In Tijuana, MX, after we were done building Sandy’s House, we went to help out at an orphanage-to-be. Let me explain the story, as best I understand it.
Meet Julia. She’s 24, athletic, and blonde. She’s beautiful, but doesn’t seem to know it or really even care. She’s one of those that just oozes coolness without even trying; it’s just who she is. She’s got her hair in a messy bun, not one that she worked hours at to look messy, but one that comes naturally when you throw you hair out of the way so you can work hard…which she’s been doing all day. She has no makeup on and her t-shirt and shorts hang easily on her trim frame. I, of course, love her instantly and am dying to get to know her, and if I’m honest, I secretly want to be her a little bit. In part because of her naturalness and confidence, but mostly because of her life and what she’s doing.
Julia did some volunteer work with orphanages in a couple parts of the world through some agency she found online. As she said, however, if you can volunteer online with an organization, they are probably well-funded. Not that they don’t need help, but, at least this organization, had a big enough platform that they had lots of volunteers and funds to help meet the needs. So it was a great experience, but she wanted to do more and do it where it was more needed.
So, she somehow ended up connected with YWAM in Tijuana and helping with an orphanage they knew of. She first lived near the orphanage so that she could get really involved. I don’t know what those living conditions were like, but I can’t imagine they were what she was used to in the States. Not to mention, she’s a beautiful, young blonde in Tijuana—there are some risks associated with that, to say the least. So just let it sink in a minute…she left America, left her home and her family and the possibility of a corporate job which would pay her, a college grad with an economics background, a handsome salary. She left all of that, to go and live in Tijuana, which isn’t exactly the garden spot of Mexico, nor is it the safest. She volunteered to work for an organization that couldn’t pay her and instead raised enough money to live on from friends and family. And she worked, not in a clean, corporate environment, but in a rough, impoverished orphanage…until she decided it wasn’t enough, and moved in. She actually moved into the orphanage with the kids so that she could better help and better love.
It was then that she knew for sure the corruption that was going on. The orphanage “director” was actually, basically running a scam. While she told people there were 100 orphans, there were actually only 27. The money she raised for the orphans they rarely, if ever, saw a peso of it. Julia started noticing that people were donating money, but the kids still never had food, or clothes, or any help from the orphanage. In fact, the kids mostly didn’t even stay there, they only came in when there donors to impress. Otherwise, they were largely living on the street.
I don’t know how it all worked, we didn’t have long to visit or for me to get all the details. I just got the big picture as I’m sharing it with you. What I know, however, is that the orphans were being exploited and misused and not taken care of…and it was only discovered because one girl was willing to give up her American riches to live among the rags of the orphan kids she’d fallen in love with.
At first, she tried to help correct things. She tried to right the wrongs and work with the current director of the orphanage, but it soon became clear there was no fixing that. So Julia went to work creating a new orphanage for those 27 kids.
Imagine the monumental task, even in America, of finding a home large enough for 27 kids! Then, imagine finding someone who would be willing to rent a house to those 27 kids. Add to that the fact that they are orphan kids, not some family of Dugger kids raised in a loving family environment. Then imagine doing so in Mexico, where this has to be done on foot, without the help of the internet—real estate hunting there isn’t like it is in America, all digitized; it’s old-school. Also, what you find there are generally tiny little houses or mansions. There aren’t a lot of in-between. The houses big enough for the kids were palaces that were both out of budget and in ritzy neighborhoods that wouldn’t have been a good fit for the kids, but normal neighborhood homes were far too small. Eventually, Julia found a large home in a normal neighborhood. The owners had had 9 children and built a home to fit their large family. (Frankly, it was about the size of an average home in Dallas, if that, but for Mexico it was large.) And the owners were willing to rent. This gives them a chance to try things out and make sure it’s all a good fit, and if so, they may be able to purchase it down the road.
The house has a room full of bunkbeds and a bathroom for the older boys downstairs. Upstairs, it has a room of bunkbeds for all the little boys and another room of bunkbeds for the girls. I know there’s a bathroom in the girls’ room, and maybe in the little boys’ room, too—I don’t remember. It has a small room for house parents upstairs, and an external living quarters/basement to house a few other staff members. There are desks set up for the kids to work with tutors in front of large windows upstairs overlooking the countryside. There’s a playroom area upstairs and a living room and kitchen downstairs. In truth, I have no idea how they will cook for all those people in that kitchen—it’s big, but it’s not that big. They don’t have two ovens and multiple sinks and an extra fridge in the garage (maybe they will?)… Most of the people I house-sit for have bigger and better equipped kitchens than this one. Not to mention, I have no idea where they will all sit to eat?! Probably on the floor because there certainly isn’t room for a kitchen table for even half of them in there, much less for all of them! But it’s Mexico and they are resourceful people—they’ll make it work. It’s a palace compared to where they come from.
So, Julia, wonder-woman that she is, sourced the house, and found funding for it. She’s got it staffed and is working on the nightmare that is paperwork for the kids. Many of them don’t have the documents the state requires and she’s having to track down living relatives, if they can be found, to get things in order. She’s created an orphanage from scratch, pretty much, for these 27 orphans and a way out from the woman who had used them for her own gain. Those kids have been their own kind of family for some time now, so her vision (as I understand it) is to keep them together as a family, and not necessarily to bring more kids into the mix. She will continue to live there to assist as needed, but she humbly recognizes that the main caregiver who has been with them for some time now is a good and capable man who she wants to empower, not overshadow. She’s there to handle the business of things and assist in the home as needed, and to love, love, love, those kids.
We helped with cleaning up the place and getting it ready for the kids in our brief stay. We weren’t there long, but 25-ish people can get a lot done in a few hours if they all pitch in. We also spent some time simply praying for the house, for the kids, for the leadership…over every bed… Personally, I spent a lot of time crying—actually, I cry every time I talk about this place and the orphans I haven’t even met who will live there. Even now, sitting under a tree outside a café in Colorado, as the cars whiz by, the tears are streaming down my face and I’m holding back the ugly cry. I think about those kids and what their lives have been. I think about what God might have in store for their futures. I think about Julia and the difference she is making with her life, and what it’s cost her to do so. I think about how Julia is just like Jesus.
I’ve said it before, we all love the rags to riches story. It’s our story—the orphan story. We were born into poverty, but God adopts us as His sons and daughters and we live in His riches. The riches to rags story, however, it’s a hard one. No one wants to live that one. No one wants to be raised in the palace and give it up. No one volunteers to trade their riches in for rags. Except, Julia did. Jesus did.
Jesus gave up Heaven to come to earth. He didn’t just come to earth though. That’s probably what I would have done—just shown up on earth. Jesus, however, left Heaven for a womb. It’s so gross to me. Who volunteers to spend 9 months cramped in a tiny space filled with someone else’s bodily fluids and then come out of their bottom into the world as a total dependent? I’ll be honest – that is SO gross to me. There is no way I would be willing to do that voluntarily. There is a reason we are born as babies—our adult minds wouldn’t make that choice. Jesus did. So gross. So amazingly humble.
Because He was willing to move in, He saw, He felt, He experienced and fully knew every offense, every abuse, every wrong we suffered from sin. He was then able to do something about it. Just like Julia, He really couldn’t have done anything about it if he hadn’t moved in first. He certainly couldn’t have told us He knew what we’d been through. But He does know what we’ve been through, because He moved in and He experienced it, too, with us. He suffered with us, and then He made a way for us to get out of the poverty we’ve been living in, to get out from under the hands of our enemy who would use and abuse us. He, too, is building a house for us and preparing it that we might move in with Him.
It’s my hope and prayer that, because of Julia, those kids will know the love of God. That they will know just what Jesus did for them, because Julia did it for them, too. And maybe, in telling her story, you, too, will see afresh the love God has for you.
If you would like to help and send support to Julia and her orphanage, you do so through YWAM San Diego Baja – here’s the link to give! No “giving category” needs to be selected; simply put “Agape/Hope for Orphans” in the notes section and it will go to “Julia’s” orphanage. You may contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some pics of the orphanage and the kids!