And then, a shelter opened in his town. This shelter catered to street children, shared Jesus with the kids, fed them, loved them and helped them to have a life very different from their lives on the street.
Then something happened.
The shelter had to close.
We have no idea why this vital, one-of-a-kind place in a town where there are many street children and few resources for them had to close but it closed. And that precious little five year old who was just turning six found himself back in the cemetery. With a mother who could not mother him.
He was on his own.
For three years, from six until nine years old, this little boy was abused on the streets. He was taught a skill that brought much money but robbed him of his human dignity and his identity as a little boy.
He was broken again and again.
And in order to separate himself from what he was engaged in, and to assuage the pain of the life he was living, he turned to solvent and marijuana and other vices.
By the time we met him, he was nine years old. Those pretty white baby teeth were replaced by decayed adult teeth. Those sparkly child eyes were hollow as he sat in the local government office waiting to be brought into our shelter. When we walked toward the bench where he was sitting, we observed that he was too high to hold his head up straight. His eyes would not focus or fully open.
Our pre-admission counseling was going to be completely useless at this point, we realized. This child could hardly gather his thoughts to simply answer the questions "what is your name?" or "how old are you?".
And against our general policy, where we have to see WILLINGNESS on the part of a street child to be admitted, we admitted him. The government social workers pleaded with us. This child was in terrible condition and they wanted very much to see him helped. They knew him and cared about his life. They tried many times to find a shelter willing to take this boy and came up empty.
On admission day, this child said very little. Even as the drugs wore off and he began to process what was happening, he was resigned.
He came to us without shoes, in filthy clothes wearing shorts that were split up the middle. So our social worker and her husband took him, first to their own home for a shower and when our social worker's sister-in-law saw this child, her heart was so touched that she gave him the flip flops right off her own feet. A nice pair.
This young man was then taken to a nearby shop to buy shorts and a t-shirt. When a slice of pizza was ordered for him and he sat at the table with Mercy House staff, he began to cry. Our social worker was worried that he was feeling anxiety about coming into shelter but when she asked him what was wrong, all he could muster was "I'm just happy".
This child has a unique and hard story. It is harder than that of most of the children we serve. It is scary in some ways to admit a child with this kind of background. It has stretched us and required specialized training for our staff and extra vigilance. And he is worth it. All of that and more. This child's life has driven us to the feet of God in prayer and made the phrase "give me wisdom" my own opening and closing sentence.
But it has also energized us and renewed our commitment to street boys, The three years between the closing of the former shelter and the admission to ours were devastating for this boy. If we did not trust in the power of the God of Universe to redeem lives, we would say this child's prognosis is grim and his future dark.
But we DO trust. And we know that amid a broken and depraved world where adults use children and people often do what appeals to the blackest places in them, a light shines.
John 1:4 says "In HIM (Jesus) was life and that life was the light of man"
It is with eager expectation we wait to see what plans the Lord has for us in the life of this child. He is prayed for, he is receiving counseling, he is fed and clothed and is learning to read for the first time ever. He goes to a school program that is catered to his situation.
And, just as with every blog post or newsletter, we share all of this as a segue to one massive prayer request.
Please pray that we are NEVER that shelter that has to close down. It can happen. We have seen it. It happens for any number of reasons. We pray it doesn't ever happen to us. We know it could. That is just the reality of this type of ministry.
Please pray with us that we can see this child, and all of our children, through to the culmination of God's great plan for their lives.
Is it adoption? Family reunification? Independent living with us until they are self-sustaining adults?
Only the Lord knows those answers.
Please pray that we are found faithful.
Let there never be another "three years of damage" while a child waits for another shelter to come along. Let us be there, Lord, to catch them when they fall.
Thank you to our prayer warriors and supporters. This is what YOU do. Thank you for caring
about "the least of these". Matthew 25:40