We met her many years ago when we were working with a different local ministry.
At that time we did a church service once a week in the community of Las Aves, a little village we have worked in and cared about for a long time. These 2 little girls, we will call Ellie and Yanna* would faithfully come to church with their grandma. They stood out. Grandma was missing an eye, had a crooked leg, and a chatty little granddaughter that loved playing with Brielle, who was about 3 at the time.
We looked forward to seeing this little trio week after week. Ellie loved the songs and lessons and was a very outgoing, spunky little girl. Her little sister was a bit shy but always trailed close beside her. The details of their story are not mine to share but for reasons of safety, the girls were placed in a local orphanage. Yanna has been there ever since, and I have visited her consistently since she was little. Ellie was placed in the same orphanage but she didn’t get to stay very long.
The next few years for Ellie went from bad to worse.
She went from orphanage to orphanage and I tried my best to keep up with her whereabouts. I was given permission by social services several times to visit her. I even brought her grandma to see her once when she was in an orphanage in a city 2 hours away. As Ellie got older, she kept on running away from or getting kicked out of orphanages. On one occasion I tried to bring her little sister to visit. I went through the process of getting the right permissions and drove 3 hours to the orphanage only to find out that she had run away and that the orphanage had never reported it to social services.
Shortly after that, her grandma ended up getting sick and died unexpectedly. Soon after, I lost track of Ellie and we went to Canada for a time. I later found out that she had lived in 13 different orphanages and 3 women’s rehabs (where they will put older kids if they don’t have a place open in an orphanage).
Then last year, around this time, we got a call from a social worker who told us that Ellie was 17, living in a temporary shelter (a locked down orphanage for children that have no other place to go) in Tijuana and they desperately wanted to find her a home before she turned 18. The question was simple, would we take her?
I have prayed for this girl since she was little. She was the one I could not take in for so many reasons…lack of space, questions of safety for my other kids, and the overwhelm I already felt taking care of 2 ex-orphanage teens. I had tried desperately to find a place for her but at that time foster care was not an option and finding the “right orphanage” seemed like an impossible task. What kind of orphanage is really the “right one” anyways? Can kids actually thrive in an orphanage? Well, that’s a question to answer another day, but I think you might know the answer already.
Fast forward several years and we are being asked by social services to consider taking in this teen. This girl has no one and is destined to end up on the streets if no one gives her a home. We knew the answer right away, and it may surprise you.
We said no.
We said no because we made a family decision not to take in more kids for a time.
We said no because we knew she was more than we could handle.
We said no because we knew that God was asking us to do more than just help another child in our home.
But, we didn’t say no to helping her.
And so, the search began to find her a home. Social services basically told us that they trusted us enough to find someone for her. In all honesty, it seemed impossible. She was 17, recently hospitalized for mental health issues, and emotionally about the age of a 6-year-old.
I started visiting her, making the 10-hour round trip to see this girl that no one but me had visited for 10 years. We started praying and I shared the need with a few friends and God answered our prayers!
Her new foster Mom was what might seem like an unlikely fit, a single, retired, older woman with a true heart of gold and experience with kids from hard places. When I realized it would be a great fit, I connected her with social services and within a couple of months after going through the right procedures we went to pick this young lady up and help take her “home.” Ellie finally had someone to love her and keep her; she was finally free of institutional care but her journey toward healing was just beginning.
Last year, a few weeks before Christmas on my first visit to see Ellie, she gave me a little gift.
I was surprised as I didn’t think she would even know I was coming, but she proudly handed me a tiny jar filled with glitter and rolled-up messages, my favorite being “Thanks for always loving me and my sister.”
She didn’t know that all these years I had felt like I had failed them. They were the ones I couldn’t take into my home. The ones I felt like I couldn’t help enough, and felt like I made no impact on. Yet, I was the only one advocating for her, the only one who noticed the mess she was in, and consistently prayed for her.
Recently, Ellie stayed in our home, while her foster Mom went on a trip. She brought her new little puppy and talked my ear off for 2 weeks!
Ellie is a very intelligent young lady but because of all the hard things she has gone through, she acts a lot younger than she is. She developed a lot of self-protecting behaviors to survive in the orphanage and is difficult to be around. We were all having a bit of a hard time—I had to remind myself that my current stress was the answer to many years of prayer!
Ellie has a family and home and because of that, she is on the path of healing and restoration. Will you keep Ellie and her sister Yanna in your prayers? Will you help us advocate for other kids in our area who are just like her—desperately needing a family and home to belong to?
Please consider supporting us as we continue our journey to help vulnerable children.
* Names have been changed for confidentiality