It’s Tuesday night and we set out for the park around 5:00 pm; ready with ham and cheese sandwiches, soda and potato chips. Our plan was to do an art project with the kids and then eat together. We arrived at the park and went to the kid’s normal hang out spot….no one was there. Amelia and I (Melanie) headed for the dormitorio to see if some of the kids were there. We entered, sat down, and waited. Within a few minutes, Miguel came staggering through the door stone drunk (we had never seen him in this state before). Soon after came Jose, stone drunk as well. We went back to the park only to find Javier passed out on the ground, high from sniffing glue. It’s one thing to know that this is their reality, it’s another to actually see them in the midst of their addictions. We sat down and prayed for awhile, lifting the kids and our feelings and hopes for them to the Lord. This afternoon was hard to swallow…..but it got a bit brighter as we finished praying and saw Javier walking towards us. He sat down and we ate together…a ham and cheese sandwich never taste soo good.
on the outside:
- dirty clothes
- worn shoes
- stained hands from shoe polish
- high and withdrawn some days; other days ready to talk with a smile
on the inside:
- desire to be free of addictions and go to school
- rejected by father – told to never return home
- wounded, crying heart
- physical and spiritual hambre (hunger)
??Does he know that he is invited to the great banquet with his loving heavenly father??
I remind myself as I look at the outside….what is on the inside is more important….don’t be quick to judge – be quick to listen, love and learn.
One cannot help but notice the different doors in Xela. Some old with chipped paint; bright colors; natural colors, but each open up to a world of their own…a home, a store, an abandoned lot, a restaurant, a coffee shop. We’ve entered many doorways in the past 4 weeks; however, 2 in particular stay fresh in my mind.
1. El Dormitorio: an old, simple door; easy to miss…but if you venture inside, you will find a place of rest and acceptance for people from the street. Don Marco Antonio and Dona Maria have been opening their hearts and lives to each child that passes through their door for 30+ years. They provide a bed, food, prayer, and scripture for the night. More than 800 street kids have entered this door, unaware that inside they would encounter the refreshing and peaceful love of God and friends – a huge contrast to their harsh daily reality on the street. I too have felt this love and am grateful for this door, this place of agua fresca (fresh water) for my friends. We visit the dormitorio – offering a listening ear; help with schoolwork (currently only one of the kids is studying); a prayer; a scripture verse. This is a place rarely visited by outsiders. We feel honored each time we pass through this door and find the smiles of friends on the inside.
2. La Cafeteria: Food – a daily necessity. As we hang out on the streets, many of the kids have not eaten all day. There are tons of places to share a meal with them — as you enter into their world, you discover the cafeteria. The cafeteria is a simple, welcoming place where old ladies greet you with a smile and offer you a bowl of warm soup, rice and atol (a hot porridge made from corn and/or rice). Here you can buy a meal for $1 compared to the $2+ at other places. There are large, long tables with benches where everyone sits and in a sense shares a meal together.
The other day I ate at the cafeteria with my teammates Karla and Kelly as well as Edwin, my friend from the streets. As he drank his atol and ate his ham and cheese sandwich, we learned more about his life…..At the age of 6 (now age 13), Edwin began accompanying his blind grandfather, Don Pedro, to Xela. Edwin’s family lives in Toto, about an hour bus ride from Xela. Each day, they make the trip – Don Pedro spends the day kneeling on the sidewalk with his cane as a prop, relying on man’s goodwill to give him diezmos (offerings). As each coin drops, Don Pedro speaks God’s blessing over each person. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Meanwhile, Edwin shines shoes in the central park and keeps his eye on his grandfather. (I told Edwin that his grandfather is blessed to have him around to care for him. ) There is an older gentleman, Pedro, who has befriended Edwin and lets him use his chair and shoe shine box when he solicits customers (Edwin cannot afford his own supplies). At 4:00 pm, Don Pedro and Edwin catch the bus back home in time for Edwin to go to night school (he’s in 3rd grade, about 3 grades behind where he should be for his age). As we finish our atol, I sense that I have been filled by something much deeper than physical food. My soul has been touched and filled with humility, compassion and gratitude. Edwin’s smile, his story and the atmosphere of the cafeteria his impacted me in a profound way. I’m glad I walked through this doorway.
Some days the kids greet you with a smile and other days they hardly look you in the eye, full of shame. To my great surprise, as I saw Javier on Saturday, he came up to me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I was elated and will always cherish that kiss. Later, Javier came over to us with his backpack and pulled out two photo albums to show us pics of his friends and former teachers. This backpack is small and stuffed full of all Javier treasures in this life. He leaves it with a friend he trusts so it won’t get lost or stolen on the street. Javier was very excited to share this with us and made sure we all saw each and every picture. This time of sharing was precious, a rare peek into Javier’s life and what he holds close to his heart. Tonight I think about that kiss as I picture Javier sleeping on the street. If I could, I would go give him a kiss right now but rather say a prayer for Javier’s safety and ask the Lord to be close to him and shower him with his love. Definitely a kiss to remember for the rest of my life.
We hit the soccer field again last night. Seven of our new friends joined us — we took a 20 minute crowded bus ride to the field during which Samaya was sure to greet every person who was on the bus. As the game started, there was one player who stood above the rest — Samaya. She won the hearts of all the kids as they encouraged her to kick the ball and she responded with a big smile and heartfelt laugh. A good time was had by all and yes, we had pizza again (the kids favorite). As we got off the bus, we all gave each other handshakes and told the kids to take care of themselves…that is no small task for a kid who lives on the streets. We came home to a warm shower and bed, a huge luxury in comparison to the floor or park bench.
On Sunday we visited Emmanuel Presbyterian Church. We were overwhelmed by their hospitality as they welcomed us and invited us to come back every week while we are here. Towards the end of the service, Pastor Mosises Colop asked Julio to stand and tell a bit about us. After sharing about InnerCHANGE and the vision to reach out to the street kids in Xela, the pastor invited us to be a part of the service our last Sunday in Xela so that the church might join us in our passion for the marginalized. What a great opportunity! We are humbled by such an invitation and thank the Lord for opening doors to share his heart and mission.
Thursday night we went to the park and gathered some of the street kids to play soccer. There were enough people to form two teams — let the game begin!! The game went on and on; with a final score of 21-20. It was refreshing to see smiles and laughter on the kids faces as goals were scored. Javier did a champion run each time he scored — and Domingo at 8 years old can put any goalie to shame with his goal keeping talent.
But perhaps the most memorable and heartfelt moment came when it was time to pray for the pizza dinner. Each and every kid bowed their head as German led a prayer of thankgiving. And we joined in the prayer, grateful to no longer refer to these kids as “the shoe shine boys” but to be able to call each one by their name….Domingo, Javier, Jose, Rene (aka Bin Laden), Juan, Miguel. What a special group of boys!