It was a Friday in early May and I decided to go to Stanford to attend Jummah (Islamic Friday prayer services). It was only the second time I had gone there for Jummah in over 25 years living in the valley. My nephew had asked me to attend services there since he was giving the student sermon that day.
After services had finished, I was walking in the parking lot at Stanford when I heard a lady call my name from her car. It was sister Dian from GiveLight. “Brother Hassen,” she shouted from her moving car, “How are you?”
I was startled and in absolute disbelief as to what was happening here. It had been two or more years since we had first connected and I almost broke down as I proceeded to say to her, “Oh my God, Sister Dian, I can’t believe it’s you. It cant be a mere coincidence–I’m going to Indonesia tonight with my nephew Jamal to consult for the second largest pharmaceutical company in Indonesia. I can’t believe I am running into you like this on the day I am leaving.”
Knowing immediately what I was destined to do, I said to her, “This is not by chance, this is a message from God that I need to visit the orphanage while I’m there.” I walked to my car feeling like I had just had an out-of-body experience. I couldn’t believe what happened to this day. This was totally unplanned. I did not intend to visit the orphanage as it was a long flight from Jakarta where I would be. I told my 20-year-old nephew Jamal all about GiveLight and Sister Dian and how fate had destined that he and I should travel to the orphanage.
Sure enough, on the third weekend of our visit we were on our way to Aceh to meet the kids at the orphanage sister Dian had started. Once we arrived at the airport, we were greeted by a bus full of kids welcoming us to their home. From that point forward, it would turn out to be one of the most heartwarming, enlightening, and inspiring moments of our lives.
The children decided to take us on a tour of their homeland and it was one of the most beautiful places I had ever visited. A small town nestled among the mountains with the ocean at its footsteps, it was absolutely breathtaking to say the least. I started a conversation with the head of the orphanage, a young lady in her thirties with a look and demeanor about her that made you feel like you were talking to a someone with a soul and heart of gold. She proceeded to explain how she had lost her father just prior to the tsunami and then lost her mother and siblings during the tsunami. It was heartbreaking, but I truly believe that God had ordained her to do the work she was currently doing at the orphanage. Once we arrived at the orphanage, we met the rest of the family. At first, they seemed much like the kids I am accustomed to knowing in the US. They seemed interested in all the things you would expect a group of kids to be interested in.
But there was something truly different about them. I felt a sense of soul about them that you normally don’t get from kids their age in US. They grew up in the orphanage and it seemed like they cherished every relationship they had with the others in the house.
One of the most memorable visuals I had there is one that will never leave my mind as long as I live. The children had just finished their early morning prayer (Fajr) and they were all reading from the Quran when the youngest boy of them all (I believe he was 7 years old) came and sat near one of the youngsters who was reading out loud from the Quran and rested his head on his lap as though to tell him how much he found comfort in his Quran reading. My nephew Jamal, was even more struck by what he was witnessing. He was a young college student sheltered from the harsh realities of the world by parents who provided ample love, support, and nourishing. All he had to worry about was getting good grades. At one point he took off his chain with holy Quran attached to it and gave it to one of the older boys in the family. It brought both him and the boy to tears as they both realized how in such little they had become so close.
On our last night there, the entire group performed for us as to show us how much they value everyone that enters in their lives no matter how long they stay. I remembered how I felt like a VIP of sorts. And, then I realized that to them everyone who visits the orphanage is a VIP.
Jamal promised the family that he would be back one day. He wanted them to know that he would never forget them and the uplifting experiences he had with them.
When they took us to the airport, it was beyond heartbreaking to have to leave such beautiful kids, who on the surface lost the most important people of their lives, but in the process gained another family representing all that one could wish for in a relationship with the human soul.
I never felt sorry for them, as I saw them as God’s children possessing every bit the soul many of us would dream of having. I remember asking myself on the plane what would happen to them as they got older. Will they get the breaks they need to survive the realities of a harsh world? But that thought only lasted for a moment as I reminded myself that they would always be protected as they are God’s children.
You may never have the opportunity to visit these kids. However, remembering that they are out there and giving to them in any way you can will help you remember that at the end of the day we are all God’s children with the responsibility to take care of each other.
Visiting that orphanage is the best thing that has ever happened to me. The worst thing in my life would have been if fate did not have me run into Sister Dian the day I was leaving for Indonesia. I was “given light” that day.