This summer’s hosting adventure has officially begun! Kayley, Cayce, and I began the journey Sunday afternoon on the drive from Austin to Houston. We wanted to hit the road early to be ready first thing Monday morning refreshed and ready to go with plenty of time to spare. Lists in hand, families ready to go, we braced ourselves for what we knew was going to be an unforgettable day.
Bright and early, we hit the ground running, barely containing our composure as our anxiety, eagerness, and nervousness began to build. News stations had gotten word of our program and were already calling us for details about the day. That’s when the excitement really set in – this is really happening! The kids are COMING! We must have shouted it at least a dozen times in the car as we made our way to IAH that incredible day.
We did a quick drive through to determine what the terminal distance looked like and what we were likely facing. So many questions ran through our heads: would the kids be able to get from the international terminal to the domestic in time? What about the delay we knew about that had set the children back about an hour? Kayley and Cayce stopped off at the domestic terminals to pick up gate passes from the incredibly helpful staff at the IAH Airport, and I headed over to the International Arrivals pickup where I knew families would be arriving in just a few hours to meet hteir children. A long time family friend of mine also showed up – it’s amazing how much support these incredible children have throughout our communities.
We found the perfect area to hang the banner, moved some seating around, and made ourselves at home. United was INCREDIBLE issuing us gate passes in order to escort the little ones, and boy that was a relief! With three groups departing from Houston to continue on their last leg of their journey to their host families, we knew we needed to help get the children where they needed to go as quickly as possible. Settled in, we began reflecting: 30 kids, 4 adult chaperones, 16 families, 3-4 news crews, ok… we can do this! At one point, Cayce and I checked our heart rates (well over 100!) and took a deep breath to steady our nerves.
It seemed as though traffic was everywhere around Houston and two families were stuck on their way from Dallas, the entire freeway was shut down. We tried to ease their nerves, knowing that their anticipation of meeting their kiddos and the stress of being late would be so much to bear.
Just as families started to arrive, the media began to show up, too! News stations from different parts of Texas could not believe how many stories each one of our families had to tell about their journey. We stated over and over again, EVERY hosting program has these same types of families – ones with big hearts who are willing and ready to help the children who need it most in these orphanages.
After waiting, watching, and hoping, finally it happened! The kids landed at 4:28 pm (we know because we kept staring at the clock!), almost an hour late. Just in time, one of the families who had been stuck in the Dallas traffic arrived. We soon began lining up to wait from them to come through the door of the customs check, not one of us wanting to miss the arrival of the kiddos through the door. We waited 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes. Obviously, getting 30 orphans through customs was taking a little bit longer than we hoped. Cayce stop on her tip toes staring through the door with a few other parents, and then finally, we see the little red shirts all in a group! At about quarter to six, the children walked through those sliding doors to the cheers and tears of the families waiting there for them! Some of them waved, a few of them ran to their families waiting with posters held high. It was one of the happiest moments I’ve had the privilege to witness, and there were very few dry eyes even amongst the passerby.
For Kayley, Cayce, and I, there wasn’t quite as much time to feel everything we wanted to. Looking back, the hour after the children’s arrival feels like a blur. Kayley immediately grabbed the chaperones and kids for one flight to run to meet their domestic connection; Cayce grabbed the other group and dashed to another terminal.
As I saw each child’s face, my heart burst as I remembered seeing their sweet faces just months ago in their orphanage. I couldn’t believe it, they were finally here! We spent some time corralling the children, making sure everyone was with their family. There were some sweet moments, some teary moments, and some unforgettable moments. I watched as parent’s embraced their soon be children for the first time, and my heart warmed for them. I watched young kids meet strangers and take them like it was nothing. I had to pinch myself to remind myself that everything around me was actually happening.
Many families were able to depart quickly and start their official hosting journey. Some of the children needing some coaxing – the reality that they were in a foreign place with strange people really setting in. We had prepared the families for these kinds of fears, and the resilience these families showed, to stand by the children and wait to be the person who was there to hug them, hold them, and love them was indescribable.
For one family, arrival day was a true testament to their commitment. They had been stuck for five hours in the traffic outside of Houston. Cayce met them downstairs to bring them up to their kiddo, and it was clear that the stress of the day had taken its toll. Despite all they had been through, both parents and all of their kiddos were THRILLED to finally be there, finally be arriving to see their child waiting at the airport. And what a cool little dude he is!
Finally, with everyone where they needed to be, we looked at each other and were able to see the exhaustion (emotional and physical) in each others’ eyes. After 10 straight hours in an airport, we decided to stay in Houston. We settled some baggage issues and then went on our way to stay at my mom’s house for the evening, who, like the amazing woman she is, had hot pizza waiting for us (THANKS MOM!). She also already had the TV up and on record – we were on the news! We sat squealing in front of the television, pizza in hand, as the amazing stories of these children and families scrolled on the screen.
Without any further hitches, we received confirmation one after another that all the rest of our 14 kiddos had made it safely to their destination. It’s been a whirlwind, and we are happy to say that we’ve received countless stories already from the families with updates. While orphan hosting is not always sunshine and rainbows, it shouldn’t be. These are children who have been through some tough experiences, and standing by them is what makes these families the true Orphan Warriors they are. We will continue to keep you posted on how the children are doing – for now, enjoy the awesome photos!