Friends and family,

The last three months have been a rollercoaster of highs and lows. The lows began with pictures from Bosnia of children restrained, beaten and tied to radiators and beds in an orphanage. It was the beginning of public outcry and an investigation into the treatment of orphans in Eastern Europe.

Personally, it was a reminder of things I’ve witnessed that are mostly too hard to carry each day. I want to take this newsletter to share one of the things I saw that is so hard to forget.

Bulgaria – 2019

The teen boy is thrashing and rocking with his hands and feet tied to a chair. He has a padded football helmet strapped on in a desperate attempt by overburdened caregivers to keep him from seriously harming himself.

He is yelling with a ragged voice, over and over, “Father? Father?”

I kneel by him and he instantly reaches out and grabs my hand. I speak in a soft voice and he begins to calm. His breathing evens and the rocking loses its violent motions and slows.

He smells. He reeks of institution; urine, neglect and unwashed fear. I know this smell and my insides clutch at the remembering. I remember that it took weeks of bathing before our adopted son no longer smelled of institution. It seemed to cling to his very being, a silent whisper of darkness and pain.

The boys hands were covered in self-inflicted wounds from biting and scratching in an attempt to feel and release boredom and pain. I asked to remove the helmet and as I did, I saw that his sweat soaked hair covered scars and wounds, old and new. His violent head-banging had done real damage. I also saw the peach fuzz that an adolescent wears before entering adulthood, and startlingly beautiful eyes that lighted temporarily on my face. I looked away for a moment of reprieve, but there was none to be found. I was surrounded by children in a brightly lit, clean room who all swayed and rocked and bit and moaned and scratched in pain and boredom. It was unreal and overwhelming and it took everything in me not to stand up from that chair and leave that space.

In these children I see my son, Israel. I see the trajectory for a special needs boy placed at birth in an orphanage. I see my son’s future in an orphanage and it makes my soul weep.

I cried out silently in that moment, “Father, Father…where are you? Don’t you hear him?” My cries matched the pitch and intensity of the young boy I sat beside.

Institutionalization often breaks the mind. Children were not made to grow up in institutions without love and family. They cannot grow and thrive when only basic needs are met; even in the best equipped and cleanest buildings. An orphanage can never meet the greatest human need.

I sat for several more moments, and then I heard a megaphone voice in my ear, “Stacey, do YOU hear?” This moment was when I heard a voice that called me to lift my head from all-the-things that I felt I needed to do. And actually put my hands to what I was being called to do.

CS Lewis penned the following: God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

These kids are without family…..and therein lies the crux of the problem. The need is FAMILY, and how do we give them their greatest need? How can Lost Sparrows help provide for kids tied to radiators or children rocking soundlessly in a clean and warm building? How can we HEAR the need, and decide instead to continue providing bigger buildings, better restraints and newer radiators? The answer – we cannot.

What needs to be said, is that kids who are raised in institutions without the love of a main caregiver, often become violent, aggressive and unmanageable. They become teens who require physical her mechanical restraints in order to keep staff and others safe. I don’t look at this orphanage staff in anger with pointed finger. I have seen what a strong teenager looks like who has been raised within four concrete walls. I ask you to picture a roomful of these strong teenagers with one or two caregivers. Caregivers who are working for a minimum wage with very little training or instruction. This is reality, and theory falls flat in the face of angry, scared, lonely teens who have no connection. I am saddened and broken to see teens tied to radiators, but I am not shocked because this is not isolated. You CANNOT raise a child in an orphanage and expect their brains to be wired correctly. Children are not resilient to the choices of adults.

So I’ve shared the lows and now I want to give you some hope in the highs. I tend to be incredibly blunt in my answers to this crisis for children. We CANNOT just keep pulling children out of orphanages. The numbers are overwhelming and international adoption has plummeted. We instead have to focus on why they are being placed there in the first place. Then we have to equip people through training and education in raising children who come from hard places.

We must support family, not bigger orphanages with better equipment. This has ramped up our efforts to stop the flood of children into orphanages and support foster care and adoption in-country. This has increased our efforts to provide help and services to first family, so children are not placed in orphanages in the first place. Lastly, we are poised to help provide training and education to staff in orphanages, because the sad reality, is that there are children that will never leave the four walls of the institutions.

I leave for Bosnia in February to join other non-profits in a round table discussion about effective orphan care across the Balkans. We will also be providing a special dinner and starting a monthly support group for families who are raising children with special needs. Lastly, I will be meeting with area officials to hammer out final details for the Lost Sparrows conference in April.

I believe we can make a difference in the orphan crisis. I believe that we can bring Hope to so many who are broken. Please pray for Lost Sparrows, as we carry Hope to the most vulnerable.

“Hope is the thing with feathers-
That perches in the soul-
And sings the tune without the words-
And never stops-“
By Emily Dickinson