These are the kids with whom Jesus is now staying.
All names have been changed in the story.
So many emotions went through my head yesterday. You see, I thought I was just going to help out a friend from the Rio and a couple hours later I’d return home. Good deed done and nothing different. Boy was I wrong.
Diana is a girl who must be 26 or 27 years old. She lives with her six year-old daughter and her boyfriend. Truth be told in my three years working at the Rio 1 community (a poor neighborhood of wood, tin and scrape houses that people have built along a riverbed), I maybe have seen him a time or two. And the one time I saw him, he was drunk. Diana is my friend. She is quiet and hardly speaks unless spoken to. In fact, I learned more about her and heard her speak more words yesterday than in the three years combined since I met her.
Meme, a Christian leader in Rio 1, had told me that Diana had a brother who wanted to go to a children’s home and asked if I could help them get to Manantial de Amor. This children’s home is about twenty minutes from their house and is one of the closest to them. I said sure, not really thinking through what I’d experience that day.
When I went to pick them up, I saw a smiley twelve year-old boy who spoke few words. It must run in the family, I thought. Diana was glad to see me and asked Sarah, her daughter, to hurry along as she went with us. As we drove there, I tried to start the conversation with simple questions asking them if they had the paperwork they needed, asking Jesus if he was nervous.
To my surprise, he quickly answered, “no.”
But Diana volunteered, “I am.”
When we arrived at Manantial de Amor, Mama Cony, the director, asked “So are all three of you wanting to enter in the children’s home?”
Twenty-six year old Diana is not even five feet tall so I knew she had asked the question innocently. We explained that Diana was there with her daughter, Sarah, to see if her brother, Jesus, could enter the children’s home. It was then that the hard questions came.
“Do you have custody of your brother?,” said the children’s home worker.
“No, not really, but I’m the one responsible,” answered Diana
“Where’s your Mom?”
“She died 9 years ago?”
“And your Dad?”
“He abandoned us before Mom died,” she explains.
“Where is your Dad now?”
“He does drugs and is an alcoholic. Hard to say for sure.”
“So Jose has been living with you?”
“He’s been living with me sometimes and my other sister sometimes. She’s younger than I am. We can’t afford to continue to raise him and he really wants to go to school.”
The questioning reveals that Diana is not married, and her boyfriend hardly gives her enough to raise her daughter. As we sit there, I realize that he has brought nothing with him except his papers (birth certificate and school papers).
The worker says something that puts a lump in my throat.
“So let me see, his birthday is….tomorrow,” he states, but it almost comes out as a question.
What a 13th birthday memory he will have, I think to myself.
As they finish the interview, he is brought two pairs of pants, two sets of underwear and three shirts. He is shown his bunk bed that will be his new home. The worker does a great job of explaining the responsibilities that the home has to him, including visiting rights that she will have. He explains that they want to maintain a strong relationship with him and his family. The lump comes back in my throat. He also explains that the responsibilities Diana has include signing up Jose for free public health insurance and not taking him off the property for fifteen days, etc.
When he finished, she looks to me and says, “Now what?”
Her voice cracked.
I was grateful that the worker answered quickly, “You can stay as long as you’d like but you’ll need to say goodbye sometime.”
When it came time to say goodbye, Jesus seemed strong. Not seeming sad at all. I remembered another child that we work with once tell me that he never gets homesick. The sad feeling that I felt when I heard that swept back over me as I wondered if he no longer gets homesick. Then I looked at Diana, I’ve never seen a lot of emotion on her face before either. But I could see it now. She didn’t want to show her hurt to her brother. You could see the effort she was putting into being strong for me. As for me, I was crying for them both. I knew Jesus needed this home. I knew Diana was grateful for the opportunity her brother would have to go to school and eat well. Still I also knew that if they could they would trade it all to be together. Today was Jesus’ birthday. I found myself thinking and praying for him all day long.
“Do not be discouraged. Do not be afraid for I the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
I pray this promise over Jesus and all the kids that we serve. I have a new appreciation for the workers who don’t just provide clothes and food, but so often are there to wipe away tears, listen, pray with and over children, to teach them that Jesus Christ is the only one that can change lives. Sometimes we experience difficult times with others. I used to try and avoid it, now I see the blessing in being a part of the intimate moments of people lives. Yesterday I thought I was going to run errands for a few hours. But what God had for me changed my life. Lord, help me see what you have for me tomorrow.