Ongole and Hyderabad

“Weeping may come for the night, but joy comes in the morning…” Psalm 30:5

This last week, we returned to a country and a place that has kept pieces of my heart over the years. Each time that I arrive, my heart beats a little bit faster at what awaits once the wheels on the plane touch down. And each time I depart, another piece of my heart gets left behind.

When I first arrived in South India in January 2012, I had no idea what was awaiting me. I was excited and nervous about accepting an opportunity to volunteer at Sarah’s Covenant Homes (SCH) in Ongole. India was a country that I had always dreamed of visiting after reading the stories of Mother Teresa’s work in Kolkata. When Sarah (founder and namesake of SCH) emailed me a couple weeks before my arrival and asked if I would be interested in helping start and run a foster home for 12 girls ages 2 to 13, I thought, “Sure, why not?” Little did I know that those months would be some of the most difficult and joyful of my whole life. And that for the rest of my life, those 12 little girls would steal my heart and keep bringing me back to their homeland.

So in an act of no surprise to anyone who knows me, I convinced Perry that on this grand adventure, we of course had to stop in Ongole/Hyderabad for his second trip and my fifth to hug the necks and kiss the foreheads of some kiddos that we both love so very much.

SCH started in Ongole, Andhra Pradesh, which is where I was eight years ago. Since this time, they have slowly transitioned some of their kids to Hyderabad, Telegana- a much larger city that used to be capital of Andhra Pradesh until the splitting of the state. With this move of kiddos, my girls have moved around some over the years and are now split between the two cities: two in Ongole and three in Hyderabad. And as of last week, SEVEN have been adopted by their forever families! How crazy, amazing is that?! Because of the split, when we have visited lately, we have had to split our time between Ongole and Hyderabad so we can spend what is always too short of a time with each group.

When we arrived last week, we spent our first day resting in Hyderabad for a little while before heading to Ongole via the overnight bus. If you’ve heard my stories about India, then I’ve probably told you about this bus. I’ve taken it many, many times and continue to maintain a love-hate relationship with it. Perry’s relationship with it might lean more towards the strongly dislike side :) This bus is a large coach with an aisle down the middle and rows of bunk beds along the sides. It’s pretty interesting to experience as the trip from Hyderabad to Ongole is somewhere between 6.5 to 7.5 hours on some of the bumpiest roads in India with horns honking throughout the night. Needless to say, you don’t sleep much.

Once we arrived in Ongole, we took a short nap and set out to spend time with the amazing kiddos that live there. Our first day was filled with mostly hugs and catching up with kids and SCH staff that we haven’t seen in almost 3.5 years.

And of course, the best part was squeezing my two girls, Hannah and Christine, so tight and holding them close. These two girls are so special to me and some of the oldest of my dozen with Hannah turning 22 this July and Christine turning 21 next November. And they are still just as incredible as they were when I first met them. They now live in Faith Home with several other older girls their age and are learning vocational skills to help them find a job one day soon. I am so proud of them.

We had the best time playing with Hannah, Christine and the other girls (and one little boy) at Faith Home. They are all so sweet! We were also able to reconnect with an SCH staff member that I love so much. 

And we were able to visit two other SCH foster homes during our time in Ongole as well: Truth Home and Victory Home, where several of the older boys and young men live. All of them were doing great, and I couldn’t believe how grown up they are. Boys that I remember being 10 or 11 years old when I first met them are now men with deep voices and beards!

Part of the fun of visiting Ongole is that Ongole life is so different from big cities in India. It’s pretty small and rural compared to cities like Hyderabad where things are slightly more modern. The traffic is chaos as autos (usually called tuk-tuks in other countries), motorbikes, cars and humans all swerve to miss each other and the cattle that roam freely in the middle of the road throughout the city. It’s quite the spectacle to experience especially from the back of an auto.

Our final full day in Ongole, we were able to take Hannah and Christine as well as their six other foster sisters to the local beach. We loaded up in a car and drove the 45 minutes to the coastline that sits on the Bay of Bengal. The girls had a blast running and playing in the water. It was so fun playing with them and seeing them act like little kids with all of their silliness and laughter.

As always, our time in Ongole seemed far too short and before we knew it, it was time to catch the overnight bus back to Hyderabad for the second half of our time. I cried as I hugged Hannah and Christine and left with a “I’ll see you sometime soon. I love you always.”

Back in Hyderabad, we headed to Joy Home where my three other girlies live: Alesa, Victoria and Esther. Alesa is older (she’ll turn 19 in May), while Victoria (15) and Esther (14) were some of my youngest way back when. Did I mention that they make me feel so old now?? It was so much fun walking up to Joy Home as the girls saw me and came running down the stairs yelling, “Haley Sister! Haley Sister!” over and over. My heart may have almost exploded. And again, hugging them was a dream come true.

For the next three days, we played and we played some more. We played board games. We played card matching games. We drew with sidewalk chalk. We looked at old pictures and reminisced. We played house with their current younger foster sisters. We read books. We painted and colored. And we soaked up every minute of our time together. It was wonderful. And we even got to spend time with another SCH staff member that we also love :)

One night, Perry and I had the opportunity to go to the home of one of my girls who was adopted by a local Indian family. I had not seen this sweet girl in almost six years, and my heart almost burst with joy at seeing how wonderful she’s doing. She was my littlest girl in Ongole (she was only 2 back then!) and one that I held so dear to my heart. And to see her now, at age 10, thriving in an AMAZING, loving family was a gift and an answer to so many prayers.

Our last day, we were able to take my girls to the park across the street to walk around and enjoy the sunshine.

And our final afternoon with them, we took them out to get ice cream, and it was delicious! And pretty funny as we all ended up with it all over our faces :)

And once again, I dreaded the moment when we had to say goodbye, and they asked me, as they always do every single time, “When coming back, sister?” And again I said, “I don’t know. I hope soon. I can never stay away from you for too long, my loves.”

This week in South India, as with all my trips to India, was full of tears. Tears of joy and excitement and being reunited. And tears of the sadness of goodbyes.

Over and over, I kept hearing in my head Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may come for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

This country is one of the most difficult places that I’ve ever been. I’ve seen and experienced things here that I didn’t want to. I’ve watched my girls deal with their past traumas while trying to face the uncertainty of their futures. There have been times that I’ve been scared and cried to the Lord begging for His mercy on my girls’ health with seizures and brain shunt failures and ER stays. I’ve been so lonely here and felt like no one was there to help. I’ve hugged kiddos that have lost their health battles and gone on to heaven. I’ve watched my girls struggle with goodbyes to their sisters who are being adopted and not knowing if they’d ever see each other again or if a family will ever come for them. And I’ve said goodbye to faces that I love so dearly time and time again. This country is a hard place. And it’s brought much weeping.

But somehow, despite the weeping and the tears, joy somehow always blooms. It comes with the laughter of smearing ice cream all over our faces. It overflows out of Victoria as she beats me at a card game. It comes from playing in the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal. It comes from forever families and knowing that my girls are healthy and safe. It blooms from singing and dancing and remembering sweet times together in our “old apartment.” It fills the air as I get to spend these moments with Perry and he comes to know and love these girls that I love so much. And it comes when I think of my time with these girls and imagine the next time I can hug and love on them.

Yes, this country has brought the darkest and weeping of the night, but oh how it has brought the light and joy of the morning. It’s that light and joy that draws me in each time. It’s the reason why I can never stay away for too long from this home of my heart.

So for today, in the sadness of goodbyes, I hold close the hope of see you soons. I treasure my time with these little loves that I love so very much. And I pray for the day that I see them again soon. I continue to trust that the Lord has good plans for their lives and that He is faithful to take care of them in ways that I cannot. And I pray that He brings forever families for my girls (Victoria and Esther) that still have time to find them. May we all be able to trust that though weeping comes in the night, joy will soon come in the morning.

***Please pray with me for "forever (adoptive) families" for my two younger girls, Victoria and Esther. I so deeply desire for them to have a family to call their own. Special needs children age out of adoption eligibility in India at age 16 for international adoptions and age 18 for domestic adoptions. Victoria will turn 16 in April 2020, and Esther will turn 16 in June 2021.

***If you are ever interested in helping support the work that SCH is doing in taking care of these amazing children in India, please reach out to me or check out their website: Sarah's Covenant Homes, India

***Names of children are changed and their eyes/identities are covered up for their safety and protection.


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