By Kendra Olson
Originally appeared in PHC's Herald 12/4
Patrick Henry College
Photo courtesy of Caroline Byrd
It was July 2012. Caroline Byrd walked towards the girls’ building at the Verbo orphanage in Puerto Cabezas where she was staying for a month on a mission trip. The kids were gathered outside of the building, giggling and whispering amongst themselves. PHC senior Luke Hake, her teammate took the Bible she was holding. A little girl grabbed her hand and led her to the middle of the group of children.
“Go!” a team member yelled.
The children rushed towards Byrd revealing the eggs they had hidden behind their backs. She ran a few steps and collapsed into a ball on the ground, shielding her head as her enthusiastic attackers pelted her with their eggs. By the time she stood up, her white tank top was yellow with egg yolks and smeared with dirt.
Her team and the kids burst into the “Happy Birthday” song in Spanish. She had just been the victim of a Nicaraguan birthday tradition.
“Thank you, thank you!” she said when the song was over.
The children then led her to the wash area and began to rinse all the dirt and egg from her hair and body. Eventually they brought out their soaps and shampoos. Byrd protested. Soap was a precious commodity to these orphans. But the children wouldn’t listen to her objections. Byrd was forced to sit there and accept the generosity and love from the eager little hands that were scrubbing her clean. Byrd was humbled by their self-lessness. It proved to be a milestone in her quest to discover what it really meant to love others like Christ.
Just a year earlier, Byrd was struggling with a feeling of numbness in her life. She knew God but in a “callused sort of way” and she desperately wanted to know what it meant to truly love others.
It was only a short time until Hake approached her about going with him and others on a mission trip to Nicaragua.
“I prayed so hard when I went there that the Lord would please teach me to love these people in a Christ-like way that I could not explain or comprehend,” she said.
When the team arrived in Nicaragua, Byrd was struck by the differences between that country and the United States. She was not shocked — this was not the first time she had been out of the US — but she described the experience as “eye-opening.”
Meeting the orphans for the first time was both terrifying and wonderful for Byrd. She wrote in her journal, “I wonder how I can offer them anything — especially knowing so little of the language ... I can only pray that God will transform me with a supernatural love and grant me His heart for the nations.”
The team in Nicaragua spent a lot of time with the children. They started a choir, taught private music lessons, led Bible activities, and encouraged the children to memorize Scripture. However, their main focus was simply living day to day life with the kids. “I was stunned by the depth of the people there,” she said.
Children singing in the orphanage choir. Courtesy of Caroline Byrd.
“Not only the people of Nicaragua, but the people on my team as well.”
The Caroline who arrived back at the States was not the same one who had left it a month earlier. “I was a mess,” she said. “I was a good mess, but a mess nonetheless.” It took weeks for her to settle back into a routine, and even then, her life was not the same as it had been before the trip. Western conveniences made her feel guilty. “All I wanted was to be done with school and go and work in the jungles of Nicaragua. The seeming mundaneness of writing papers and going to classes [made me] discontent,” she said. After a couple months of being back, Byrd began to see the things that the Lord taught her in Nicaragua as things that applied here at college as well.
“I am convinced loving a person requires a very intense breaking period where the Lord shatters your own strength ... He breaks you in such a way that you suffer with that individual and you desire for [him/her] to know Christ,” she said.
The following summer of 2013, Caroline returned to Nicaragua for three weeks. During the second mission trip, she continued to learn and grow in her love for others.
Currently, Caroline is finishing up her senior year at Patrick Henry College where she will be graduating with a degree in history. When she finishes, she is considering returning to Nicaragua to start language training. “I don’t know if the Lord is asking me to [return to Nicaragua],” she said. But she is ready and willing to go if he does.
When Byrd reads over her journal entries from those days, she can see herself transforming. She said it was apparent “how much all of this was completely outside of my hands.” “It was something the Lord was doing in me,” she said. “He was doing it [by] breaking me.”