In our little shelter for street children, I try very hard to be open to any child referred to us. I absolutely despise having to say “no” to admitting a child in need. They are there. We are here. It seems an easy thing to open our home to the boys who have no place to go. It is what we do.
The last three children referred to our center were small boys. They were 9, 7 and 4 years old. I felt confused by this as younger children are rarely referred to us. I assumed that this was the Lord’s way of guiding our center to serve younger clientele and we welcome the 9 and 7-year-old willingly. (The 4-year-old comes to us next week.) These little boys are so extremely cute! They are all affectionate, cheerful little people who want to sit in your lap, be kissed goodnight, play with Legos, watch cartoons and do “little boy things.”
I saw my staff enjoying these children and, in a move that needs to happen more often than it does, reminded myself that this mission is not about me. The little dudes are happy here and my staff is happy. They bring a lot of joy and laughter to our shelter. They light up the place.
Their “issues” are nothing like the issues of the older boys we serve. They are easily managed. We haven’t broken up a single fist fight or had to restrain even one of these little ones in the heat of their anger. I was weighing the benefits of younger kids vs. older kids in my mind and finding a thousand reasons that younger street boys are the perfect kids for this mission.
But then, last week, I went into the street to spend time with a former client of ours who decided to go back to the “old life.” And I met his friends. Actually, I woke his friends up to serve them and see how they are doing in the unstable world of street life.
And just like “that,” the fire in my heart began to ROAR. And as my eyes met theirs, I saw what true hopelessness looks like.
Again. And I felt ashamed at the same time. I had spent too much time convincing myself that these boys are too old, too hardened and too difficult to serve. That this mission should become a place for little kids.
I was prepared to do what has already been done to these young men time and time again- to turn my back because the work is daunting and the success rate is LOW once boys pass the age of 14 or so. They miss the street, and girls, and smoking, and having money. Being under authority gets tiresome to them sometimes.
If I were not standing in the street, looking at these children, I could have justified it all. But God put a FIRE in me for these older boys. He has given me a love for them that ONLY comes from him. It is not something anyone could manufacture. It is as pure and true as any genuine love can be. It causes me to overlook the smell (oh, there IS a smell), and the curse words and the “tough guy” act they like to put on. This supernatural love causes me to pray for these kids and to always remember their names, even after meeting only one time. It makes me able to tell them apart from far away when I see them in the street and to remember what they like to eat or the small details of their lives they told me the last time we met. It allows me to understand more Tagalog in the street than I can ever understand in a meeting.
And do not be deceived. I am not awesome. I am not. Apart from him, I am absolutely nothing.
His fire in my bones for these budding young men was placed in me just the same way my faith in Christ was. By HIM, for HIM, through HIM. I could no more extinguish this flame than I could snuff out my love for my own husband and children, it is there for good, I suppose.
And they know. These boys know that I love them. They know they matter to me and, most importantly, that they matter to their Creator God. One of the first phrases I learned in Tagalog was “Jesus loves you so much.” I wanted to be sure that as I handed them their meal or their medication, they understood it came, not from some white foreigner, but from their father in Heaven who thinks they are worth feeding and loving and dying for.
The time has come! We have a gorgeous piece of land that is free and clear. It’s ours and it’s waiting for a building. An INDEPENDENT LIVING CENTER for older street boys to be built on it. I have to do it. I have to do it for the scores of older boys who are walking the line between street child and career criminal. I have to do it, more than anything, for the God who called us here and who put a fire in me that just will not die! So please, please pray. We don’t have the staff for an independent living center. We don’t have the funds to build. We aren’t trained in the finer points of investing in the lives of these boys over age for adoption.
All we have is a fire.
But with the God of “two loaves and five fish,” it is enough.