LORRIE BELL DOESN’T HAVE A SCRAPBOOK OF HER SPONSORED CHILD, DORIS.
Not in the traditional sense. Her memories are too vast for a leather-bound album. But if she were to keep a scrapbook, it would be bursting with treasures.
ON THE FIRST PAGE WOULD BE DORIS’ PHOTO
— a skinny girl in front of a cinder-block wall. Tucked next to that photo would be a letter from Compassion, dated Aug. 14, 1992: “As a sponsor, you can be assured your support will … make a lasting difference in the life of your child.” Lorrie didn’t know at the time how true those words would prove to be.
A bundle of letters would spill from the next page — Lorrie kept all of her sponsored child’s letters and drawings, and across the globe Doris carefully collected her own bundle of letters, worn thin by many readings. In one of those letters Doris learned that Lorrie had no children.
“I felt so sad about this. I could not figure out why God never gave her even one child,” remembers Doris. “It really disturbed me the whole day, for according to African customs, life could not be complete without a child. So I said to myself, We are many in our family, and because I love Lorrie so, I am going to be her first daughter.” From that moment on, Doris addressed each letter to “Mama Lorrie.”
Doris’ letters were filled with stories and drawings of clay cups, mud huts and colorful flowers. But Doris left out any mention of her father’s erratic behavior and abuse. Employed as a police officer, he would disappear for days at a time, spending his wages on alcohol and prostitutes. “We did not know him as a father,” says Doris.
For three years Lorrie was an encourager and a provider. But then, just as abruptly as the relationship began, it ended. In 1995 Doris’ father was promoted at work, and because of his increased financial position she no longer qualified for Compassion’s program. For the next seven years she and Lorrie had no contact. But they never forgot each other.
Doris cherished Lorrie’s letters and words of kindness — a source of support as Doris’ life grew even more tumultuous. Her father’s raise never trickled down to Doris and her siblings. When her father fell ill, their meager resources all but vanished. His health grew worse, and when Doris was in high school her father was diagnosed with HIV. Doris dropped out of school to work as a housemaid and help provide financial support for her family. But she still thought of Lorrie.
ANOTHER PAGE THAT WOULD MAKE UP LORRIE’S SCRAPBOOK.
A letter on thin, smudged paper, a smattering of stamps on the envelope, dated 2002. Addressed to “Mama Lorrie.” Signed “Doris.” It had been seven years since Lorrie had last heard from Doris. In those years, she had also fought her own battles — and won. Diagnosed with breast cancer, Lorrie had undergone a bilateral mastectomy, followed by aggressive chemotherapy.
Lorrie was now a teacher in Oregon, and was thrilled that 18-year-old Doris had reconnected with her. Doris was hoping to quit her job as a housemaid so she could enroll in nursing school. Then Doris began writing Lorrie about her headaches. They grew more severe, and Doris was sent to Nairobi, Kenya, for tests and scans. When she wrote to Lorrie and told her that the doctors had found a brain tumor, Lorrie did all she knew to do.
“I hit my knees and prayed fervently for her healing,” says Lorrie.
Doris’ first surgery in early 2007 was unsuccessful because of a poor-quality brain scan. Doris’ doctor told her there was nothing he could do — she should just go home and die peacefully. But Doris was not done fighting.
“In front of my family I did not show any signs of despair,” says Doris. “At night I cried when no one saw me. I asked God to save my life for the sake of meeting my mom, Lorrie.”
Doris visited a specialist at another hospital, and in December 2007 she had a second surgery to remove the rest of the tumor. The surgery was successful but left her with strokelike symptoms; she was unable to walk or use her right hand.
After a long series of flights from Oregon to Nairobi, Kenya, Lorrie finally met Doris in Kenyatta Hospital.
THE NEXT PAGE THAT WOULD MAKE UP THE SCRAPBOOK IS A LITTLE HARDER TO LOOK AT.
The photo of Doris is unsettling. Her face is puffy and her eyelid droops. Her mouth is pulled into a grimace. But in the picture, leaning close to Doris, is Lorrie, her smile radiant.
“It was time to meet my daughter,” Lorrie says. “After so many years, no more waiting. I felt that it was God’s will for these two survivors to finally meet.”
Lorrie spent Christmas of 2007 with Doris and her family. She helped the young woman walk out of the hospital and held her in her arms as they drove over bumpy roads to a cousin’s home a few hours from the hospital. At the home Lorrie spoon-fed Doris, and they talked into the night.
By the end of her two-week visit, Lorrie could already see improvements in Doris. She was able to hold a spoon herself and was taking slow, wobbly steps. When it was time for Lorrie to go back to Oregon, Doris rode with her to the airport, in tears. Lorrie kept her composure until she was on the flight and finally allowed herself to cry.
Part of the bond that Lorrie and Doris share stems from their shared history of survival. Both women have lived through severe health challenges that threatened their lives.
A SCRAPBOOK SIMPLY CAN’T CONTAIN THEIR STORY.
There are too many tears, too many miracles, too much perseverance to fit on the pages. Today, Doris is 27 years old and hoping to return to school soon to study nursing.
And Mama Lorrie will continue to walk alongside her as a friend and mentor on the journey — grateful for the moment Doris reconnected with her.
“We were both survivors,” says Lorrie. “We just didn’t know it.”
Lorrie went back to Kenya 5½ years after her first visit to see Doris again. This time Doris, right, was healthy, and they volunteered with missionaries in the area to minister to children, like this one pictured, near Nairobi.