I’ve always thought it would have been fun to have a really big family. I imagine everyone gathering around a table, eating, laughing, playing games, and giving each other a hard time. Sure, there would still be family drama, but there’s something special about a large body of people who have history and are there for each other through the good times and the bad. But what I never dreamed or imagined is that I would find that magical encounter…in an orphanage.
The Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission has been nestled up against the foothills of the Himalayas, on the India Nepal border, since 1952. This unique place is a lot of things: it’s a farm, a school, a dairy, a leprosy mission, a vocational school, a disaster relief, and… an orphanage.
Of all the things that GSAM is, the one that took me most by surprise was the orphanage. Now I’ve been to plenty of orphanages. I’ve seen them, smelled them, felt them, and experienced them. But despite the label, this place was no orphanage; it was one big home…one big family.
A typical day at GSAM looks like this: At 7:00 am music begins to play over a loud speaker to usher in the morning (kinda like my childhood camp!). By 7:30, and after about 20 hugs, you are sitting down for breakfast among 80 or so children of all ages and grandpa Rick reads a short Bible verse and prays. After breakfast its time to walk to school. More hugs are dispersed as the kids say bye to Grandpa Rick, “dad” Clifton, “mom” Priscilla, Uncle John, and whoever else is visiting yet is quickly adopted as an auntie or uncle. Lunch time is spent in similar fashion to breakfast; more hugs when the kids return from school. Study time until about 5:30pm. Games and playing until dinner. Dinner time followed by more games and playing until inside time at 7:30pm. As the children part ways from us to study until lights out, a final barrage of hugs ensues followed by many goodnights and I love you’s. Then it all starts again the next day.
Unless its summer.
If it’s summer, then you will find the children living at the farm being able to experience what other kids experience in the summer…Fun! You will find Dad Clifton and Uncle John staying up all night long playing games and having adventures with the kids while conducting what is popularly known as The Summer Games!
You see, what took me by surprise about this seemingly normal schedule and way of life was exactly that. It felt normal! It felt normal because it was so similar to my family and how I was raised just on a larger scale. GSAM is a functioning and intact family. Of course many of the kids here are considered orphans by the traditional definition. The have known heartache, pain, abandonment, and they live in an orphanage… But can I really still call them orphans? They are part of a loving, protecting family.
This unique and beautiful place in remote India challenged my every thought and opinion about orphanages and orphans. It is not your typical orphanage and for this community and these kids it is such a beautiful thing. And these are not your typical orphans because they aren’t orphans (see yesterday’s post). They are brothers and sisters.
I no longer wonder what it would be like to have a really big family, because nestled up against the foothills of the Himalayas, on the India Nepal border, in an orphanage of all places, I got to be a part of one. And let me tell you, its magical!
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