In less than a week we will be walking Aaron out of his mental institute forever. That will be a moment of sweet victory. God has moved mountains to free this one little boy and create a future for him. We cannot wait to lead him out of that gate and into his new life. Watching Aaron absorb the wonder of the world outside is an experience neither of us want to miss, which is one reason we’ve both stayed for all of this time. But all of that joy is mixed with sorrow when we remember the boys he’s leaving behind, the ones we’ve dubbed “The Lost Boys.”
Every morning while we visit Aaron, we see the Lost Boys moving around the internat grounds in their groups on their way to and from snack time. A few are in wheelchairs, the older boys pushing the younger ones. The rest all hold hands in pairs so that no one gets lost. The caretakers always keep gentle hold on three or four. Together, they make a strange and awkward procession. At first it was a bit frightening because there are so many of them, and most of them make some strange noise or awkward movement. Now we’re used to them, and we look for the ones we recognize every day: The one who smiles with uncontainable glee every time we look at him. The one who dances with reckless joy whenever the radio plays. The serious one who sometimes says “Mama.” The legless older boy in the wheelchair who never makes a sound, but always grins when we wave. The troublemaker who tore the bed off of Aaron’s dump truck on our first trip. Each of them has his own likes and dislikes, his own personality. Most of them will never know any other life than the one they have now.
It is a harsh life. Some of the older boys have jobs setting tables, carrying laundry or emptying trash bins. These make the most of their bit of freedom. The rest have little to do but sit on benches or on the ground, rocking back and forth hour after hour, day after day. Some wander around within their group’s play area. Those who are able sometimes kick a ball or push a wheelchair around. They have no other toys, nor do they receive any teaching, therapy or stimulation. It is a great honor for us to be allowed to bring Aaron out of such a place.
We have counted over 60 boys marching by for their snacks. Inside the buildings in the back are even more boys, the bedridden ones who seldom see the light of day. We have had only glimpses of one or two of these, but what we have seen we will never forget-- a child with a deathly white face, so stiff that his waist never bent as two nurses carried him to an ambulance, one at his shoulders, the other at his feet.
The internat staff makes the best of its limited resources. For the outdoor boys, there are usually one or two caretakers in charge of 20-25 mentally disabled boys ages 5 to 18. They care for the boys, but they can do little more than keep the peace in such large groups of needy kids. They are overworked and overwhelmed just maintaining cleanliness and order. We admire them for the care they show for the Lost Boys.
The Lost Boys arrive at this internat when they are five years old, transferred from the baby houses where they have lived since their parents gave them up. Frightened and friendless, they are torn from the only world they have ever known. They have failed the tests that would have entitled them to receive an education. Their mental or physical disabilities mean that they are unqualified to live outside the internat. With no stimulation, there is little chance that they will improve. Unless they die first, they will remain at the internat until they turn 18. Then they will be transferred for the last time, to an adult mental institute where they will live out the rest of their lives. This is their sad reality. Aaron is the first child ever to leave this internat. When he walks out of its gates, he will break its sad cycle for the first time.
Part of our hearts will break when we, too, leave the Lost Boys behind. Only two or three of them have any hope for a family as things now stand. They are available for adoption, but time is running out for them, and unless someone claims them soon they’ll be as lost as the older boys already are. How they would blossom if they got the chance! As unreachable as most of the Lost Boys seem, there isn’t one of them who wouldn’t improve with some stimulation. But these younger ones need someone right now, before they’re lost in the system forever. We pray that God and His church will send someone for them soon.