March 26, 2008 Lois Sensenig
Home Builder's Essay
Life as Grandma at the Good Shepherd Children's Home
It was the summer of 2004 that we got a call asking if we would consider going to Honduras to be the administrators at the children's home. After much prayer and consideration we felt led to say yes to the call. I felt like I was stepping very far out of my comfort zone, but I agreed to giving it a try. Before we left, one of our daughter-in-laws send us an e-mail with the first part of Isaiah 42:6 in it. "I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee." That meant a lot to me and I made a wall plague out of it and took it along to Honduras for a reminder. Part of Christ's mission on earth was to demonstrate God's righteousness and to be a light to all nations.
Through Christ, all people have the opportunity to share in his mission. God calls us to be servants of his Son, bringing His light to the world. But we must first let his light shone in us before we can be lights to others. We left for Honduras on Oct. 28, 2004. For the first two months we were supposed to take Homer and Shirley's place. They returned to the states the same day we arrived in Honduras. Shirley had been a cook so I started in the kitchen. I felt pretty comfortable with that but I found out that it was a lot of work and I had to spend most of the day on my feet. All the while I was trying to learn to know the children and watch Grandma Linda to see what all she did. It didn't take long for the children to wrap themselves around our hearts. Of course, some of them were easier to learn to know and for others it took longer for them to open up to us. When it was getting nearer to the time for Jay and Linda to leave they broke the news to the children. Some of the older ones had already figured out that we could take their place. The day they left was a sad day for everyone at the children's home. Now it was up to us to take over in their place. We were very thankful that we could overlap that long with Jays and also for the help we received from the childcare workers.
When you got up in the morning you never really knew for sure what your day would hold. Of course you don't really know for sure in the states, either and sometimes things come up that we hadn't planned for. But in Honduras, at the children's home it was really that way. You didn't know who might be showing up at the kitchen window and what their request would be.
A normal day for me usually started in the laundry. This was probably my favorite time of the day. I would fold the tea towels that I had put in the washer and then the dryer the night before and then take them out to the kitchen to restock the supply for the day. I would also sort the dirty laundry that the vs boys and the other little boys would bring to the laundry.
Some of the older girls would come with the dirty laundry from their rooms to sort also. This provided a good opportunity for me to interact with them. It was a challenge to direct the conversation to worthwhile things instead of foolishness or sometimes bickering or belittling each other. It was also a good chance for me to teach them to do their work right. Some needed to be prodded to keep at their work while others needed to be reminded to slow down and do their work right.
Just like in our own families. Sometimes it took a lot of patience when you had to tell the same girls over and over again to be more careful and look what all she has in her hands before she gives her handful a throw. I look back at those times with some fond memories but also with some guilt thinking of the times I didn't have as much patience with them as I should have.
That was how a normal day started out for me but there would be times that one of the girls would come to me and say, "Mama is sick this morning and she is wondering if you could come and help her." So that morning I would be getting children up and ready for breakfast and school instead of sorting the laundry. The laundry would wait until I or someone else would have time to get it started. I would have some children to take care of then until their Mama would feel good enough to take over again. That didn't happen very often, though. We usually had a native girl coming in after breakfast to finish the laundry. But, there were some days that the one that was supposed to come didn't show up, so often on those days I would do the laundry and if some of the childcare workers had time they would help me. Or if it wasn't a school day I would get some of the older girls to help me.
I did a variety of things. One thing I enjoyed doing was sewing for the girls. Some of the childcare workers either didn't really enjoy sewing or didn't have the time to do it so when they learned that I enjoyed sewing they asked me to do it. I made dresses, slips, nighties and bloomers for the girls and put a lot of patches on the knees of little boys pants. It was very rewarding to see the pleased look on the face of a little girl when she realized you had made a new dress for her, or when one of the little boys came to you to thank you for mending his pants.
I also helped with the garden things when there was something to pick, can or freeze. Sometimes if it was decided that we should have a work day in the garden to pull weeds and plant things I would offer to keep some preschoolers so the moms could go out to the garden and get more done. The little ones were usually glad for a chance to come and play in our apartment for awhile. I also enjoyed baby sitting for the moms if they had to take one of their other children to the Dr., dentist or eye Dr. When we first got there I wasn't used to working with handicapped children so at first it scared me a little to take care of the two handicapped girls. But I soon came to realize that they have personalities and feelings just like the other children and I didn't mind keeping them, either. Osiris loved music and we had a cd player in our apartment that she always enjoyed listening to. Sometimes she would come in, make herself at home and sit on the sofa beside the cd player. I knew she wanted to listen to music. She is a dear girl that we learned to love even if she has some handicaps.
Nerlin was the other handicapped girl. She loved to be included in everything that she could. She enjoyed parties and it was fun to make her giggle.
Another one of my jobs was to make sure that there was work lined up for the visitors that were coming. Since I had worked in the kitchen the first two months I was there I knew how much work the cooks had so I would first of all ask them if they needed help. Sometimes some of the childcare workers needed help to houseclean their children's room. Or maybe we all felt it was time to houseclean the dining room or activity room. Every so often the boys would say that it was time for their apartment to have a ladies touch. The visitors were usually ready to help in the garden or help with the canning and freezing of our produce that came from the garden. If you ever go to visit the children's home, make yourself useful. That is very much appreciated. And don't feel like you have to take gifts along for the children when you go. They get plenty of things and probably would enjoy your time more then anything else. I also made sure that there were clean beds and clean rooms ready for the visitors, at least if it was someone coming that was not coming for any one special person. I didn't always do the work, but I at least made sure that it got done.
Sometimes Ray needed to make some runs. Like take a lady to the hospital or Dr. If that was the case I would go along with him. Sometimes I went to town with him on some errands just so we would have some time to be together. At first we also took our turn to do the weekly grocery shopping. That was always a little stressful for me and I can't say that I really enjoyed that. When we realized that the cooks enjoyed doing that we gladly let them take care of it every week.
There was always decisions to make. A childcare worker would come with an article of clothing or a pair of shoes, with the question, "Is this worth fixing or mending or should it be thrown out?" That was a hard decision sometimes. We didn't want to be wasteful with all the poverty around us and yet we wanted to be practical. There was also decisions about sick children. Should we take them to the Dr.or wait a day or two yet. I soon learned that some of the childcare workers had grown up in homes where they were quick to go to the Dr and others felt comfortable waiting it out a little longer. I usually relied on Ray's advice for a lot of those decisions.
Another one of my weekly jobs was to make up the schedule for the girls to have off. They all had one day a week off and then also took turns having Sundays off. If someone was going home for some reason other then a -furlough we needed to juggle the schedules around a little.
The girls were usually very helpful in working things like that out, they would even sometimes forfeit their day off to make things work out. I tried not to let that happen too often. When it was time for the girls to go on their furlough we had to make sure someone would be coming to cover for them.
I soon learned that the childcare workers didn't care if I sat down and acted like a real grandma to the children sometimes. It seemed they were glad when I took time to play a game with or read to the children. It was hard to find time to do those things but I tried to remind myself, what the real reason was that we were there for anyway. Wasn't it mainly for these children. One thing I missed very much when we came back home was hearing the patter of little feet coming down the porch toward our apartment and then soon some little voices saying," Grandma, may we come in?"
Of course, it wasn't all work and we had our fun times too, like a cook-out in our back yard or a trip to the coffee farm, the ocean or the zoo. Maybe something special for children's night. Then there were special times with just us and the staff. One night a month we had what we called staff night, when Ray did something with the vs boys and I did something with the girls.
We didn't only have to work with the children but we had to make sure that everything was going okay between the workers. We can't say that there were never any ripples but it was amazing how smooth it did go considering how many different people with different backgrounds, lived and worked together in such close quarters. It was a real blessing to us to be there for a little over two years and be able to work with all of them. We really felt the prayers of all of you at home here especially our Elm Street family and we want to take this opportunity to thank you all for that.
Bro. Paul Freed and his wife came to visit one time. I'm not sure what the occasion was anymore but the children were all excited about something and were all clamoring around Ray. Paul laughed and said, "Brother, you will never be the same!" I don't know if he realized how much truth that statement held but we talk about it sometimes that we are not the same. The experience of being in Honduras at the children's Home has changed us forever and I don't think we will ever be the same. I also trust that we have made a difference in the lives of those dear children and that they will never be the same.
I'm glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone and agreed to going. I want to encourage you all, if God calls you to do something and you feel like you should but you will be stepping out of your comfort zone, go ahead and do it. If God is calling He will go with you and hold your hand and you will be richly rewarded.