Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Who Cares?

In 2013, my family sold all our stuff in America to embark on a life in The Philippines, the country of my husband's birth.
That life was to be  committed to serving children in orphanages who have visual impairments or blindness.
We had an organization of sorts, that committed to helping us raise our support. We had some money of our own to help us get started and we had a good working knowledge of the country's orphanage system as we had already adopted from The Philippines four times prior to our "big move".
But we were not prepared.
We were not prepared for the ministry God had already expertly carved out for us. And it was not with visually-impaired children.  It was the most unlikely, under-served, cast-aside group  that we have since come to love with all of our beings.


We were led into this ministry in the most unusual way.  Every Saturday, we would drive to the orphanages where we were already serving a child or two, pick up the children and bring them to our home for a day of classes that included academic tutoring, Bible study, a healthy meal, art and physical education.  Many Saturdays, after the long drive, we would stop at McDonald's for a treat after the last child was dropped back off at his orphanage. At McDonald's, we noticed many dirty, loud, seemingly "high" boys in the parking lot begging or helping to park cars (guiding them and expecting a few pesos in return).  One day, my husband invited three of them inside for lunch. One was a much older boy living as a girl. He was wearing very short shorts, a little bit of makeup and jewelry clearly intended for a female. He was with two younger boys.  Not only did we invite them in, we talked to them about their lives. We asked where they slept and how they made the money they needed to buy food.  They were very open with us. Shockingly open.
Open enough to break my heart in a million pieces and make me wish I had a shelter to invite them into on the spot.

That was very naive thinking on my part. I now know you can't just walk around inviting children off the street to come and live in a shelter but, at that time, I just felt a fire light in my heart for these boys. And that fire didn't die. It only grew as we passed more and more street children and began to really NOTICE them. It exploded in me as we visited a government shelter that rounds up these children periodically. We started to look for them everywhere we went.  We began to talk to them. Buy their lunch. Ask about their hopes and dreams for the future. Ask what they wanted to be when they grew up.
The saddest revelation of all . . . not one of the children we asked could come up with a single thing he wanted to BE.
Ask any American child what he wants to be when he grows up. You will get answers like "a doctor", "an astronaut" or "a ballerina".  They have a dreams. Goals.
Ask a Filipino street child and you get stared at like you have three heads!
Who has time to think about what he wants to BE with a first-grade education and what-will-I-eat-today on the brain?
Now, ask that same child how much he can cash in a kilo of scrap metal or plastic for and you'll have a conversation! Ask him which restaurants give out their leftovers at the end of the day and, watch him brighten up!
For us, that was  just unacceptable. For us as parents, as Believers in Jesus Christ and simply as human beings, the life these boys were living was not okay.
So, we contacted our local Department Of Social Welfare and Development to find out what we needed to do in order to open our own shelter for street children. We contacted our initial sending organization and shared our passion with them for these street boys and were informed we'd need to part ways. And it was with much stress and some fear that Mercy House was born.

One of the biggest discouragements as we set off to reach these boys came from a well-meaning friend who is very wise in terms of fund raising. We knew we would have to raise our own funds as we no longer had a sending organization. This friend said to us "it's easy to fund raise if you have babies and girls in your care. People love to donate to babies and girls. But older boys? It's going to be an uphill battle."

I believed her.

She has experience in this arena.  I felt like we were doomed but, as long as our own initial funds held up, maybe we could help a few street boys turn their lives around, expose them to the gospel and do a little "good" before we had to go back to the US, tails between our legs, and start our lives over.

 Because WHO CARES about street boys? They are dirty, rude, spend their days bugging local vendors, sniffing solvent from plastic bottles to get high, committing theft and vandalism, peeing in public, cursing at each other loudly while patrons try to enter and exit stores and restaurants.
They have often been put into government shelters (from which they run away at first opportunity), been involved in sexual crimes - either as victims or perpetrators, and been rejected again and again by their families and then by the public that surrounds them. There is a nickname for them here that translates to "fog boys" because they just hang around pointlessly.
They are an annoyance here as you can't stop at a stop light without some of them washing your car windows and expecting payment, whether you wanted your windows washed or not.
So, WHO CARES about boys like this? They aren't little anymore. They should take responsibility for their own choices!  Maybe they LIKE living on the street!
Who cares?  God cares.  He loves these boys. He made them for a purpose. He gave them life and has a plan for them.   They may not be tiny, helpless babies but they are just children in so many ways.
When we bring them into our center, we get to see, up close and personal, how they shift from "thug" to "child" in a very short time.
We get to watch a miracle each time a street boy comes in and begins to submit to our authority, come to us for help, let us meet his needs, TRUST us to be kind and take care of him! We are privileged to watch their disbelief and then understanding as we teach them that God loves them and that their lives can be a testimony of redemption.  That they were made with a PURPOSE.
Three years into this ministry. It still hasn't gotten "old".  We are revived with each new admission.
We are astounded every time a child, who has been his own "boss" for so long, accepts discipline and correction without running away or lashing back.   We are humbled when one of them expresses a desire to have his sins forgiven and start a new life as a follower of Jesus.
And getting to baptize a child whom we once fed on the street!!! There are few joys that compare!

We have found, underneath all the problems and poor adult choices and petty crimes, lies a precious child who longs to redeem some lost years. He wants to play with action figures, draw and paint, be tucked in at night, have his cuts and scrapes bandaged and just be a child.
So, if you live where they do, and  you see a street boy, take a minute. Talk to him. Ask him what he wants to be. Ask him why he's working instead of going to school. You will definitely be surprised at HIS surprise.

Because people usually don't. They just keep moving. It's only "fog".

Monday, August 22, 2016

HE'S BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!

The title I wanted so so very badly to be able to share for my next blog post is, in fact, the title of THIS blog post!  Arjay is back at Mercy House!  I know some of you precious readers prayed with us for this very thing. For you, I am abundantly grateful.

And here is how it all went down . . .
Three nights ago, I received an urgent text from Arjay's father.  He lives and works far from the rest of the family and his text was begging us to go pick up Arjay from the family home and bring him into Mercy House. Arjay had been fighting with his mother, calling her awful names, pushing her in the heat of anger and threatening the other children in the family.
The mother packed up four of her other children and left the home, leaving Arjay there alone.

We texted the mother and father back and forth and agreed to go  and counsel with Arjay.  We informed the parents that we are not a jail and if he refuses to come into shelter, we will leave him right where we found him. We don't "snatch" kids off the street. Ever.

The following day, my social worker went to the home and nobody was there. She searched the "normal" places the street kids congregate and, no Arjay.  So she came back feeling a little defeated.

Today, we decided to go together back to the family home and have one last counseling session with Arjay if we could find him and with his mother if we could not. After that, his case would be closed for us unless the city task force rounded him up and called us to fetch him.

As we got nearer to the shanty where Arjay's family lives, we could see it was empty.  But right out front stood Arjay!!!! He came running when we called him. He was absolutely filthy.
He told us he has been sleeping in the back of a truck at the gas station because he's scared to be home alone and he's been parking cars for money in the evenings.

Until last night.

He got into an argument with an older street boy last night and that boy tried to stab him!  Arjay ran, terrified, to the Barangay Hall and they took a report from him.  They also informed him that if he continues to live as a street child, he will eventually be killed or jailed.

And then we came . . .
We knew from the look of him that he has not been faring well. He is covered in infected bug bites. He has lost weight. He is much more subdued than we have ever seen him.
But sitting in the back of our white "Mercy House" truck, he confessed that he misses all of us and he really and truly wants to come back. 

That's all we needed to hear!
He shared with us that he had not eaten in awhile and we took him right to McDonald's. After eating, we brought him back to Mercy House with us.
We counseled with all of the kids, reminding them that everyone needs second chances.

And now, he's here.
We have no idea what the Lord will have us do and for how long but we are praying for clear guidance and that we will be able to serve this child in every way that he needs.

What a privilege to get to pick up where we left off.
What a gift!

Don't stop praying for this boy. When God puts a child this heavily on our hearts and troubles us about him long after he's gone, we can be pretty sure that he has a BIG purpose.

So, it is with GREAT joy, gratitude to the Lord, and a little bit of "pinching myself" that I type these words just one more time . . . HE'S BACK!

He cleans up well