It’s difficult to think that I – a person who always seems to have something to say – am at a loss for words as I reflect on this day. It’s not that I don’t have the desire to tell the story of Manchen; rather, it’s that, despite best efforts, there are simply not words adequate to describe the awe-inspiring moments we shared with the girls who live there.
For those of you who don’t know about Manchen - it is a teenage girls’ home in Antigua. There are currently 100 young ladies ranging in age from 10-18 living in dormitory style housing. Many of the girls have fled abusive situations, and some have been living on the street. There are a number of pregnant girls or young moms. One mom, only 13, was removed from abuse – Manchen is considered to be a safe place for her and the tiny baby boy she holds in her arms.
For months, I had been praying about how we should spend our time with the girls. Searching for teaching materials proved futile – everything designed for teens in the United States approached challenges from an upper-middle class point of view. My sweet friends didn’t fight over clothing or who had the cutest boyfriend or nicest car – they struggled with the pain of sexual abuse and gang violence and drug addiction. When I thought about Manchen, my heart focused on one word: treasure.
These girls needed to be told they were indeed beautiful – a prized possession of incomparable value. They needed to know they were God’s treasure. And they needed to know they are not alone – there are other broken and beautiful people who have experienced healing and redemption. That passion to share led to a bible study written just for Manchen. “A Treasured Life” walked the girls through a journey of hope. From designing charm bracelets to help them see they were like jewels or precious silver in the eyes of God to talking about what being treasured feels like – and then honoring people in their lives who have encouraged, loved, and supported them, each element of the lesson allowed the girls to not just listen but interact with the concept of “treasure.” Even a special time of painting fingernails was used to reinforce the importance of inward beauty.
All of the activities were written around a bible study focusing on three main points:
Christ is our most prized treasure
The Bible is a wonderful treasure given to us by God
We are God’s most prized treasure
Personal testimonies from members of the team would be shared when we got to the third point. The stories shared with the girls wouldn’t be the usual fare – my own personal history of sexual and physical abuse would be told, and I prayed there would be a testimony for each of the three bible study groups at Manchen. I felt the Lord saying “the walls will be broken down when the girls see they are not the only ones.” And God, being truly wonderful, ensured that two other women with stories were on the trip.
We arrived at Manchen at 2pm, and were greeted by the sounds of cheers when the large wooden door was opened. Those who had been to the orphanage before found familiar faces, and those who were new quickly found friends. The magic lens of the cameras served as instant ice-breakers. The chant “Photo, photo, photo!” transformed the courtyard into a pep assembly. Gathering the girls all together, we introduced ourselves and shared what the afternoon would hold. We asked how they defined the word “treasure,” and the answers were shouted out “jewelry, money, gold!” We then gave our own definition:
“Anything or any person who is highly treasured. A thing or person of incomparable worth.”
We showed the girls a gift we had brought to them – a frame adorned with a hodge-podge of items that had been donated and dug out of junk drawers back home. Jewelry, beads, old computer parts, keys, scrap metal, pieces of broken china, toys. The frame helped them see the amazing beauty in a tapestry of both things of value and things discarded.
The girls were then split into three groups: pink, turquoise and purple, and the teams rotated from one activity to another. I wish I could say the transition was smooth – but all Hell broke loose. We didn’t have enough translators, several of the girls rebelled against wearing the bandanas and joining in the teams – with a team of nine, we were clearly outnumbered. I looked at Brynn and Christi, my partners on Team Turq, and said “I know God is here. Now it would be nice if He would show His face.” I looked around and other team members were praying as we all worked to calm the chaos. Then, as if a gentle breeze swept over the orphanage, the chaos ceased. Every girl listened attentively. They asked questions and shared stories. Even those who at first didn’t want to participate ventured over. On their treasure sheets, they wrote down names of friends. They wrote down names of family members. They wept as they remembered life with a mom and dad. They carefully threaded each bead as they made their special bracelets, many of them snuggling up next to the team and asking for help. Team members held babies so the young moms could participate in the activities.
Let me interject here that this seems so much more like a diary entry – again, I find myself failing miserably at finding words. But this was not a “day in the life” moment. This was a miracle in the making.
As we shared the bible lesson, the girls were quick to share “Jesus is a treasure,” and “The Bible is a treasure.” But then the tone changed. They leaned in with piercing eyes, holding each others’ hands as the testimonies were shared:
“My step-brother sexually abused me.”
“I had an abortion.”
“My alcoholic father only told me he loved me once.”
We spoke of Christ’s redeeming love, of His remarkable ability to heal, to restore innocence, to truly love in a way that doesn’t hurt. We spoke of our lives then, and our lives now – and how He has taken every broken piece and written His name on it, saying “This one is mine.” We talked about being a masterpiece, like a fine work of art in a museum or the best music ever written. Girl after girl said “your story is my story – please pray for me.” We prayed, and held each sweet girl so tightly – the young girl who just found out she was pregnant and the precious teen who had been removed from a brothel and the beautiful teen who had run away from home and just wanted to see her mom again. Tears flowed. Lives were changed.
We said our goodbyes to the girls, bringing out the frame we had shown earlier – now with a mirror mounted inside so each of them would be reminded of the treasure inside them. As we prepared to leave, a special needs girl ran to our interpreter, Melissa, pleading “I want Jesus, please pray for me!” Peeking her head out of the computer room, our teammate Courtney yelled “Everyone, please come inside – we need to pray!” The young prostitute sat inside. “She has decided she wants to live her life in Christ, and she needs prayer for healing.” That computer room became a room of healing and restoration, not only for her but for at least a dozen young ladies. They waited patiently outside as we prayed for each one. The line continued to grow and grow. I held one young lady who simply wanted to be a “difference-maker” and end the curse of abuse and violence. Her warm tears fell on my arm as I hugged and whispered “Jesus te mo” to her.
We had noticed earlier a group of girls behind barred windows in the corner of the orphanage. Berta, our Buckner trip coordinator and interpreter, asked if we would go and speak to the girls. “They are the very tough ones – the violent ones. But they can be redeemed, and they keep crying out for prayer.” The team responded, and held the girls hands through the bars. Four precious girls asked Christ to be the Lord of their lives. And bracelets worn by the team as examples became the perfect number of gifts for those girls. In total, more than 10 girls made decisions for Christ. Dozens received prayer for healing, deliverance, restoration.
God was indeed there. And everyone saw Him.