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Bryon Applegate

Child Bride

In November of 2015 Guatemala passed a law that changed the legal marrying age of girls from 14 to 18.  Yes, this is correct, not a typo.  Imagine being married at age 14.  Imagine your daughter, granddaughter, or sister marrying before driving.  Imagine being married in 8th or 9th grade.

The new law is definitely something to be celebrated.  But it’s only a start.  Unfortunately, in Guatemala it’s cheaper and easier to get divorced than to get married.  Being that most of the country lives in poverty, it’s an easy decision for most.  Therefore, many of the “married” couples are not legally married.  They call themselves married and refer to each other as husband and wife, but they’re not.  They live as a married couple, but only by word.

The protagonist of this story found herself living in the scenario of “married, but not really married”.  An unfortunate situation? Yes.  Tragic? Sure.  Shocking? Not really.  The shocking part of the story is the age of our young lady and her “husband”.  This young “bride” is only 12 years old.  The man is 27.

Living as a wife at 12 years old is criminal.  It’s disgusting and appalling.  And to add a twist to the story, she didn’t know any better.  When she came to the James Project, she still didn’t understand why she was with us.  She didn’t know that the way she had been living was illegal or wrong.  She was told it was normal.

It wasn’t until a local pastor and his wife came to JPLA and presented on biblical dating and marriage that she finally realized her situation.  Her eyes were opened not only to legal truth, but to biblical truth. And it changed her immediately.  This child bride now wants to be a pastor.  The word of God is an amazing thing.  It, and the Holy Spirit, have the ability to open eyes, minds, and hearts to truths that have been hidden.  This child bride is now a child of God.

She no longer lives with a false sense of who she is or what her purpose is.  Instead of a child bride, she is a part of the bride of Christ.

Prison Boy

*The child in this story is not pictured

They found him chained.  His right leg chained to his left hand.  The chain just long enough for him to stand up straight.  Short enough that he could not run – at least not without some extreme coordination.  Both of his wrists and ankles showed signs that this was not an uncommon occurrence.  It was obvious that he was a prisoner.  And had been so for some time.

As the police cut away the chains, their eyes could not cut away from the scars that covered his body. His entire body.  Scars from beatings streak his entire backside.  All of it.  His hair will never completely cover his head, unless it figures out how to penetrate the scar tissue that paints lashes across his skull. At eight years of age, his hands are calloused like those of one who is eighty.

He’s had a difficult time since coming to us at JPLA.  As you may imagine.  He strikes out when touched.  He runs when confronted.  His teachers are bruised at the end of the day.  His house parents exhausted.  But they know his story. They know that he has seen things that no child should see.  They know that he has been through what no one could imagine.  Chains.  Beatings. Ridicule.  Suffering.

Unfortunately his own siblings are guilty of the abuse too.  Apparently the whole family treated him like a slave.  An animal, or whatever word that describes someone treated so poorly.  So when they came to JPLA a few days after him, things got worse.  It wasn’t a cheery reunion – not even close.  We now had to monitor their interaction, because for whatever reason they saw him differently.

But as always, we see changes.  The prisoner is now free to be a little boy.  He smiles now.  He loves now. Not only is he now different, but his siblings are too.  They see the brother they never saw before.  They interact with love now.  No more is there a massive difference between them.  Sure he’s the pain-in-the-neck little brother, but he’s not the one to receive the brunt of abuse anymore.  He’s slowly become one of them.  Brother and friend. Equal.

With classmates, teachers, parents, staff, and missionaries he has become something different as well.  Instead of the boy who interrupts with strange noises, he sits and squirms like many little boys.  But in silence.  His actions aren’t desperate for attention, they are met with affection.  He still is learning proper interaction, but he’s doing it within the confines of love and respect.  No longer are chains used to contain him.  He is free.

In time our prayer is that he will experience the freedom that only comes from above.  Why this kid was never allowed to be loved is beyond comprehension.  He has love and he is loved.  Soon he will experience love and peace that passes all understanding.  And no chains will ever bind him again.

Trash Collector

As we pulled up to our house something was amiss. Garbage was strewn all over the ground in front of our house. Our garbage. It was trash pickup day and the assumption was that street dogs had torn open the garbage bags in search of food. This is normal practice in a country where dogs are not treated as people. Most are put out onto the street after they aren’t cute puppies any more. They become scavengers looking for their next meal.

But then came the realization that the garbage can was not knocked over, the lid was attached, and their was shredded trash still inside the can. This led to the second assumption that the garbage man was having a bad day or was carrying some vendetta against us. Of course this was possible, but not plausible. He was paid on time, we rarely interacted, and he had much to lose with our business.

Then it happened again. Not the next trash day, but the one following. We again returned home for lunch to find the same scenario. Trash strewn everywhere. No dogs in sight. Lid on the can. Shredded trash inside the can. Weird. My anger at the trash man began to grow as did the confusion in my mind. It just didn’t make sense, especially when I realized the neighbors’ trash had not been touched.

So just like the first time, we cleaned up the trash, re-bagged it, and pulled the can back inside. An hour later the trash man rang our doorbell. We gave him our trash and explained what had happened. He then told us that this was happening around town as well and from then on to just leave our trash can inside and he would ring our bell when he came by. The problem was solved. But not the mystery.

It just so happened that later that day we were walking near our house. As we were walking, a little boy approached us carrying a small bag. He immediately asked us if we had any trash. Apparently he was the culprit who had dismantled our trash bags. As it turns out he was twelve years old. He looked to be no more than eight. He confessed to looking through our trash for credit cards, bank cards, and other things he could sell for money. And us being
“gringos”, he just knew we had extra money to throw around and throw away.

This always angers us. But we understand. It’s true that we do have more than most, but it isn’t true that we are reckless with it. We give a lot of our money away. We steward it with care. So instead of shun the little guy or scold him for what he did, we started the process of checking his story. He said he lived with his sick grandmother and his siblings. They had no food or medicine. And just like the scavenger dogs, he was looking for ways to eat. In his mind it was ok to tear open the trash of the “rich”, in order to find sustenance for his family.

We still don’t know if his story is accurate. He wouldn’t let us follow him home to investigate. His excuse being that Grandmother was too sick. It’s quite possible. Keeping in mind that used toilet paper is not flushed in this country (but instead is bagged), he was willing to sort through it for hidden treasure. The end of this story is incomplete. But one thing we’ve learned since moving here is, desperate people in desperate situations do desperate things.

Becoming a Brother

The tears began to flow when I told the boy he didn’t have to be the caregiver anymore. The relief on his face was obvious as the weight was lifted off his shoulders. The weight was too much for a nine-year old to carry. And as he realized it wasn’t his to carry any longer, his countenance changed. It was as if a little boy was re-created. As if the burden of a father was removed and the joy of a boy returned.

He was brought to my office, not because of good behavior. He was brought because his first days here at James Project of Latin America were of turmoil. He had spent the previous days fighting with the other boys in his home. In the eyes of the other boys he was quick to lash out and quick to throw a punch. In the eyes of his house-parents he was quick to disobey and quick to cause problems. But in his eyes he was only defending his little brother.

He was used to defending his siblings, for protecting them, and fighting for them. It was all he knew. He was the oldest brother. It was his job to protect them. He has the heart of a father, and a fighter. With no adult around to defend, he defended with his fists. And now that there are parents to answer to, he doesn’t know how. With adults now in his life to care for him and his siblings, he doesn’t know his role. And he doesn’t yet trust.

He is here with four of his siblings. Three sisters, one brother. That’s a lot of defending to do. There’s a lot of protecting that needs to be done. And his heart has to ache for the ones that didn’t come. As we chatted about his role as brother, he revealed that there are more siblings still out there. One was given away, but he didn’t know to whom she was given or where she was. Yet another was living with a family member. As he discussed this you could see the pain in him. He is ashamed that he couldn’t defend and protect them too. That somehow he had let them down.

But as the tears flowed, the fear fled. He still isn’t completely confident in his new caregivers, but I believe he understands his new role. Brother, not dad. Boy, not man. He was told the responsibility was not his alone to carry. That he was brave, but now he didn’t have to fight. That he could trust and let his shoulders relax. Please pray the boy becomes a boy. Please pray that he believes in us and allows us to carry the load that he’s carried in his young life. But more than that, please pray that he let’s go and let’s God. Pray he allows Jesus to take over. Because His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

The Impossible Decision

Imagine having two children that are dying. Now imagine having the ability to save one, but not the other.  Which would you choose?  What would you do? It’s every parent’s nightmare.  It’s a lose-lose situation that no parent should have to make. But in this story it was a reality.  A real-life nightmare.

One of the most powerful parts of our ministry is serving widows and children in our community.  Our ministry is not limited to the children we serve inside the walls of our property.  We also reach out to those in need in the local community.  On a regular basis we deliver baskets of food to the “least of these”.  This is how we were introduced to the mom who couldn’t decide.

This mom is a good mom.  She loves and takes care of her children. She would do anything for them, but not make the decision.  And who could blame her?  Both children suffered from kidney failure.  She was a match for both, but only her.  Nobody else could help.  There were no other matches.  She was faced with the decision to save one – only one.  And she couldn’t do it.

Who could?  Who could look at the children they love and say, “I will save your life, but not yours”?  She held the power of life and death in her own body, but couldn’t say which child would live and which child would die.  So she decided not to decide.  She chose not to choose.  And it was the best thing she could do.

Like all of us, she couldn’t choose one over the other. It’s not in a parent’s nature to do so.  We love our children equally, just as she does.  All she could do was pray and wait. There isn’t the opportunity or resources to find another donor.  It’s just not a real possibility here in Guatemala.  So she loved and cared for her kids the best she could for as long as she could. Equally.

Unfortunately the day came when she didn’t have to decide anymore.  One of the children passed away from the disease that destroyed her body.  The burden of having to choose between your children has now been replaced by the burden of moving forward without your child.  Perhaps it’s an easier burden to bear.  I can’t speak for the mother, but I can imagine the relief of not having to choose anymore.

I don’t know exactly how she is processing the loss of her child.  I assume she is questioning her decision to not decide.  That would be normal.  But I do know that she is trusting God with it.  And having lost a child of my own, I know that’s all we can do.  Trust Him. 

Not an Animal

She was given away by her mother at the age of five.  The details for this decision are unclear.  Desperate people in desperate situations do desperate things.  This is almost understandable.  The thinking could have been, “I don’t have the resources to take care of my child, so someone else may be better able to take care of her”.  If this was the case, then it’s almost understandable.  At least there is reasonable logic behind it.  But it’s what happened next that is unconscionable.

Posing as a family who could take care of the little girl with curly hair, was easy.  Anyone can lie and manipulate.  We all do to some extent.  Unfortunately, the desperate mother was too easily deceived.  The family too deceptive.  And because of their deception, the mother released the curly headed girl into the (un)care of the deceivers.

The mother never returned to the home of the family to check on her daughter.  For whatever reason she simply disappeared.  It’s unknown if the family had anything to do with the disappearance.  But it is definitely known they had everything to do with what was to happen next to the girl.  She in fact did not become a part of the family – at least not in the proper way.

She did live with them, but not “with” them.  She lived on their property, but not in the house.  Instead of the people becoming her family, the animals did. To be specific, the hogs.  She, in their eyes, was an animal.  Another pig perhaps.  Perhaps not even on the level of a pig.  Because pigs are fed and fattened, for a purpose.  But her only purpose was to satisfy the men of the house.  A toy.  A plaything.  An object.

No one can imagine what this girl truly went through. No one!  And as you can imagine, she still suffers from the effects of sleeping with the pigs, chickens, and dogs.  As time passed she began to see herself as one of them.  Unworthy of love.  Unworthy of respect and decency.  When you have to fight over table scraps with animals that are your equals, the damage it does to you lasts a lifetime.  Unless.

Unless one encounters the God who restores, the Godless actions of others is forever damaging.  Unless one meets the God who loves, the loveless will be the god of your life.  Unless one surrenders to the God who saves, one must surrender to the god that destroys.

Fortunately for the girl who lived with pigs, she has met the One and Only God that restores, loves, and saves.

She has come a very long way in her road of recovery, but you can still see the pain and fear.  She doesn’t trust easily, how could she? She doesn’t love recklessly, who could blame her?  She doesn’t socialize comfortably, why would she? She keeps her distance and guards herself.  But she also smiles, then gets embarrassed.  She hugs, then runs away.  She engages, then gives space.  Little by little she has changed.  And it’s a beautiful thing.

12 and Pregnant

*The children in the photo are not necessarily the children in the story.

Being 12 years old and pregnant is probably one of the worst things you could imagine for a young girl.  No more hope. No more future.  No more innocence.  This girl’s opportunities for a successful life were taken away.  Her chances of a completed education are slim.  Her chances of living above the poverty line are no more. The possibility of finding a husband who will accept her baby is not likely.  But unfortunately, being pregnant at 12 is not the deplorable part of this story.  The horrifying part is who the father of the baby is.

Unbelievably, this story gets worse.  You see, the pregnant girl is one of three daughters that could have been impregnated by their father.  The one who happened to get pregnant is a twin.  The other sister is 11.  So in reality, any of the three could be carrying their father’s baby.  All three were at risk of doing so in the future.  Because all three were being raped by the man who is supposed to be their protecter.

The good news is the three girls were rescued.  The bad news is only two came to Shadow.  The new mother is still in the hospital with her baby/sister.  She will not be joining her sisters at Shadow, but instead will be taken to another home.  This is heartbreaking to say the least, but also necessary.  We pray the sisters will be reunited as some point, but we don’t know when or where.  We also pray that Shadow will be able to accommodate young pregnant teens in the future.  In fact, it’s something we must do.  The need is too great.  The delay too long.

The words “no hope” and “no future” used above, only apply to the physical life of this victim.  There is “a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11) in the spiritual life of this child, if she gives her life to the Lord.  We can only pray she does.  This is why we must pray for the resources to support young girls who find themselves in similar situations.  The calls to accept pregnant teens at Shadow come frequently.  And the answer is always a very painful “no”.

The dream is there.  The call is there.  The desire is there.  But the resources are not.  A new home must be built.  It will be named Casa Maria (Mary) after another unwed pregnant teen you may have heard of. House grandparents must be found.  They will help these young mothers raise their child, show them how to parent in a Godly manner, and teach them the love and patience of Jesus.  Generations will be altered for the better and futures will be changed forever.  Physically and spiritually.

The Stolen Child

*Picture do not necessarily reflect the child in the story

The new mother struggled to survive after giving birth to her one and only daughter.  After many days in the hospital she was sent home, still unable to walk or take care of herself.  The complications continued as she struggled to make it on her own.  So bad was her health that a “friend” offered to take care of the new baby while she recovered.  This was a mistake that would haunt her the rest of her life.

The mother’s health issues would go on for years.  But regardless of her health, what happened changed the course and the future of the baby’s life forever.  The “friend” grew so fond of the new baby that she never returned her to the mother.  In fact, the decision to keep her is what brought her to us.  Only after the mother decided she was healthy enough, did she want her daughter back.  But by this time it was too late.  The baby and the “friend” had disappeared.

For 12 years the mother has been looking for her baby.  For 12 years she has lived with an emptiness that most of us cannot imagine.  For 12 years the wrong person was raising her child.  And for 12 years the baby grew up with a lie.  The woman who raised her was not the woman who gave her birth.  The woman who she knows as “mama” is a liar and kidnapper.  The life she has known will never be the same.  All because of an opportunistic woman who wanted a baby of her own.

We don’t know why she stole the baby.  All we know is that she did a horrifically selfish thing.  She loves the girl like her own.  In fact, she was caught and exposed while trying to adopt the girl.  In her own twisted way she wants the best for the girl.  But she wants to fulfill her own desires of being a mother first.  Her love for the child is real.  But the love of herself is greater.

Because of one unthinkable act, the girl is now separated from the only mother she has ever known and the mother who gave birth to her.  As the courts try to sort it all out, the girl will stay at Shadow.  The psychological stress on this girl is more than anyone should have to deal with.  The broken trust, the lies, the confusion, the separation are all weighing heavily upon her.  She feels lost, betrayed, and deceived.  But she also feels hope.

Despite all that she is dealing with, she now knows to whom she truly belongs.  She has been introduced to a Father that will never leave her or forsake her.  A Father that will always love her, guide her, and protect her.  He is a Father that does not lie, does not deceive, does not betray.  And even though her case may take years to figure out, she knows her Heavenly Father is in control.  No matter where she ends up or who she ends up living with, she has a Father that will be with her wherever she goes.

From Wild to Mild

The wild child has been tamed.  These are words that nobody expected to hear.  The little boy that ate like an animal, didn’t know how to bathe, and couldn’t show respect, has changed.  The wild child now controls his body, and his temper.  The one who didn’t realize the consequences of his actions now recognizes good and bad behavior.  And it’s all because of two fathers.

The wild child had never known a father, let alone a daddy.  In fact, he had never really known a mother either.  He and his younger brother were left to fend for themselves.  After coming to Shadow of His Wings, the wild child was introduced to two men that have changed his life forever.  One earthly.  One heavenly.  The two have worked together to meet the needs of this little boy.  And the result of their efforts is nothing short of miraculous and supernatural.

The wild child is now the mild child.  He recently expressed his gratitude towards his earthly dad, saying how good of a man he was and how thankful he was to have him as a dad.  He explained how his papí prayed with him, read the bible to him, and taught him about Jesus.  He too loves his Heavenly Father and wants to live for Him.  It’s one of the most drastic changes we’ve seen here and one of the most touching. This recent expression of gratitude was completely unsolicited and exemplifies the miracle in this boy’s life.

You can read more about the wild child and his brother, as they have been written about before.  This writing is a follow-up story.  A progress story.  A success story.  You see, the wild child has vanished.  The boy is still here, but he is different.  His story is a testament to what love and prayer can do in a person’s life.  It’s a testament to what Christ can do in all our lives.  Because weren’t we all the wild child at some point in our lives?  Didn’t we all go through a miraculous and supernatural change when we received the love of our Heavenly Father through prayer?

This boy is indeed a different person now.  He still has his struggles and always will.  But the change is permanent.  His self-control is better.  His manners, improved.  His attitude, positive.

But most importantly, his heart is softened.  He feels the love that is extended to him.  From his papí on earth and in heaven.  We can’t wait to see what God has in store for this little guy.  To be a part of his life and his story is something special.  From wild to mild.  Glory to God.

The Imaginary “Friend”

She came to us because the neighbors she was living with couldn’t control her.  She ran away from them many times and through their desperation they sought help from the court system.  When the stood before the judge they testified to their inability to control her behavior and to some of her erratic behavior.  What they didn’t tell the judge was that she talks to a “friend” that nobody else could see.

The girl with the “imaginary friend” came to us much like many of the others.  She was disrespectful, untrusting, and a little wild.  What was unique about her was indeed the fact that she didn’t come alone.  There was in fact an “imaginary friend” that came with her, but as we quickly learned this entity was no friend to her.  Instead, this “person” was something we had never encountered before.

Not being trained pastors, our experiences with the spiritual world only consisted of encounters with the Holy Spirit.  We knew there was more to the spiritual realm than what we had personally experienced, but we quickly learned we were encountering something we had only heard about.  As we began to explore who this “person” really was, it became apparent that it was a demonic presence that revealed itself to our girl and told her to do things she shouldn’t. It’s name was Maria and it was anything but a friend.

When asked how long Maria had been in our girl’s life, her response was, ever since her step-father introduced her to a ouija board.  They had played with the ouija many times and each time Maria appeared.  Finally, she began to appear apart from the ouija.  It was bad enough that her step-father exposed her to the ouija, but soon after he told his wife that he was leaving and gave her the option to choose him or her daughter.  They both couldn’t go with him.  The mom chose her husband instead of her own daughter.

It was then that Maria began to take control of our girl.  She told her to disobey the kind family that took her in.  She woke her up in the middle of the night and told her to misbehave.  To leave.  To steal.  To lie.  To cheat.  These behaviors continued after she came to us.  The other girls in the home testified to the conversations that went on between our girl and Maria.  The parents relayed the poor and bizarre behavior.  After hearing and investigating we began to pray.

Because of our lack of experience in this area of our faith, we literally googled “how to cast out a demon”.  We were not cut out for this.  We were in over our heads.  We were untrained, unprepared, and unqualified.  But after consulting with our pastoral friends we realized we were wrong about ourselves.  It was true that we didn’t have the experience, but we were qualified and able.  Not on our own of course, but because of the power of Jesus in us.  He qualified us.  He empowered us.  And through Him and Him only, the demon left.

Our girl is now a different person.  And not just because Maria is no longer in her life.  But because the same power that was in us, is now in her.  In place of the mother who abandoned her, Jesus lives.  In place of the “imaginary friend” who controlled her, Jesus lives.  The girl who was out of control, has given control, to the One who is in control.

The Girl with Abundant Joy

When she arrived nobody quite knew what to think of her.  Most of the kids we receive are scared, shy, quiet.  But not this one.  This one was boisterous, outgoing, curious, and despite a speech impediment, very talkative.  This “bubbly personality” was rare, but refreshing.  Little did we know, it was also problematic.

Without guidance and wisdom boisterous can become obnoxious.  Outgoing can become intrusive.  Curious can become disrespectful.  Talkative can become annoying.  Putting this personality in a home with hurting, introverted, or private people can make finding friends difficult.  It can wear on patience and understanding.  It can not only push people away, it can create a toxic environment.

When combining this type of personality with an abusive past, it can lead to a lack of compassion towards the individual.  It can also lead to aggression and assertiveness that crosses boundaries.  And such was the case with this one.  She immediately set a tone of abrasiveness and turmoil in her relationships with other kids at Home.  Nobody wanted to befriend her.  She was too overbearing.  Nobody wanted to play with her.  She was too demanding.  Nobody wanted to help her.  She was too domineering.

Her beginning here at Shadow was rocky.  It was difficult and it was painful.  She was rejected by other kids because she was different, jilted because she was bossy.  But then she met Jesus.  She who had no friends now walks with the best of friends.  She who was told she talks funny, now talks with the King.  She who talked too much, now talks of the Savior.  And wants everyone to know it.  This “bubbly personality” now bubbles over with the joy of the Lord.

In a recent court hearing, she shared the gospel like no other little girl has done before.  To the psychologist, the judge, the social workers, and to her birth family, she shared how Jesus has changed her.  And to the amazement of all in the courtroom, she witnessed to her family about the love of Christ and how much they needed Him.  She shared that as a changed person, she now wants to change the world for Christ.  And, she’s only 10.

For this little girl with “too much personality”, God is using her to be who He intended her to be.  What others saw as a character flaw, God sees as a character gifting.  He created her to be boisterous, outgoing, curious, and talkative.  And now she is using it to spread the Good News.  Unlike Moses, she isn’t letting her speech impediment impede on sharing her testimony.  She’s still overwhelming at times and with maturity will be able to control herself better.  But I don’t believe she will ever be able to control her willingness to share the Gospel.

People may never know just what to think of her, but those same people will never doubt what He thinks of her.  She just won’t let them.

When They Go Home

When a child leaves Shadow our prayer is always that they go to a good, healthy situation in which all their needs will be met.  Unfortunately, we know this isn’t always the case.  And it’s never our decision.  We do have information that we present to the assigned judge, but ultimately it’s his/her decision. Sometimes we don’t agree with this decision and in these cases we plead for more time and investigation.

More often than not, when a child leaves, it is to a situation that is less than desirable.  Either the parents are doing just enough to fool the judge, or the judge makes an irrational decision to return them regardless of the evidence.  It’s frustrating and confusing.  It’s sad and heart-breaking.  It’s just plain wrong.

Honestly, our personal preferences and opinions are guided by the love we have for a child.  And these feelings can skew our vision of what’s best for each child.  However, it does not distort our desires for the life of the child.  We want them to be safe.  We want them to be fed and educated.  We want them to be loved.  And in reality that’s what the courts want for them as well.  It’s just that the judge making the decision doesn’t know the child on a personal level like we do.  And, not every judge cares if they know Jesus or not.

In most cases when a child leaves, we are unsure of what they are headed in to.  We say goodbye not knowing if they will be safe at night, if they will be put to work in the streets, or if they will be allowed to continue their education.  But when we do know where they’re headed it brings us great joy.  This has happened recently and we are praising God for it.

In two separate cases our girls have returned to good situations.  In both cases the families have made great strides in their circumstances and have done everything asked by the judges.  They completed parenting classes, moved to better homes, gotten jobs, and removed themselves from dangerous situations.  It blesses our heart that one girl will now sleep in a bed instead of on the floor.  The other’s rapist is now in prison.  Both families have repented of their actions, completed all requirements, and now understand the importance of their roles as parents.

We want all kids to be with family.  Whether here at Shadow or with biological family, it’s God’s design and desire, and therefore ours as well.  Of course that family must be a healthy, safe, loving family in which a child can grow and thrive.  We strive to provide this while we care for the kids that God sends us, but can only pray they receive the same with their biological families.  Once they leave, all we can do is pray for them.  We invite all of the Shadow family to join us in this.  Without it and Jesus, some will have no hope.  No future.  And no real family.

Losing Control

He was brought to the office by a tia.  His head was down, he was calm, he was respectful.  This was a vast contrast to his behavior only a few minutes before.  He was there because moments before he was out of control.  He had bitten, screamed, and punched.  He had attacked and lost control of himself.  This was not the first time.  Frustration was a part of his young life.  Losing control was how he coped.  Attacking others was how he survived.

As long as he could remember, this is how he lived.  At seven years of age, he carried the weight of the world.  He was his brother’s protector and provider.  Abandoned at an early age, he did the best he could.  Scrounging for food, fighting to live, struggling to exist.  It’s all he knows.  Fits of wild rage kept them safe.  Biting was his only defense.  That, and scaring others away.  Nobody bothers wild animals.  Nor wild little boys.

Since coming to Shadow, he’s had to learn new ways.  But new ways are foreign.  He’s still learning how to properly care for himself.  He’s learning to bathe, to clean, to eat with utensils.  His table manners and behaviors make him the target of harassment from the other boys in the house.  He still eats with his hands and covers himself with whatever is served.  The others can’t help themselves when they see the food running down his face.  As it drips off his chin and runs down his arms, they can’t help but comment.  And this infuriates him.

And so it was this day when he was brought to the office.  That morning, with the house parents on rest, the other boys attacked with their words.  He attacked with his anger.  But by the time he entered the office, he was remorseful and repentant.  He knows he is different, but he wants to be the same.  He knows he has a lot to learn, but he knows things they don’t.  He wants to change, but he struggles letting go.  He wants to trust, but he doesn’t know what it looks like.  He wants to eat with a fork, but he doesn’t know how.  He wants to fit in, but instead acts out.

After talking with him, one thing was obvious.  He was frustrated.  He was frustrated with how the boys treated him during breakfast, and he was frustrated that his papá wasn’t there to defend and help him.  You see, he quickly adapted to not being the man of the house.  He quickly fell in love with his new papá.  And he quickly adapted to being the cared-for, instead of the care-giver.  He missed his new protector, and in his absence reverted to his old self.  It was a natural act.  He went in to survival mode again.

Once we realized the source of his frustration, it was obvious as what to do.  We addressed the boys in the house and what was expected of them, and we found another father figure for the distraught boy.  While his papá is gone on rest, our little guy will spend time with our gate guard Antonio.  They will work together at things that will not frustrate our boy.  They will talk about boy things and boy ways.  But more importantly, they will develop a relationship.  For a little boy in need of a dad, the more relationships with men that he can develop, the more this little boy will trust.  Our prayer is that some day, when the boy becomes a man, he will be the man that God created him to be.  Learning how to eat with utensils is important.  But more than that, learning how to be a Godly man is our goal for this little wild boy.

Happy for the Very First Time

The prompt was, “What was your favorite thing that happened this year”.  The eldest replied, “I was happy”.  To the younger it was asked “What’s something you are grateful for?”.  Her answer, “I am being taken care of”.  A lot can be interpreted from these responses.  These answers sound a bit canned or rehearsed.  In normal circumstances you would think these sisters were told to say this or coached to answer in the right way.  Or perhaps they are just mature for their ages and have a great deal of introspection.  But the truth is, these answers are not normal, rehearsed, or coached.  Just sincere.

It is true that these girls answered from a view of mature introspection.  But also from a sincerity that only comes from drastic circumstances and drastic changes.  “I am now happy” literally means, “for the first time in my 13 years of life I am happy”.  And, “I am being taken care of” translates to, “for the first time in my 8 years of life I am being taken care of, and all my needs are being met.”  These girls understand what life was like before, and what it is like now.  They know what it’s like to go hungry, and now to be fed.  To be abused, and now nurtured. To be neglected, and now loved.

When their father decided to leave the family, he gave their mother the option to go with him, or stay with the girls.  Either way, he was leaving.  He was finished being a father and wanted out.  Surprisingly, the mother agreed.  And so they left.  They left behind two beautiful daughters.  To fend for themselves.  To find their own way.  Fortunately, their aunt took them in.

The girls were devastated that mom would choose him over them.  But they were relieved that he was gone.  With him gone, the beatings would end – for them.  But for mom, they would continue.  It is difficult for little ones to understand why their mother would choose a life of abuse, separated from her children.  She had the opportunity to rid her life of the abuser that tormented her and her daughters.  But instead chose to go with him instead of them.

Maybe there is more to the story.  Just maybe mom decided to go with her husband to protect the girls.  They may never know.  What they do know is that where they are now is exactly what they need.  For now.  For young girls to answer the aforementioned questions the way they did, says a lot about their character and the work of God’s hands.  And it’s why Shadow exists.  These little girls’ lives are now different.  Changed.  Better.  And for them to answer the way they did, not only breaks our hearts, but warms them as well.  God is good.  He is faithful.  He is sincere.

I am a Prostitute

There was nearly a physical confrontation as three young men tried to enter the church.  They raised their voices in anger and disappointment.  They made threats and a scene.  Their names were not on the list and they were denied admittance.  At the time it was unclear as to their intention.  They were not family.  They were not friends.  They were not permitted.  It turns out they were potential clients.  They came to preview the young girl who was promised to them.  They were told she was a prostitute in the waiting.  Young.  Innocent.  Pure.  13.

They had been invited by the brother, mother, and grandmother of one of our girls.  It was family visit time in the city, at a host church.  You sign up, you come, you see your child, you leave.  It’s organized, it’s protective, it’s safe.  But this particular family saw it as an opportunity.  Not an opportunity to see their beloved little girl.  Instead, an opportunity to show her off.  To market her age, her beauty, her body.  Because some day she would return to them.  And when she did, she was to join the family business.

Just like mom and grandma, this girl is to become a prostitute.  In their eyes she already is.  They are waiting for her return, because she will be able to bring in a good price.  She was raised in it before and will return to it again.  It’s the family business and she is family.  During their visits, they are more concerned with how she looks than how she is.  They are more concerned about her gaining weight than gaining an education.  They are more concerned about her complexion than her protection.  Her figure more than her future.

She knows this is their intention and she knows it’s not up to her.  If she should return to them, she knows how her life will be.  Unfortunately, someday she may actually be ordered to return to them.  The family has tried to fool the judge, but yet to no avail.  Someday they may actually succeed.  Our prayer is they won’t.

Please pray with us that she is never put in this situation.  That the judge will see the truth and that she will see her worth in God’s eyes.  Pray that her time here at Shadow continues to be one of spiritual growth and maturity.  Pray that she believes in Christ more and more, and in the lie less and less.  When and if she leaves is out of our hands, but not out of God’s.  He desires more for her life than that of a prostitute.  And she does too.

Impossible Decisions

At 24 years of age she already has five children.  Her oldest girl is 12.  Not 12 days, weeks, or months, but 12 years.  That’s exactly half her age.  The same age in which she first gave birth. Pregnant at 11, a mother at 12.  Unbelievable. Shocking. True.

As troubling as this is, it’s not the most shocking part of the story.  Nor is the fact that this young mother of 24 is a widow.  Nor that she walks the streets of Antigua selling wares with her children in tow.  Not even the “advice” of her friends to sell her 12-year-old daughter is the most shocking.  The most shocking part of the story is that she is actually considering it.

For whatever reason, this young mother decided to share her story with us.  After declining to buy another necklace or bracelet, we sat and listened as she unfolded her tragic story.  She didn’t persist in selling us anything, except her story.  She never begged for our money, only our time.  She never even asked for our opinion in regards to selling her daughter.  She simply wanted someone to listen.

Of course we encouraged her to not listen to the advice of “her friends”, and we pray that she will not.  Our plans to meet the next day fell through, due to things beyond our control.  We pray that she chooses to keep her daughter, no matter the circumstances.  We pray she never considers selling any of her children, not matter what her friends say or do.  We pray she comes to a financial situation in which she can put her children in school instead of to work.  And we pray she enters into a relationship with Jesus, instead of one with a person who would buy her child.

Unfortunately, the selling of children is not uncommon in Guatemala.  It’s part of the reason we are here.  We can only hope that this young mother will consider what we said and make the right decision in regards to her daughter.  Perhaps we were in the park that day, just for the purpose of meeting her.  Perhaps that encounter was all she needed to prevent making the worse decision of her life.  Or her daughter’s.

We have girls here at Shadow who were sold.  We have boys here whose mothers are barely adults. It’s sad and it’s scary. In 2012 there were 61,000 pregnant teens in Guatemala from the ages of 10-19.  Yes, 10 years of age.  In fact, 35 of those 61,000 were only 10 years old.  God only knows how many of the babies were sold.  The trend is increasing every year.  Please pray for us as we prepare ourselves to take in more of the children that are a result of this trend.  And please pray for the young mothers and their children.

A Mom at 9

They were hauled in the back seat of a police truck.  Wild eyed, confused, scared.  They were dirty and hungry.  When they came into the office they barely spoke.  The two-year-old clung to the nine-year-old.  He didn’t want to be put down, she was tired of carrying him around.  Yet she did.  This was the norm.  She caring for him and the twins.

When asked about their mother, one of the twins replied, “she (the nine-year-old) is our mom”.  At nine years of age, she was mom to her 3 siblings.  At nine years of age, being only one year older than the twins, she was the primary care-giver of the family.  At nine years of age, she found the food, she changed the diapers, she did her best to protect them.  At nine years of age, this incredible little girl, was more of an adult than the woman who gave them birth.

The nine-year-old was being robbed of more than her basic rights.  She was being robbed of her childhood.  Instead of playing with baby-dolls, she played with the real thing.  Instead of scavenger hunts, she had food hunts.  Instead of serving at tea parties, she served whatever she could find.  Instead of trips to the park to play, she took trips to the market to beg.

She protected them at night, the best she could.  But nine-year-olds were not meant to be protectors anymore than they were meant to be parents.  The best she could do was offer herself, so the others would be left alone.  It was all she could do.  It was all she knew.  Provider in the day, protector at night.  At age 9, “our mom”.

She has a hard time smiling.  It’s as if her smile will betray who she is.  She’s not supposed to be happy.  She’s not supposed to be a child.  Those were already taken from her.  If she smiles too much, then she becomes someone she doesn’t know.  If she laughs, then she must not be the responsible one her siblings depended on. It’s a paradox.  If she allows herself to be a kid, then she can no longer be the adult.  If she continues to be the adult, then she cannot become a kid.

With time this amazing little girl has become a kid again.  She laughs, plays, sings, and interacts the way she was created to do.  She still has a serious side to her, but that’s to be expected.  She’s a little slow to trust adults, but who could blame her.  She continues to keep a watchful eye out for “her kids”, but has allowed others to take over the majority of their upbringing.

She enjoys dressing up and looking nice – something that wasn’t even a thought when she was simply surviving.  She enjoys arts and crafts – something that she didn’t even knew existed before.  She enjoys playing with her sisters and visiting with her brother – something that now she realizes is different than taking care of them.  She enjoys going to church and learning about Jesus – something she longed to do and someone she longed to meet.  Now that she has met Him, she’s figured out who she is.  She’s now a kid.  Not a mom.

No Longer a Child

I first met her in 2006.  On that trip she buddied up to me, never leaving my side.  She was 15 then, and full of anger and resentment.  Her story was difficult to hear, her anger just under the surface of her forced smile.  But for whatever reason, she felt she could share with me.  And she did.  She shared with me the reason for the scars on her arms and face, the reason she resented her younger sister, and she shared the anger she had towards her mother.  She also shared with me her heart, her fears, and her love.

The scars on her arms were from her mother.  The results of cigarette burns and wild attacks.  The scars on her face from mother as well.  The results of punches that split open the cheeks and lips.  The anger towards her mother was justified.  The resentment towards her sister, misplaced.  You see, the younger sister was completely innocent save the fact that she was younger, smaller, and cuter.  She got all the attention, all the looks, all the love.

After only a couple of years at Shadow, my buddy was removed from the home.  She could never control her anger or resentment, often doling out punishment on her sister.  Having never received respect from her mother, she was unable to give to others.  She was defiant, she was devious, she was dangerous.  For the administration and the judge it was an obvious decision.  For me it was devastating.  I didn’t expect to ever see her again.  And didn’t for eight years.

A year after moving to Guatemala, I was blessed to see her again.  Eight years is a long time, but it could have been eighteen.  She is now 23, but looks 33.  A hard life leads to hard lines on the face. An anger filled life, leads to stress on the body.  Carrying the load of resentment is like carrying the load of an ox.  I was happy to see her, but sad to see her.  She still had the same curves to her forced smile, but the curves of her eyes drooped and sagged.  She had gained weight from carrying her first child, but carrying the weight of her past had taken a greater toll.

As expected she is following the example she was given.  A life of poverty and struggle is hers.  A life of strife and hardship is wearing her down. But, her relationship with her sister has mended and they now talk on occasion.  And thankfully she hasn’t followed the pattern of abuse that plagued her childhood.  She is raising her daughter without the beatings, without the cursing, without the attacks of anger.  But, without the opportunities that every little one should have, as well.

When a child leaves Shadow, we never really know where or how they will end up – especially with those that stay only a short time.  We do all we can while we have them and leave the rest to God.  I don’t exactly know what her relationship with the Lord is like, but I do know what her relationship with her daughter is like.  And it’s good.  She loves and adores her.  Hopefully, her time at Shadow was just enough to make the difference.  While she was here, she encountered Jesus.  Now her daughter knows Him too.  The baby doesn’t yet know Him as Savior, she’s only two.  But she does know Him through the love of her mom, who despite her difficult past, refuses to give in to anger and resentment anymore.

My buddy in this story just recently lost her second child, shortly after giving birth.  As I write this, her first born is staying with her aunt (who is the younger sister in the story) who is now living independently as an adult herself.  Because the aunt is still a part of the Shadow family, I get to see her niece.  She doesn’t look much like her mother, but she looks happy.  She’s smart and adorable and loved very much.  Just like her momma, she’s special to me.  And just like her momma, I’m trying to make her my buddy.

Betrayed by a Brother

Raped repeatedly by her brother.  Her own flesh and blood.  At one time in her life, she looked up to him the way little girls look at their older brothers.  He was supposed to be her protector.  Not her tormentor.  But all that changed the moment he violated her innocence and her trust.  She loved him and she hated him.  She knew it was wrong, but she didn’t want to tell.  She was scared.  He was the pride of the family.  The prodigal.  The future of the family.  Nothing was expected of her.  She was just a girl.

Because her status in the family, and in the culture, was of little value, she was forced to lie.  She was forced to hide the truth and live in fear.  It went on for years.  And it wreaked havoc on every aspect of her young life.  It wasn’t until she had enough, that she exposed the wickedness.  She convinced herself that it was time to tell.  She was older and able to defend the truth.  She saw hope in the truth and decided to speak it.  She knew the truth would make things right.  She knew her family would defend her.  She knew they would help her heal.  But she was wrong.

Instead of defending her, they defended him.  She was called lier.  She was named the destroyer of the family.  It was her fault.  The painful questions came.  What was she thinking?  Why would she say such horrible things?  What good would come of this nonsense?  Why would she attempt to ruin the life of her brother?  What good was she anyway? Why was she ever born? Why should she be allowed to live?

The family’s anger threatened her existence.  She was to die for what she did.  But by the grace of God, and the love of a mother, she was taken into protective custody.  Yes, the mother finally took action to save her daughter.  You see, she had known all along what was happening to her princess.  Sometimes mothers just know when things aren’t right with their children.  Sometimes they interject into these situations with passion and fury in order to protect.  Sometimes they turn a blind eye out of fear or ignorance.  For whatever reason, the abuse of her daughter was ignored.  But thankfully the life of her daughter worth saving.

In order to protect her life from her own family, the young lady of this story was placed at Shadow.  In a culture where girls are not valued equally with their brothers, she now lives where this aspect of the culture is not practiced or tolerated.  This daughter has as much value as any son on this property.  Though she struggles daily with her past and her self-worth, our prayer is that she turn her eyes to heaven. Her heavenly father sees her with more value than any earthly father could.  In His eyes she is more than just a girl.  He is her true defender.  Her protector.  Her hope.  Her salvation.

The brother in this story is serving time in prison for the actions against his sister.  The family’s anger has shifted from our victim as they have learned the entire truth, and restoration of their relationship is occurring.  Please pray they will no longer be blinded to the truth and that they will see their daughter through the eyes of Jesus, instead of through the eyes of the culture.

A Baby Found

The crying could barely be heard.  They newborn was in distress, barely hanging on to life.  In the wee hours of the morning she had been discarded in an empty lot.  Hours later she lay in the weeds, her umbilical cord still attached.  The hungry dogs had come.  Unsure of the noisy creature at first, now testing the waters of a potential meal.  Her life was in danger.  Her existence unknown, save one.

Three brothers were walking to school that day.  For some unknown reason they decided to walk a different route to school.  This unknown reason saved the life of baby Debora.  Curious as to what the dogs were fighting over, the boys were shocked at their discovery.  As one immediately ran for help, the other two fended off the hungry pack of wolves.  With school forgotten, the reason for their detour was now obvious.  They were meant to be rescuers.  A discovery that will never be forgotten, changed the course of baby Debora’s life forever.

Only God and Satan know what led the woman to abandon her newborn in this way.  Perhaps desperation.  Perhaps fear.  Maybe a mental issue.  Whatever the reason, Satan was behind it.  For some reason Satan doesn’t want this baby alive.  But God is greater and His plans for baby Debora will prevail.  The woman is now in prison.  Her plea, post-partum depression. Her sentence justified.  The story made the national news.  The judge wanted her in the best home available.  She made history at Shadow.

After one month in the hospital, recovering from hypothermia, hunger, and shock, baby Debora came to Shadow as the youngest child ever received here.  She’s thriving, eating well, and stealing the hearts of everyone.  As you would expect, she is doted on, passed around, and prayed over often.  Despite her traumatic start, she is developing on schedule, gaining weight rapidly, trying to talk, laughing, and playing like a 6-month old should.

She’s a beautiful baby.  Her smile contagious.  Her personality sweet.  She loves people and will go to anyone.  She doesn’t miss a thing, as she’s very observant and alert.  These qualities will help whenever the judge orders her to leave us.  It could be soon or it could be down the road.  The chances are that it will happen though.  She does have other family who may want her.  It will kill us when she leaves.  But when that day comes, we will thank God for the time we had with her, knowing God has a great purpose for her.

We will not only continue praying for baby Debora, we will also continue praying for her birth-mother.  Whether she was a tool of Satan, or the victim of a mental sickness, we will pray for her.  We pray that she is receiving the help she needs.  We pray that she is being healed.  But more importantly we pray for her salvation.  Just as her baby was saved from an early death, we pray that she will be saved from eternal death.  For both, from death to life.

The Girl with No Name

The girl with no name was found in a room.  A dark, dirty, cage.  The smell of human waste permeated the room.  The smell of fear clung to the animal that was caged.  Upon her discovery she recoiled into a corner, throwing her own feces for protection.  She was naked, afraid, barely living.  The authorities were in shock at what they saw.  She in shock from her circumstances.  The girl with no name was living as an animal.  Her brain reacting out of survival.

We don’t know her real name.  We don’t know her age.  We don’t know her whole story, nor the extent of her abuse.  We don’t even know if sheknows these things.  We’ve given her a name, a dentist her age.  The affects of the abuse are obvious, but we don’t know the details. We don’t even know if she remembers.  The professionals have said she can’t remember because her brain has blocked it all out.

Only God knows if her present condition is the result of her abuse.  Perhaps it is a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  Perhaps the abuse came because of a pre-existing condition that caused her abusers to see her as less than human.  In reality it doesn’t really matter.  She can speak, but very little.  She can learn, but very slowly.  She may never be able to live on her own.  She will never marry or become a mother.  And that’s ok.  What she can do is love.  She loves her house parents and her sisters.  She loves going to school and she loves music.  On occasion you will see her express joy in outbursts of sound and movement.  It’s a beautiful thing to see.

The girl without a name no longer exists.  The caged animal is now a sweet, healthy young woman.  The girl who smelled of fear, now wreaks of joy and happiness.  She’s clothed, secure, and loved.  She now has a name, a home, a life of peace and security. We believe that God will completely heal her.  Whether it be during her time on earth, or in heaven.  She is in His hands.  We’re just blessed to have her under our care.  We’re blessed to have her in our family and to call her daughter.

The meaning of her new name is an interesting study.  Etymologists are in debate as to the origin of it. The possibilities are not only interesting, but symbolic.  One source believes it comes from the Greek word for “torture”, another from the Greek word for “pure”.  It’s true that this girl was tortured.  That’s obvious.  But she’s also been made pure.  It’s even more obvious that God is working in her life.  It’s symbolic of the Christian experience.  Before Christ we lived a life of torture, but after we became pure.  Just like Jesus.  When we look at her now, Jesus is what we see.  He is her new identity.  The girl who had now name is named in the Book of Life.  Daughter of the King, Sister of the Saints, Child of God. Princess. Saved.

The Child of a Prostitute

* For her protection, the child in this story is not included in photo above

The child of a prostitute hasn’t many options.  What options there are, aren’t good.  Depending on the circumstances, the child either lives in that world or is given away.  Considering what that world looks like, giving the child away is the best option.  That’s how we received Angelica (name changed for privacy issues).

We are thankful that Angelica’s mother made the decision to give her away.  It sounds awful.  It sounds cold and heartless.  But it’s one of the most considerate, loving things she could have done.  Angelica may never be reunited with her mother.  We hope it never happens.  Angelica may grow up with the desire to find her mother.  We hope she doesn’t.  She may mourn and grieve for her mother some day.  And that’s ok.  She may even grow up hating her mother for the abandonment.  But we will always be thankful for it.

You see the life of a prostitute’s child can be not only dangerous, but sickening.  Whether the child is immediately put to work servicing the sick and twisted desires of men, or groomed for service later in life, the future is the same.  Male or female, the child will experience the darkest depths of humanity.  Whether born in a brothel, on the street, or part of an organized sex trade, the child has mortgage value. He or she may be bought, sold, and traded like a commodity.

When we are quick to judge Angelica’s mother for giving her away, we overlook the fact that perhaps her decision should be applauded.  Perhaps she should be thanked instead of ridiculed.  Perhaps her decision was selfless instead of selfish.  Either way, Angelica has been spared a life of abuse and exploitation.  She doesn’t have to sleep in the same bed where her mother works.  She doesn’t have to wait in another room or under the bed while mother does her job.  She doesn’t have to be put into a drug induced sleep so she doesn’t interrupt the pleasure of the clients.  Instead she just gets to be a kid.

Angelica gets to go to school, not work with her mother.  She gets to play with children, not with adults.  She laughs, not cries.  She has friends, not customers.  She has family, not strangers.  She has Jesus, not satan.  She has salvation, not service.  She has love, not lust.  Thanks to a loving God and a mother’s decision, Angelica has the life she deserves.  Not the life of a prostitute’s child.

Please pray for Angelica as we recently learned that her only named father is the pimp that owns her mother.  Please pray that the judge assigned to her case does not accept this man as a possible family member to live with.  Please pray that God will reveal true family members that will be willing to take Angelica in to a loving Christian home, or that she becomes available for adoption into a Christian home.  And of course we will keep her forever, if that is an option too.

The Slave Girl

Abandoned at age 7.  Left to fend for herself. Instead of finding herself in first-grade, she found work in a home.  Someone else’s home.  They provided food, shelter, and occasionally clothing.  All in exchange for work.  She cleaned, she helped cook, she washed clothes, she did what ever was asked.  Or she didn’t eat.  To the owners of the house she was the help.  But in reality she was a slave.

She wanted to escape.  She wanted to tell.  But who would believe her?  She had no witnesses, no friends, no family.  She was shy and quiet.  Soft-spoken and meek.  And scared.  Life on the streets was worse than this.  No place to sleep, no place to hide.  It was dangerous out there.  Especially for a child.  So she worked.  And she slaved.  She did what she was told and she did it without complaint.  That was her personality and that was her fate.  If her own parents would abandon her, then she must deserve this life.  She was unworthy of better.  Her owners told her frequently.

She was not allowed to play with the other children of the home.  They were better than her.  She was there to serve them, not enjoy them.  They bossed her, they beat her.  All while the mother watched.  Over time the abuse worsened.  The extent of it still unknown and untold.  But as things got worse, they got better.  Sometimes God gives us pain and infirmities to improve our situation.  And that’s exactly what He did in hers.

She started having leg pains.  Pains that rendered her bed-ridden.  The pain reached the point where the owners had to put her out.  They didn’t want to pay for a doctor or hospital, so they just put her out.  In the streets.  Again.  But this was a blessing in disguise. You see without the leg pains, she may still be working in that home.  Still a slave.  Only God knows.  But what we do know is that she is no longer a slave.  She is free.  Not from the leg pains, they still come and go.  And not from the blood clots that cause the pain.  But there is medicine for that.

We also know that nearly a year ago, she almost died.  Had she not been at Shadow, she probably would have.  Her blood type is rare and without the resources to find and buy the correct type, she would have bled to death.  Without the doctors that donate their time and talents to Shadow she wouldn’t even know her diagnosis.  God takes actions meant for evil to bring about good in the lives of those who love him.  Her story is a great example of this principle.

The best way to end this story is to read the words of the slave girl. “Now that I’m in the Project, I know God. I am taught about him, and I am now a person who can take care of myself. I have been shown love in my workplace and in my home. I am healthy and I am safe.  I am also grateful to the James Project because I now have a family. I love my house parents and the girls in my house.  I am especially grateful to God for giving me a wonderful family. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve all of this.”

The truth is, she doesn’t deserve it.  None of us do. It’s only through the blood of Christ and His love for us that we are cherished in his eyes.  This precious young lady is no longer a slave to a family and no longer a slave to sin.  She is a princess in the family of the King.  And will serve no one but Him.

The Grass is Always Greener

Sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone.  The grass is always greener.  Cliches? Yes.  But true all the same.  Sometimes it takes losing a great opportunity, to show us just how great it was.  Sometimes being around people that don’t care about our well-being makes us understand just how much the people that love us want the best for us. Just ask William.

William came to Shadow with a world of problems.  None his doing. He was raised with little to no supervision, structure, or responsibility.  He was allowed to run the streets, run his mouth, and run the home.  He had to.  Mom was rarely there.  When she was, she conceded to William.  At 10 years old he was in charge.  He called the shots.  He was boss.  Some might think he was spoiled.  Some might think he was strong-willed.  Some might think he was manipulative.  It’s possible he was all three.  But as for me, I just think he was scared.

He was scared of being alone, so he showed his independence.  He was scared of being unworthy, so he took authority.  He was scared of being forgotten, so he made sure you remembered.  He was scared of being loved, so he became unlovable.  If he was unlovable, then he couldn’t be hurt.  If he was tough, then life would be easier.  If he became the authority, then he could control his circumstances.  If he was independent, then others couldn’t let him down.  So instead of turning to God, he turned to the streets.

The streets provided an education that he couldn’t get in any school.  School didn’t teach him how to steal.  It didn’t teach him how to hustle, fight, or survive.  So he told his mother that he wasn’t going back to school – and he didn’t.  He didn’t need teachers telling him what to do and he didn’t need them nagging at him to do his work, pay attention, and be nice to others.  And he certainly didn’t need them caring.  Caring allowed feeling and feeling allowed vulnerability.  He could do without those things.  They were too complicated.

As he ran the streets he developed a reputation.  People noticed him.  They noticed that he wasn’t in school, they noticed that he wasn’t supervised, and they notice that he needed help.  The police were called and William was taken in.  His world of self-preservation and freedom were about to end.  But not without a fight.  He gave in to his new situation, not because he wanted to, but because he had no choice.  This did not stop him though.  He was still his own boss, and everyone at Shadow was about to find out.

His first day at Shadow was spent not adapting to a new life of love and care, but assessing how easily an escape was.  He measured how high the fence was, how sharp the razor.  He determined that he could outrun the gate guard, but was afraid of his machete.  He was determined that his stay would be short.  And it was.  After constant fighting and bullying his time wore thin.  Making shivs and trouble put the others in danger.  The judge gave him chances, as did his parents and administration.  But the boy who called his own shots would not change.

William was a dangerous boy.  And perhaps still is.  But recently a staff worker ran in to him at a government home, where he was transferred.  When he saw her, the unlovable little boy ran to her and nearly knocked her over with his hug.  He told her that he missed everyone at Shadow and that he appreciates all that was done for him.  He remembered what he was taught about Jesus. Instead of making trouble, he’s making changes. Instead of making weapons, he’s making amends.  He said that he’s accepted our Savior and is reading the Bible.  The boy from the streets, will someday walk streets made of gold.

Working at Age 3

The room was crowded, barely enough space to walk without stepping on a hand, a foot, a leg.  It was hot during the day, cold at night.  Sleeping was difficult.  And if not for the exhaustion, impossible.  A trickle was the only source of water, a hole the only bathroom.  It didn’t matter though.  The room was only for sleeping.  If you were lucky.

Every morning before daylight the men would come.  Sometimes they brought bread, sometimes coffee, but never enough.  As the 20 plus kids loaded into the truck, they were reminded of their duties for they day.  Juggle, perform, beg.  How much they collected determined how much they were fed.  And the level of punishment they received.  Some were given paint for their faces, others tools to perform their tricks.  Still others were given reminders that they didn’t collect enough the day before.  As if they needed reminders of the bruises and empty stomaches.

By the end of the day they were burned by the sun.  Their feet and legs ached from the 14 hour shift.  There heads hurt from the fumes and dehydration.  Their hearts fearful for the consequences of a slow day or relieved because of the generous giver.  Yet some were hopeful for a visit from mom, or dad.  Even though these visits were rare.  Most were hardened by this life, but many still cried when the men came.  Working the corner, the intersection, or the crowd was better than when the men came.  The drivers and the walkers gave out of the goodness in their hearts.  The men gave out of the darkness of theirs.

Age didn’t matter.  If you could walk, you could work.  If you could walk, you could perform.  If you could walk, you could beg.  In fact, 3 and 4 years were ideal ages to begin.  They are cute, they are small, they are pitiful, they are golden.  The older ones have to learn a trick.  People pay to watch a trick.  But they pay more for the heart-breakers.  The people were blind.  They didn’t know that the children were working for someone else.  They thought the children were working to survive.  And in reality they were. Just not as it appeared.

It is from this way of life that our two siblings came.  One girl, one boy.  She is 9, he is 4.  We don’t know how long they were exploited, nor the extent of their abuse.  But we do know this is all they remember.  We know they were visited at times by their mother, but we don’t know how they came to be in this situation.  We don’t know how deep the scars run.  But we know that she responded to the Holy Spirit in a recent church service here at Shadow.  Hers were the first tears to flow that service.  Her response to the Spirit was the first time in her life.

They still rise early in the morning.  Chores are to be done before school.  They still work all day.  In class instead of on the street.  They still work in the afternoons.  On homework and chores, instead of corners and intersections.  They are still delivered to, and picked up at their destination everyday. But by Mom and Dad, not strangers.  Yes, they still share space with many other kids.  But with brothers and sisters in a home, instead of some room with other child-workers.  Their bellies are full, their childhood restored.  But most importantly their hearts are filled with love.  For the very first time.

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.