(The following was written by Traci Quinn. Thanks Traci!)
Wilson was born into a world of silence and isolation. He is deaf, in a poverty-stricken land where the deaf are often hidden away and sometimes enslaved.
He’s never known his name. For a time, he was forced to live with the dogs in his mother’s back yard, scrabbling among them for food. He is smaller than his 7 years, possibly because of the pain he’s endured. His limbs are loose and wobbly and twisted with cerebral palsy. His spirit is twisted with mistreatment and neglect.
But his heart is wide open.
Nameless. Loveless. Discarded.
Jessie Fox was blown away when she met Wilson. He had suffered so much hurt that she had expected him to be totally withdrawn, afraid of the world, unable to connect with others. She had come to teach him a language, give him hope, show him love — but she was not prepared for what he would give to her.
“Being different in the Honduran culture means being shunned,” Jessie explained, “but most of the deaf we work with haven’t been mistreated quite this badly. I don’t know his mother’s circumstances, if she was angry or just didn’t know what to do — did she have other children to take care of and was just overburdened? I don’t want to judge her choices.”
Whatever her reasons, she made Wilson live outside. He slept in the yard with the dogs, ate scraps off the ground. At some point, his mother left completely and he was passed on to friends and neighbors who were willing to take him in.
Wilson went to live with his great-grandmother two years ago. She’s taught him to walk and to eat with a spoon. She communicates through gestures. She happily let Jessie and the others from Signs of Love come to meet him.
Jessie walked into the yard slowly that first time, not wanting to scare him. “I got down on the dirt, leaned around the sheets that were hanging in the yard and just started to look really excited about what was in my bag, hoping to draw his interest. He peeked out from the corner of the sheet, looked down at the Slinky I was holding. I opened it and closed it, over and over, and he was watching the Slinky … then he looked through the toy right at me, actually making eye contact. Then he got a great big grin on his face and he took the Slinky from me.”
It was a remarkable moment.
“I had expected the worst, but seeing him being willing to reach out and take something from me … I felt like it made him open to taking other things from us, emotionally. It’s an overarching theme with Signs of Love — we are the ones who have high expectations and we’re usually the ones who bring that hope in, but I was just blown away.”
Embraced. Christened. Reclaimed.
Jessie and Nancy, a Honduran deaf missionary, did some basic assessments to see if there was anything they could do to help Wilson with his daily living, improve his quality of life, determine his ability to learn. They taught him some basic practical signs — how to say “help” if he couldn’t do something, naming typical foods like banana, tortilla, lime. When it was time for Jessie to leave, Wilson’s grandmother gestured for him to pick up the toys. “He ran around and picked them all up and put them in a bag and brought them to me. I handed him the toys and patted his chest to show they were for him. He got a big grin on his face, looked around to see if his cousins were around, and then put them under his shirt.” She smiled at the memory of his delight, knowing that something belonged to him.
Nancy had also given him a name — a special sign just for “Wilson.” Usually, these unique name signs are comprised of the first letter of your name and something else distinct to you. “Nancy decided to form a ‘W’ and brush up from the corner of our mouth — because he’s always smiling, and that’s not what we had expected at all!”
For Jessie, the most moving moments were those watching him interact with Nancy. “Just seeing them side by side brought so much hope. Nancy is a leader of our organization and plays the main role in teaching the kids, but just 14 years ago, she was unable to deeply communicate with her family. She didn’t have friends or a community of people like her. She didn’t know anything about the Bible or Christ’s love for her … just seeing where she came from, how far she’s come in her language and her community and her love of learning and desire to know Jesus — it gave hope to a situation that we went into hopeless, thinking about all the barriers and worried that this kid’s not going to be able to connect. But seeing them together really put into perspective just how far he can go, how much he can learn, how many relationships he can build.”
Jessie also spent some time working with Wilson’s young cousin. “She has this amazing opportunity to be the one who could learn to sign and be his way of communicating with the world, or just be able to communicate with one person who’s close to him.”
During another visit, the volunteer preschool teacher who works with Wilson came to the home to talk to the Signs of Love staff. “We saw so much hope in her, too,” Jessie said. She was looking for advice on how to best help Wilson. She also volunteered to gather up all the other deaf kids in the area so that Signs of Love can teach them to sign.
Loved. Saved. Empowered.
Wilson knows that Jessie and Nancy and the others at Signs of Love are different because they look him in the eye. They all make a point to bend down and meet him on his level. “I don’t think there’s anyone who’s ever bent down to look at him or give him a hug or be excited that he’s there. We come to visit him, and that’s unique for him. I don’t think he’s aware that us coming is going to give him a new way of interacting with the world, but he knows that someone is interacting in love with him. There’s so much depth for him to experience in that, unconditional love for him and who he is, as he is, cerebral palsy, deafness and all.”
“I think he will begin to understand that more and more, that we’ll be there every month and that every month we will pour into him, whether it’s love or language or hope. It just takes someone taking the time. We all have the opportunity to blow other people’s minds and expectations. It’s so important, especially for those kids who are so looked down upon in that society, to be amazed at who they are, beloved children of God.”