“He’s like a little soldier!”
Those were among the first words my wife, Maria, and I spoke when meeting a little baby in a Russian orphanage almost 20 years ago. As we walked into the room, this tiny-but-scrappy fellow climbed up against the slats in his crib, straight-backed as though standing at attention. Every day we would visit the room there, and Maxim—soon to be renamed Ben—was always silent and dignified, even as he clung to the back of my hair while I held him. He wasn’t alone in his silence.
As I wrote at Christianity Today shortly afterward, the entire place was that way. Though filled with babies, the orphanage was utterly soundless. Over time, we learned that this was not uncommon in such settings. Infants cry, after all, to communicate: “I’m hungry!” “I’m scared!” “I’m wet!” After enough time with no response, they will eventually stop crying.
As we left the room, knowing it would be several months before we were allowed to return, I could only say, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). And then we walked out and shut the door. We could hear little Maxim falling down in his crib, screaming. Between my own sobs, I said, “That’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. He’s crying because he knows we will hear him. He knows he has parents now. He knows he is loved.”
Ben doesn’t remember the orphanage. But I couldn’t help but think of it late last year as I watched him stand at attention before the American flag while being sworn in to the United States Air Force. When the officer asked the new recruits why they had joined, several of them said, …
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