GAYLORD — There is a Michael W. Smith song, popular during the 1990s, whose lyrics state:
“Feels like I’m Looking for a reason Roamin’ through the night to find My place in this world My place in this world” These words might very well describe Alexis Freeman’s life for the past several years.
The 21-year-old Gaylord native spent her adolescent years looking for what God was calling her to do. And it has been only recently, through a series of very difficult times, she is being provided direction.
Her long journey began during her freshman year at Gaylord High School when she went on a mission trip with her grandfather, the Rev. Denny Freeman, her mother, Sarah, and a few others to Nigeria.
While the experience was good, she became very ill during her last four days there. She had contracted malaria and was rushed back to the U.S. After being treated, she started having involuntary muscle contractions. After some testing, it was determined she had Arnold Chiari Syndrome, a condition where the brain becomes too large and sits upon the spine, affecting nerves on the right side of her body.
After treatment, she grew listless. She spent the rest of her years in high school not feeling like she really fit in anywhere, searching for her place in the world in God’s design.
Even in college, she still couldn’t quite find her place. She had wanted to go into special education because of her love for children. But, delays kept her from getting into a program at Michigan State University. Eventually, she took a job as a nanny in Lansing five days a week until she could get into the school’s program.
In August, she decided to take another mission trip with her grandfather. This time, her mom, sister Sommer and sister-in-law Rachel Bartow came along. While others spent three days painting, a recent injury from a car accident kept Alexis caring for a 3-month-old baby.
“Many times in areas like Nigeria, mothers die during childbirth because of lack of medical help,” Alexis said. “Twins are very common there. Because of all the illnesses, it is common for one of the twins to die. Fathers can’t afford to take care of them, so they are placed in orphanages.”
This was the case for the baby she cared for.
In Nigeria, the group spent time at two orphanages run by a man named Daniel. The first was in rough shape. The Lakoja orphanage is just two buildings, housing 80 to 100 children, varying from newborns to those 5 years old. The orphanage in Otutulo cares for those newborn to age 17.
Their group had also brought supplies, including clothes and toys. “We gave the children the toys and they didn’t know what to do with them,” Alexis said. “We had to teach them how to play.”
The nannies at the orphanage are only paid $3.50 a day and may care for up to 12 children each. Many children suffer from polio and wheelchairs are badly needed.
“The people in Nigeria are not very expressive with their emotions,” Alexis said. “I had grown up in a home that was very open and very expressive. The nannies need to be taught how to show love to the children.”
Alexis said that love is important in the face of danger.
“There’s lot of human trafficking there,” she said. “Militant Muslim groups will come in and take children at these orphanages. The Lakoja orphanage has just two guard dogs to protect the place at night.”
Police protection in these small villages is nonexistent. Frustrated by the conditions the children face there, Alexis decided she wanted to do something. The best way to protect an area in places like Nigeria is to create a safety wall around the complex.
An effective safety wall in Nigeria costs $117,000 in American dollars. Undaunted by the price tag, Alexis decided she would create a fund to raise money for the orphanage.
By the time the missionary team was ready to leave, Alexis had grown very attached to the people there, especially the baby in her care. However, she had also become sick again.
Returning to the U.S., Alexis learned she was dehydrated and had picked up a bacteria. Despite this setback, she wanted to return to Nigeria as soon as possible. Something was drawing her back to those people.
While back home, the workers at the orphanage contacted her. They needed to name the baby she had taken care of and wanted permission to name her Alexis. Alexis agreed.
She talked to two local churches about donating to the orphanage children, especially funds for the safety wall.
By October, she was ready to return. With her grandfather again by her side, Alexis climbed on the African-bound airplane with 17 large tubs and 50 banana boxes of donated items.
This time, she spent more time with the children there. And she was touched by what she kept hearing from them. Again and again she would hear they liked the people at the orphanage and were well cared for, but they didn’t feel like they belonged anywhere. They didn’t feel like they had found their place in this world. The words struck home with Alexis.
Their lack of a place seemed to be leading her to the place she had been searching for.
Much of what she learned came from a 13-year-old boy named Abel. He asked Alexis if when she returned to the orphanage the next time, she would become his caretaker. She agreed and told him she loved him. It was the first time anyone had told him that.
Preparing to leave for the third time, giving Baby Alexis back to the nannies was nearly impossible. Every time she handed her over, Baby Alexis began crying. She had to be passed back and forth several times before Alexis Freeman could go on her way.
Arriving back in the U.S., she found she was sick again.
“This time it was a parasite. They’re treating it,” Alexis said.
Concerning all the sickness she has endured, Alexis simply says, “I think it’s God getting my body ready to return there.”
Her mother believes it also.
Alexis plans to return to the orphanages in January and stay through late March or early April. She has a lawyer working on helping her adopt Baby Alexis and the baby’s birth father has agreed to the adoption. Nannies are preparing a room for her, which will include space for Abel. She keeps in contact with people at the orphanage via Skype and Facebook on a regular basis.
Alexis is creating a nonprofit ministry, Love Through His Grace, to use for the funds coming in to help the orphanages. A website has been established, lovethruHisgrace.com.
She says the orphanages are in need of sandals, school supplies, wheelchairs, electronics, projectors and laptops. And of course, they need money for the safety wall in Lakoja.
“It is time to leave my earthly father and serve my heavenly Father,” says Alexis, as she looks forward to the future, which is becoming clearer with each day.
She can’t wait to return to her place.
Those wanting to assist Alexis in her ministry can contact her at lovethruHisgrace@hotmail.com.