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Escaping the Abuse

No six year old should be a hero.  At least not in normal circumstances.  But when placed in dangerous situations, it may be the difference between life and death.  When a six year old takes actions to save her life, it’s heroic.  When she also saves her baby sister in the process, it’s miraculous.

They were cast outside for the night.  This was not unusual.  They spent many nights outside braving the cold.  Huddled up together to stay warm.  Their little bodies shivering.  Their only cover and protection were the bare thin clothes on their backs.  And the hand of God.  But they were ok with the cold.  They were ok with the outside.  Inside was what they feared.  Inside was mamá.

She drank often.  Probably to ease the pain.  To deal with the past.  It didn’t matter where it came from or what she needed to do to get it.  There were always ways.  It also didn’t matter that what little she could earn wasn’t spent on food or the girls.  They could fend for themselves.  What was more important was the numbness that came with the drink.  Yes, she beat them when she was drunk.  Yes, she punished them with the burning end of her cigarettes.  But so long as she couldn’t feel, it didn’t matter.

After watching her sister receive the full fury of her mamá’s wrath she made a decision.  She had seen enough.  No longer would she allow her sister to be kicked as she crawled along the ground.  No longer would she allow her sister to be flung across the room like a thing.  No longer would she allow her sister to eat dirt and garbage.  No longer would she allow herself to cry over her unconscious sister.  No long would she allow crying themselves to sleep in the cold and rain of that mountain.  At six years old, she made the decision to not be a hero, but to save their lives.

While mamá was sleeping inside the house, she picked up her sister and started the journey down the mountain.  At 4 years old, her sister should have been walking alongside her.  But her legs hadn’t formed properly.  Lack of nutrition will do this.  Instead, she put her sister on her back and carried her down.  She didn’t know what exactly was at the bottom, but it didn’t matter.  She was determined and she was brave.  A hero and a miracle.

They are safe now and very happy.  They are fed well and loved even more.  As for the little one, the abuse, the neglect, and the malnutrition, took its toll on her little body.  It wasn’t allowed to develop properly and it’s obvious when you see her.  But she has made great gains, since coming to SOHWO and is now walking to kindergarten everyday.  Her smile so large, it appears to push her eyes closed.

As for the big sister, she still looks out for the well being of the younger.  You might notice her glancing in her sister’s direction when she’s not within reach.  That fear for her may always be there.  She doesn’t like it when her sister is far from her.  Because she remembers.  It may always be a part of their relationship.  And that’s ok.  Heroes are created when they respond to life’s situations.  Miracles are created when God responds to situations in our life.  Both are true in this story and both are true of these girls.

From Victim to Victor

Tears filled his eyes, while shame filled his heart.  As he sat listening to the conversation, he knew he was guilty.  He knew he was a victim as well.  But the behavior was so common.  It had almost become normal.  He was never taught that it was wrong, though inside he knew it.  The turmoil inside was unbearable.  If he confessed he would be punished.  If he didn’t, it would kill him.  He didn’t want to be that person anymore.  But everyone would know.  They would know what he did.  They would know what he was still doing.  They would know what was done to him.  They would know who he was.

These women were saying things that he no one had said to him before.  Touching was wrong.  Victim or perpetrator, it was wrong.  Just because someone did to you doesn’t make it right.  It doesn’t give you permission to do it to others.  Something inside told him they were right.  He needed to stop.  He needed to confess.  He needed to change.

This was the moment.  Had he kept silent, he would still be the same.  Had he kept silent, he would continue to be his step-father.  He would continue the behavior.  His secrets would still be his.  But something about these women was different.  They seemed to care.  They promised a different way, a different future.  What they said actually made sense.  It is wrong to continue.  It is wrong to keep it all in.  So he let it out.

As he poured out his heart, tears poured out his eyes.  He revealed the past, and the present.  As he did, the arms came around him.  He begged for help.  He begged for forgiveness.  The arms became tighter.  As the truth spilled out, the love spilled in.  His confession was answered with encouragement, not punishment.  This was a moment of change, of repentance, of freedom.  He no longer had to carry the burden.  But he did have to change.  And change is what he did.

He was given a mentor.  Someone to counsel him through this difficult time.  And over time, he became a new person.  From perpetrator to protector.  From victim to victor.  He now lives free of the shame and guilt.  He now lives as example and leader.  No longer a hinderer, he is a helper.  He broke the cycle that is common and became the uncommon.  Leader, role model, friend, brother.  The real man inside has been revealed.  Now everyone knows who he really is. Defender, warrior, forgiven, Son of God.

Boys Will be Boys

Boys and girls will be boys and girls.  Friends, neighbors, classmates, and potentially partners.  Thrown together anything could happen.  Especially teenagers.  Even more so with backgrounds of sexual abuse.  In time, things not meant for children will happen amongst children.  Their pasts will mix with their desires and they will behave as adults.  It’s not right, it’s not pure, it’s not what God intended, but it happens.  It’s the result of a fallen world, where children are exposed to adult things and adult behaviors.

God speaks in different ways.  The way is not important, the response is.  When He speaks, we are wise to not only listen, but to obey, and to do.  And that’s exactly what we did.  In two weeks time we received many calls for the placement of boys.  It was almost daily.  The answer was always “no”.  We had boys already, but there was no more room.  There sat an empty home to put them, but no funds to sustain it.  And no parents to raise them.

But God speaks.  He revealed a way and an answer to the problem.  The next step was to move.  Not only to move in response to His call for action, but also to move kids.  Because He spoke, a plan was birthed.  The boys were to be moved into one home – the same home.  Not the new home, there still were not funds for that.  It would require one set of the existing parents to give up their girls and take in the boys.  The idea was presented, but there was no response.  All was quiet.  Until He spoke.

Days later, an amazing couple requested a meeting.  They understood.  They understood that God speaks.  But more importantly they understood the importance of the response.  They didn’t know how it would go, or it how it would be done.  They only knew that their obedience was more important than the unknown.  They were unsure, they were nervous, they were scared.  But they knew that God doesn’t care about our fears and uncertainties.  He cares more about our obedience and what He can do in and through us.  If we will listen and do.

Because of their obedience, Casa Pablo is thriving with noise, energy, and at times chaos.  Yes, boys are rowdy, rough, and rude.  They require an investment of time, energy, and patience.  But these parents see beyond the immediate.  They see a future of Christian men in this country.  Men who share the workload in the home.  Men who treat women with respect.  Men who love and serve others.  Men who respond when God speaks.  Just like Papí Hugo.

Their job is difficult.  It is frustrating.  It is stressful.  But it is also rewarding, especially when the changes come.  Watching out of control, never before disciplined, young boys change is like watching a carpenter build a table.  From crude to polished.  From rough to smooth.  From raw to complete.  Thank you Papí Hugo and Mamí Maritza for your obedience.  Thank you for shaping these boys into men.  Thank you for listening and then doing.

Child for Sale

The negotiations were settled, a portion of the money paid, the date set.  All that was left was the exchange and the final payment.  In two weeks the transaction would be complete and a little girl would change families.  Sold on the black market.  The buyers were unaware, the middle-man corrupt, the seller eager.  She was eager to rid her life of another mouth to feed, another burden to carry, and another problem to deal with.  She was the mother, but certainly not the “mom” she was intended to be.

But beyond relieving herself of the responsibility, it was more about the money.  There were other children in the home.  But this one was the easiest to sell, the easiest to demand a higher price.  The buyers wanted a girl, not a baby, not a teenager.  The girl fit the profile, the buyers were happy, the girl’s name already changed.  She had her pay day and had spent a portion of it on a new dress, new shoes, a night out.  Two weeks more and the girl would be gone.  No problem, no sweat, no worries.  The money was good.  And there was more to come.

But something went wrong.  The authorities found out, intervened, and rescued the girl.  Just in time.  Just before she changed families.  Just before her life took a dramatic turn.  Just before the final payment.  Months after being placed at Shadow, the mother made an attempt to complete the transaction.  The buyers waited, as did the rest of the money.  She tried to recapture the girl, but the girl was guarded and safe.  There were walls and razor, people who cared.  Just maybe this was best.  If she backed off, she might avoid jail time.  If she walked away, she could keep the money she had and wash her hands of the girl and the terrible thing she intended to do.  Besides, there were other children and plenty of shoppers.

Even though the sale of the girl failed, she still has a new family.  A family that loves her, that cherishes her, a family that sees the value in her.  A different kind of value.  A value that is difficult to put into words, a value that has no dollar amount.  Her new mom doesn’t look at her as a commodity to be sold and traded, but as a jewel.  Invaluable.  Incalculable. Priceless.

But there’s more to the story.  She has since joined another new family – a family of believers.  She is now a child of God.  Adopted into His family – a princess of the King.  Even more than her house parents here at Shadow, her Heavenly Father loves her.  He paid the ultimate price just to know her, to have relationship with her.  He values her more than she can ever know, this side of heaven.  This girl was indeed bought.  Paid in full.  By the blood of Jesus.

**Because of the kidnap and murder of a little boy.  Guatemala now has the equivalent of an Amber Alert.  The mother in this story is the murderer and is now serving a life sentence behind bars.

Fighting for Family

She grew up in the infamous El Terminal section of Guatemala City.  El Terminal is the hub of transportation and transportation related criminal activity for the city.  Thousands of people enter and exit El Terminal daily.  All kinds of people.  The innocent travelers, bus drivers, gang members, car thieves, and sex traffickers.

Because of the high foot traffic, there is a large market here as well.  Fresh produce, household supplies, stolen car parts, blackmarket goods, prostitutes, and slaves are all available for purchase.  Competition for customers is high, prices are low.  Criminal activity goes unchecked, as the area is dominated by gangs, extortion, and corruption.

Many children live in El Terminal and accompany their mothers everyday at work. They learn to work at an early age, in every type available.  The pay is more important than school, the risk greater than safety.  If you don’t work, you don’t eat.  If you’re lucky, you won’t be sold or rented out.  This is where Stella* and her siblings are from.  This is where they were destined to live forever.

But one day Stella made a decision that would change the course of her life forever.  She told her mother she was going on an errand.  Mom barely heard her as she slept off the hangover from the night before.  Stella grabbed her sister’s hand and walked away.  The walk became a jog, the jog a sprint.  They ran to not only flee their mother, but to flee those who would put them  in despicable situations, and they fled from the only life they knew.

They eventually made it to safety, passed through the court system, and ended up at Shadow of His Wings Orphanage.  But the heartaches didn’t end there.  For they left behind a baby brother.  And over the next couple of years learned that other brothers and sisters were born into their family.  All they could do was pray.  And pray they did.

Stella has desperately longed for her and her siblings to all be together.  Being the oldest, she feels it’s her responsibility to gather them together, unite them as family, and provide for their future.  She hasn’t even met them all.  But they are her flesh and blood, and she loves them.

For a young woman to love strangers like this is amazing.  To love her family when she was never shown love herself is a miracle.  But our God is a god of miracles.  For many years she has prayed for a reunion.  She has prayed for their protection.  She has prayed for a way to be family again.  Her prayers include the opportunity to become a mother for her young siblings.  She doesn’t pray for herself.  She doesn’t pray selfishly.  She prays for these strangers.

Her focus is always about them.  Her education – for them.  Her plans, her future, her purpose, is all for them.  She’s been given a great opportunity and she knows it.  She knows God rescued her for a reason and she knows His purpose is greater than hers.  She has submitted to HIs plans, His ways, and His authority.  He put her in this position because He knows she can handle it.  She is His vessel. She likens her situation to that of Joseph, The Prince of Egypt.  And just like Joseph, she is allowing God to use her life to save those she loves.

She doesn’t want to be called hero, brave, or valiant.  She doesn’t want to be praised, complimented, or pitied.  All she wants is prayer.  Lots of prayer.  She knows prayer works.  She knows God cares.  She knows God is in control.  She knows this because she is seeing her prayers come true.  Thanks to His amazing grace, she has been reunited with 3 of her younger sisters.  They are now here at Shadow and they are now safe.  But Stella’s fears are still alive because there are two others.  Two brothers are still out there.  So she continues to work, and continues to plead, and continues to pray.

Stella continues to fight for her family.  The road is long and the way is difficult.  But she refuses to give up or give in.  Now that she is a legal adult, she is allowed to fight on a different level.  She has visited and pleaded with one of the fathers in this mess, she attends as many court appointments as she can, and she is involved as much as she can be.  She knows God is in control, but she knows she must do her part as well.  And just like Joseph, she is using the opportunity that God has given her.  Maybe one day we will call her The Princess of Guatemala.  But probably not.  She wouldn’t allow it.  She would prefer her brothers and sisters hold any titles of recognition.  She just wants to be known as sister.

*Name changed for protection of our children.

A Child Learning to be Loved

As I watch her walk down the gravel road I can’t help but smile.  She’s taking her turn with the staff psychologist – working through her past, passing the office on the way.  I follow her as she passes by, the smile never leaving my face. I remember her first day.  She was the girl who wouldn’t smile. The girl who wouldn’t show fear and certainly wouldn’t show joy.  Her guard was up, her street-sense on high alert.  I could read the apprehension in her body language.  She was the girl that wouldn’t be here long, so no sense in making a connection or getting comfortable with these strangers.

She had learned to survive on her own.  She doesn’t need help from anyone; especially from this place where she was forced to move.  She doesn’t belong here.  The street is her friend and companion.  She’s done just fine on her own.  This new place is foreign.  With its rules and walls, how could she be comfortable?  She can’t come and go as she pleases, nor avoid the adults that act like they care.  She will not allow them in.  She will not allow herself to trust.  Trust hurts, it disappoints, it fails.

She will serve her sentence in this place, though this was not her choice.  She was brave, she was smart, she was hardened.  She could have continued her survival on the street. But now she is forced to sit at a table, go to school, sleep in a bed.  She is forced to interact with adults, to obey them, to respect them.  She has chores, responsibilities, and homework.  She has friends, sisters, parents, a family.

As time passes she learns to deal with the change.  Bathing becomes a good thing.  Regular meals become expected.  Learning becomes fun.  She begins to see truth in things she thought a lie.  She has let her guard down and people in.  Slowly.  First her house mom, then her dad.  For the first time she has a best friend.  A friend who is also a sister.  Her smile is no longer a stranger to her, her trust a blooming flower. She is learning to love and to be loved.

I never thought she would trust me.  I am a stranger, a man, a gringo.  I watched her keep her distance, I saw her watching me interact with the other kids.  She was curious, but hesitant.  It wasn’t until she allowed me to push her on the swing that I earned her trust.  That I was willing to play with her and invest my time in her, was all she needed.  Since then she runs to me for a hug and to ask me how I am.  Normally a change such as this would be unusual, but God allows me to see it almost everyday.  He is alive in the hearts of the kids that are sent to us.

She makes me smile because of who she was and who she is.  It makes me think of how God the Father must smile because of who I was and who I am now.  She makes me smile because I see myself in her.  I used to try to do things my own way too.  I didn’t trust, I didn’t let others get close, I didn’t let my guard down.  But just as she allowed love to change her, I did too.  Instead of trying to make it on my own, I have allowed the God of the universe to take care of me.  She has learned to accept the love she deserves and so have I.

Beauty from Ashes – He is More Than His Past

He is the product of an incestuous rape – unwanted, despised, a reminder of a terrible thing.  Because he is seen as the product of a disgraceful, disgusting act, he is treated as such.  The mother’s hands are quick to strike, her tongue quick to lash. The boy that was forced into her life, the boy that is both her son and her cousin is the boy that she does not want.  When she looks at him she sees her uncle and bile rises in her mouth.  When he cries she doesn’t comfort, she despises. His needs are a burden, his wants are a laugh.  Because of the way he was conceived, he deserves a life worse than her own.  He is nothing.

As he grows he learns to survive.  Survival is lying, manipulating, stealing, cheating, using.  He believes that his mother is not worthy of respect.  He believes she is not worthy of love.  He learns how to lie to her, how to manipulate her, how to steal from her, how to cheat her, and how to use her.  Because of the blows he takes, he learns how to hate her.  Because she doesn’t provide, he takes.  Because she doesn’t comfort, he agitates.  Because she doesn’t care, he hardens.  He hardens his heart towards her, and decides to leave her.  Because she is nothing.

He steals enough money to buy food and a bus ticket.  He doesn’t know what to expect where he’s going, but he knows there must be help.  He flags down the first bus that comes along and 2 hours later finds himself in the city.  Nobody asks him why he’s alone.  No one asks if he needs help.  He’s just another one.  Another kid looking for a better way.  He’s weary and excited, courageous and scared.  For the first time he feels hope.  Hope of a new beginning, hope for a future, hope of security, hope of love.

While roaming the streets near the bus depot he wonders why nobody is offering help.  He wonders if he has made a mistake and if he should return to his mother.  Just before he loses his resolve he spots a police car and runs to it.  He pours out his heart to the officers and begs them to take him to a shelter, a refuge, a home.  The officers know what to do, because they’ve done it before.  They’ve done it more than they ever should have.  This is routine for them.  They do it often.

Days later he arrives at a home.  By this time, he’s heard a lot about this place.  All good things.  He’s greeted with loving open arms, a hot meal, a comfortable bed, new brothers, and new parents.  His given a bible and told about someone named Jesus.  The Christ.  The savior.  He finds the hope he’s been looking for, the love he’s always desired.  For the first time he has a mother who cares about him, an earthly father, and a Heavenly Father.  This is new.  This is strange.  This is amazing.

This is another incredible story about one of the children that God has sent us to care for.  It’s difficult to imagine these circumstances, but because it is one of many similar stories, it is believable.  This young man did an incredible thing at 10 years old and his bravery is a testimony to his resolve and God’s goodness.  We are thankful that God sent him to us and are glad to have him here at Shadow.  However, he has many struggles and challenges that he deals with everyday.  He struggles with women, authority, honesty, and trust.  Responsibility, work, school, and respect are a challenge for him.  But we know God is faithful, we know God loves him, and we know God has a plan for him.  We know he has worth, we know he has value, and we know he has a future.  Because he is something.