The farm is a safe place for Maria to run and play. The white and red peonies are blooming and the nearby field is aglow with buttercups. The six-year-old’s menagerie of friends include three dogs, a goat, the farm’s alpaca and horse, a lizard named “Freckles,” and the hedgehog “Reggie.”
Tucked around the corner of the house is Maria’s favorite: her swing. She opens the palm of one hand, and using two fingers from her other hand makes an inverted “v.” She moves the fingers across her palm signing “swing” and off she goes.
Maria came to North Carolina from Guatemala two years ago. She was born to an alcoholic mom and suffered fetal alcohol syndrome. Rescued from the streets, the malnourished child was taken to the Good Shepherd Children’s Home in Xela, Guatemala––an affiliate of Baptist Children’s Homes. Under the watchful care of the ministry’s directors, Roger and Vickie Grossman, it was determined Maria’s developmental and medical needs could not be met in Guatemala. They recommended she come to the United States.
Three thousand miles away, empty-nesters Karen and Sean had no idea how God was preparing to use them in Maria’s life or how they would face the God-sized challenges ahead.
Even before Sean and Karen had ever heard of Maria, God was at work in their lives preparing her a home.
“Everything has been God orchestrated,” Karen asserts.
The couple celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary June 2. The two met at a military training event between their junior and senior years of high school. Sean went on to attend West Point.
A day after his graduation, the couple wed in the Cadet Chapel in 1991 with an “arch of sabers ceremony” and Karen receiving a gentle swat from the saber bearer who announced: “Welcome to the Army, Ma’am.”
After raising two daughters and “living” life together, their journey brought them to the 20-acre farm they now call home. Plans were in the works to replace the existing house with a newly-constructed home and they talked about retirement.
“We had plans,” Sean recalls, “and it did not include a small child in our lives.”
But the tragic loss of their oldest daughter turned their world upside down. The grief became a daily struggle. Karen turned to Scripture with questions on her heart. Sitting in silence one day, she asked, “God, what purpose do you have for me now?”
The couple were members of a North Carolina Baptist church. It was almost a surprise to Karen when she signed up for the next mission trip. Her first trip was to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, and her first foreign excursion was to Panama.
“It was on my third trip––the trip to the Good Shepherd Children’s Home in Guatemala, that I met Maria,” Karen recalls.
When Maria first arrived at the home, she could not walk. She scooted on the floor, her legs too weak to support her. She did not speak and could not chew or eat solid food.
Karen saw her need, her heart enfolded the little girl, and she could not wait to get home to tell Sean.
“I remember saying, ‘Let me tell you who I met,’” Karen chuckles. “We began to pray for Maria and send financial support. Sean and I kept putting her name before the Lord.”
Karen knew she needed to do more. On her second trip to Guatemala, she and the Grossmans began to talk about Maria coming to the States.
“My husband listens to God,” Karen says. “He heard my need and heard Maria’s need. And our life plans changed.”
The couple flew to Guatemala.
“God worked in my heart,” Sean confesses. “There is no such thing as retirement from the gospel.”
Fifty-one-year-old Sean says the notion of early retirement went out the window and the construction of a new home was placed on the back burner. There was a little girl who needed them, and they were committed to helping her.
The couple saw God move in mighty ways. Karen recounts going to the consulate in Guatemala. “I knew a six-month medical visa was not going to be enough. Maria’s needs were great––we believed they were even greater than what we knew at the time. I walked up and told the person that we needed a ten-year visa. He told me to come back.”
The next day, Maria was given a 10-year visa. “God announced in some very big ways that this was on His time” Karen says. “Over and over again, He worked mightily to bring Maria to live on the farm. All we had to do was allow Him to work.”
Two years have flown by since Maria came to live in North Carolina. She can walk with just a slight step to her gait. She fully understands English, and she and Karen are learning sign language.
She attends their church’s preschool and enjoys interacting with the other children.
She has grown six inches and gained almost seven pounds.
Karen sends reports back to Guatemala regularly on Maria’s ongoing medical challenges. She also reports on her many successes. “God knew what He was doing when He brought Maria into our lives.”
Maria interrupts and signs banana and peanut butter. Karen asks if she wants a sandwich. She shakes her head “yes” and then signs, “Thank you.” Karen responds, signing “You’re welcome.”
The two embrace in silence, Karen makes Maria’s sandwich, and the two agree, Maria can swing when Sean returns home from work.
URGENT NEED: The medical needs of children at the Good Shepherd Ministries in Guatemala are now costing approximately $2000 a month ($24,000 a year). This rising cost was not budgeted. There is also the need to raise $31,000 between June and September to meet budget needs for the two orphanages. To help with these critical needs, please contact Brenda Gray at 336-689-4442 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Give online at www.bchfamily.org/givenow and choose “Guatemala Orphanage” from Gift Designation drop down menu.
Article written by Jim Edminson, Editor of Charity & Children