A frazzled mom hurried across the lobby to catch her train. A little girl, who couldn’t have been older than 3 or 4, ran behind clutching a stuffed bunny, struggling to keep up. A businessman darted across the room with a briefcase in one hand and a coffee cup in the other.
As Mario watched the travelers from his seat in the corner, his mind wandered back to the last time he had seen his mom nearly 15 years ago. He winced as he remembered the morning she left him at Douglas Children’s Home when he was just 3 years old.
In the years that followed, Mario wrestled with anger, distrust and depression. He coped by staying busy, playing with friends and spending time with mission groups from Back2Back. He did anything to deflect the pain and distract himself from thinking about his mom. His caregiver, Lorena, was a lifeline in the midst of his hurt – comforting him, praying over him, reading him Bible stories.
In 2010, Mario was admitted into Back2Back’s Hope Program just down the street from his children’s home, and it was a turning point. Through new friendships, spiritual retreats, nurturing house parents, and discipleship, Mario began to experience God in remarkable ways. He began to understand the implications of holding on to unforgiveness in his heart.
During a powerful time of worship at a student retreat, Mario cried out to God. Fighting back tears, he prayed, God, if you’re here, show yourself to me and do something with my life. As Mario began to finally face his hardness and hatred toward his mom, he felt overcome with God’s presence –grip of bitterness began to release.
Mario’s life, like most, did not follow a straight path from there. He continued to grow in his faith, but also experienced seasons of deep discouragement and doubt. Rage resurfaced as he grappled with losing a house parent who was recovering from cancer. Mario began to spiral until he realized his future in the Hope Program was in jeopardy unless he dealt with his difficult past. For the next year, Mario participated in counseling where he began to sift through years of buried pain – processing his emotions in a safe, nurturing environment.
In 2013, Mario experienced true joy while serving in Cancun on a mission trip with other students from the Hope Program. God planted a desire within him to serve children who were processing trauma similar to his own. Mario returned home more peaceful and centered. God continued transforming his heart in the weeks that followed that trip.
Not long after Cancun, Mario’s pastor spoke about forgiveness – a theme that seemed to keep resurfacing in his life. As he spoke, God stirred Mario’s heart. He felt as if God told him, You need to forgive your mom – your lack of forgiveness holds you back. You need healing in your heart.
Mario knew what he had to do. That night, in the quiet of his room, he gathered his courage. He sat down on his bed, took a deep breath, and picked up the phone. “I will never forget the day I called my mom,” Mario said. “When she answered, I cried and couldn’t believe I was actually speaking to her.” Mario remembers how nervous he felt when he asked if they could meet and how relieved he felt when she quickly agreed. After they hung up, Mario said a prayer, surrendering the situation to God. He was ready to start fresh.
An announcement from overhead interrupted Mario’s thoughts. He shifted slightly to pull his phone from his back pocket, glancing at the screen to check the time again.
Mario scanned the lobby for his mother who was now nearly four hours late for their meeting. Maybe I wrote down the wrong time, he thought. Just as he was starting to lose hope, he spotted her in the crowd. It had been years since Mario had seen her but he recognized her immediately. Mario ran to her and wrapped his arms around her. They both began to softly cry. Tears streaming down his cheeks, he whispered, “I forgive you. I forgive you for everything that happened between you and dad. Everything that happened is all in the past now.”
That day, Mario’s heart was renewed. He returned home feeling a sense of closure from the heartache he had carried for so long. In the months that followed, Mario’s friends watched a quiet transformation as he was released from bitterness. Mario had finally found peace.
God isn’t finished with Mario. Recently, he graduated from Back2Back’s Hope Program and moved into his first apartment. He is transitioning from dependence to independence, continuing to visit his mom, growing in his relationship with God and serving others in his community. Just last year, he served in Haiti where his story took on a new meaning, as God used him to bring hope and healing to boys from another country with a past similar to his.
“I’ve learned to be faithful with the little resources that I have. Whatever God says, I want to do. Wherever He sends me, I want to go,” Mario shared. “My house parents taught me to be brave, confront my mistakes, depend more on God and understand that even though it seems like I am alone, I am not. I can give all my worries to God because He cares for me.”
Like many young adults, Mario is actively figuring out the next steps of his future. In the midst of transition, Mario remains hopeful. He is searching for a job in communications and considering pursuing a post-graduate Biblical Studies degree. He know that God will see him through with his steadfast love- he has proved that to Mario time and time again.