The rickety bus came to a complete stop. This was the moment the missionaries had been waiting for. They finally reached the orphanage in Nepal after months of fundraising. The doors opened to an energetic crowd of 20 or more jumping, enthusiastic kids.
With arms stretched wide, ready to tackle, the children yelled, “Brother! Brother! Sister! Sister! We are so glad you are here!”
The kids had joy and hope, the opposite of what the missionaries pictured. Each missionary stepped off the bus and embraced the ecstatic kids with smiles, but one missionary had a different reaction.
“I froze. I immediately started crying. When they all started to go inside I just stood there,” said senior McKayla Merrell.
The emotions came flooding back to her as she searched for a quiet place to be alone.
“All the feelings came back in that very moment, the feelings of abandonment, the feelings I had that I could barely remember as a baby,” she said.
Layers of callous protecting hidden pain were stripped away like an onion, bringing her back to the streets of Yiwu, China, where she was abandoned as a baby.
Yiwu China 1994:
It was early. The sun shone sharply across the horizon the morning Merrell was found on the street in front of an office building. She was introduced to a small orphanage hours later. It would be her home for the next year. The Chinese government was left to estimate her age and gave her a birthday – Aug. 8, 1993.
“They estimated that I was about a year old. It was most likely based on my size. I was extremely small,” she said. “The weird part is that I had all my teeth, which really makes me question my actual age.”
Orphanages in Yiwu are ultimately small condominiums. They are tight on space and caretakers are few. Some hold up to 15 orphans at a time.
“The orphanage was dark and barely had any windows. The floor was covered in dirt and pieces of food,” Merrell said, remembering the description she was given. “It definitely wasn’t a good environment to be raising babies.” The living environment was only one of many obstacles she would have to overcome.
The common treatment of orphans in these orphanages is brutal and sometimes abusive. Joy is non-existent here. Instead, the orphans are silent, withdrawn and immobile. The existence of hope is shattered. They have no expectation of being comforted or saved.
“I had scars on my wrists and ankles from being tied down to a chair with a hole in the middle. They would tie me to this toilet-like chair wearing pants with a slit in them,” she said. “They left me there for hours. This made it easier for them instead of changing multiple diapers.”
Babies are given bottles without someone to administer the meal during feeding time. Some children grab the bottles and eat lustfully, some are too weak or too young to hold the bottle by themselves.
“Being neglected in an orphanage like that made me very still and calm,” Merrell said. “When I knew that no one was going to come for me no matter how hard I cried, I kind of gave up on trying for attention.”
The time spent in this nightmare was enough to scar her for life and would affect her for years to come.
Merrell was adopted on July 27, 1995. Adopted was the action; rescued was the result.
“When my parents got me, I still ate out of a bottle and couldn’t walk or talk,” she said. “I was two years old and weighed 13 pounds.”
The other babies in the orphanage at the time were estimated to be six months old. Merrell was the same size as they were. The family took her to her new home in Denver, Colorado, where she would start a new life. The clothes her new parents had purchased for their 2-year-old were all too big. Doll clothes were the next resort.
Merrell doubled her weight within five months and slowly began to develop, first limited to a crawl and then eventually walking. Human contact became less foreign. Normalcy began to set in as she built a relationship and trust with her parents. She remained smaller than other children her age, taking baths in the sink until she was 5 years old. She would not catch up to her peers until her early teen years.
“I’m still small, of course, and I like it, but I hate when people ask me if I am lost or if they could help me find my mom,” Merrell said with a chuckle.
Oral Roberts University 2016:
Today, Merrell is a senior at Oral Roberts University. She excels in accounting and has been on the cheer- leading team for three and a half years. She became heavily involved in missions work. The first time she stepped off the bus in Nepal was the first time she had been at an orphanage since she was adopted.
“I was completely surprised with how strongly I felt about the orphans and wanting them to have a better life and know Jesus,” Merrell said. “That trip definitely assured me that I wanted to work with orphans in Asia. It changed my life.”
Although the scars of abandonment are still present, Merrell plans to use them as evidence of God’s love and acceptance.
“I just have to remind myself that I am a child of God and that he never left me,” she said confidently. “I start to think about the moment my mother laid me on the ground and said her final goodbyes. I imagined Jesus being right there, picking me up and holding me through the night. This helped me believe the truth that I was no longer abandoned and I have become a daughter of Christ forever.”
Story by Daisha Fowler, Photo by Wyatt Bullard