We sit down on the carpet squares, just like we did in kindergarten, and say our names. It doesn’t matter where you are on earth, introducing yourself is universally awkward. The girls who live at the rescue house in Thailand share their names quietly as we go around the circle. They range in age from 13 to 17, but because of how small they are, many look younger, more like middle schoolers. Most are thin, wearing t-shirts and shorts, their nails painted in vibrant colors, like any other girls their age.
But they are not any other girls. Their innocence was sold on the street, most likely to men two to five times their age, multiple times a night.
But here, they are normal girls with shy smiles who like soccer and volleyball.
That is the thing with great loss: we can look normal on the outside, but inside, we hide deep scars–things so ugly, so broken, things slowly healing or wrecked by grief. I know better than to believe these girls are untouched by their pasts. Their smiles hide their pain. But there is also hope too. I can see it when they hold hands with another girl or laugh at an inside joke we cannot understand.
I see one girl who buries her head in the shoulder of the girl sitting next to her. She hides her face through the Bible lesson and is reluctant to introduce herself. I remember the juniors in high school who would bury their heads on their desks and try to sleep in my class. But for some reason, I don’t think this girl is tired. That would be too simple.
Later we find out more of the girl’s story: She is struggling through physical problems, learning issues and emotional things. The workers are doing their best to find ways to help her. She is also, we find out, one of our group’s sponsored children. One of the women on the trip wants to meet her sponsored child, but is confused when the workers arrange for her to meet this girl. Her name isn’t the same as her sponsored child, she says. But it is the same girl, they tell her. She has a different name.
At first the girl does not say much to her and answers negatively to the questions she is asked. Then there is a breakthrough: The woman on our trip realizes this girl likes children. Her face brightens when she talks about them. So the lady from our group asks her to give the children at the prevention home some gifts she brought for them. The girls lights up at the thought of giving gifts to the children.
There is always some small opening of hope in the midst of pain. For this girl, it is young children that give her hope. It is the chance to give them something she cannot give herself. It is, for now, the only thing that makes her smile.
What is it for the other girls? What dreams do they have? What gives them joy despite their pain?
As the girls paint their sun-catchers in near silence, I wonder what they are thinking. They walk over to the white board and hang up their newly painted butterflies and crosses and then look all the others hanging there. Every single one is different and beautiful.
For a moment, I catch a glimpse of the healing that is happening and know that only God can take this pain and make it something beautiful.
Beauty from ashes. That is what he is doing here.
Making all things new. That is always the miracle.