around to see or protect his daughter. Sarai’s aunt discovered what was happening after many years of abuse had already gone by, and she reported the crime. The young man fled to the States and Sarai was taken to the hospital to be examined.
After some legal wrangling, she was returned to her mother. Her mother was very angry that her son had fled as she placed a great value on her boys and said girls had no value. Her mother expressed her anger with Sarai and blamed her because her son was gone. She beat Sarai regularly and finally after a month, kicked her 12 year old daughter out of the house at 1 a.m. and into the streets of Huehuetango. As Sarai tried to get to town, a local gang grabbed her, then all took turns raping her.
Someone found her and took her to the hospital. While she was there recovering, she was out in a courtyard and saw that the gardener had left some herbicide unattended and she drank it hoping to take her life. While it didn’t kill her, it did a significant amount of damage to her throat, esophagus, and stomach. She spent the next 3 months in the hospital recovering from the damage of that suicide attempt.
After she was recovered, she was taken to the orphanage where she meet the curator, Sandra. Sandra worked very hard to try to help Sarai cope with all she had been through in her 12 years. Sandra was very much a mother to Sarai during her stay there at the orphanage. Sarai was devasated when about 5 years ago, Sandra was killed by a drunk driver. It was another deep wound for her to attempt to overcome. It was also another battle with “Why is God allowing so much suffering in my life?”
At the end of her story, I was able to tell her my story. While some of the details are different, much of the story is has a similar theme: A mother who didn’t protect me from abuse. A childhood riddled with abuse starting at the age of 4 or 5. I was able to share with Sarai that we had many parallels in our respective childhoods.
The beautiful part was being able to assure her that God can and will heal her pain. It will take time, but I wanted her to know that there were many times I felt like her. There were many days I asked ‘Where are you God?”, “Can’t you see my suffering?” “Will there ever be a day when I am not haunted by this past?”.
I can honestly say to her YES, there will be a day. I asked her to look at the joy in my heart and the smile on my face and I could sincerely tell her that there will be healing! I also told her further healing will come as she looks into the other young faces of little girls at that orphanage that need to see that there is hope for joy in their lives and that they will not be permanent victims of their pasts. (2 Cor 1:3-4)
Q. Any final thoughts to share with our readers?
Sarai and Gary
For their honeymoon, David is taking Sarai (at her request) on a 3 month medical missions ship up the coast of Africa, so that she can give back from what she has been given. She has excelled with her education. In a country where jobs like she had at the women’s hospital are given through corruption and bribery, she received a promotion from CNA to being a a full-fledged nurse. She also speaks on the topic of midwifery, and now trains others.
When my daughter Michelle approached Gary and I 12 years ago and told us she was going to Guatemala, at 21, by herself, our first response was, “Over our dead bodies!” God has a much greater plan in mind than we could ever have imagined! We shudder to think what might not have been if we had put our foot down and let our fears dictate that decision.
We call it the “It’s a Wonderful Life” saga….the ripples in a pond emanating out from a pebble called Michelle who had a heart for the orphans of Guatemala. One of those ripples is a beautiful young lady named Sarai. Another ripple will be young girls in an orphanage who need to know there is not only survival after their ordeal, but that they can find joy as Sarai tells her story to them. A further ripple still are people along the coast of Africa who are waiting for someone to come along and provide them loving medical care.
Those ripples will keep on going for years to come.