A couple days ago it was early afternoon and I had just finished teaching homeschool to the group of local youth who come to our home each day plus four of our own kids who are in the program. I had shooed everyone outside and shut the door, wanting to sweep, mop and disinfect every corner of the school building to leave it squeaky clean for the next day. The kids have a knack for scuffing up the walls, leaving papers and tidbits of trash thrown about, and, living in the countryside, everything gets dusty and insect-y and muddy in general quite quickly.
Armed with Raid, I was spraying for cockroaches beneath the piano where Darwin gives lessons, lost in a blissful moment of ‘alone time’ in the midst of our life here in which it seems like everyone needs me all the time. The youth played outside or swung on swings right outside the schoolroom window on the building’s front porch. It had been a wonderful morning, but at the same time I was emotionally exhausted after managing four distinct groups of students all in the same small room: three teenagers in fifth grade, two teenagers who just learned how to read sound-it-out style within the last few weeks, and a new batch of three students ages 7-12 who don’t even know the letters of the alphabet. Not to mention our six-year-old, Josue, who is his own group due to his special needs.
I then began pouring Clorox bleach and disinfectant everywhere, ready to cleanse the building entirely, when Dayana, our eldest daughter, called for me from the other side of the locked front door.
I hollered over my shoulder, “Nope. Sorry – I told everyone to take everything they needed for the schoolroom because I am cleaning. You’re going to have to wait!”
She persisted. “No, Ma. We need to talk to you.”
Oh. “Can it wait?” I silently scold myself for asking that. Obviously it’s something urgent or she wouldn’t have interrupted me. “No, it’s fine. Just a sec. Come on in.”
I slid across the slippery, soapy floor and opened the front door to see three young women looking a bit like sad puppies or lost sheep: Dayana, our 14-year-old daughter, Jackeline, our 11-year-old, and their new 12-year-old friend whom I wrote about previously who now comes to our home five days a week for homeschool, agriculture, music, love and Truth.
In these types of moments you just have to breathe deeply, re-adjust your inner gaze so that it is firmly fixed on your Father, and basically brace yourself for anything.
I ushered the three of them across the half-clean floor to sit on the couch in the building’s small living room. I sat on the floor in front of them, soaping up my buns a bit, but it didn’t matter. I looked at them expectantly and, as if knowing her role as leader among the young women who live in or pass through our home, Dayana began to talk.
“[Our new friend’s] dad tried to rape her a couple nights ago, and the next day when she told her mom, she confronted him and he left in a rage, saying he doesn’t care if she and the four kids starve to death. Now the mom is all alone with the four kids, and they don’t have anything to eat.”
The three girls looked at me with open, innocent faces, all three having known this type of suffering too well in their short years. They were waiting for me to say something.
My mind raced but at the same time it was brought to a dull, peaceful crawl. This young teen’s dad, whom I have met on several occasions and who I detected as a good man and loving, albeit very poor and uneducated, father, tried to rape her and now is gone from the picture… Now the mom, who only last week broke a glass bottle over the father’s head and who has previously left her children for long periods of time to be involved in romantic affairs with different men, is the one left with the kids as the sole provider and care-taker… Mom is illiterate, plus she has a two-year-old, so she can’t work… No welfare program for down-and-out single mothers in Honduras… Will the mom try to give us the four kids so she, too, can be free of them? That would make ten –
Dayana interrupted my mental processing with a sincerity that warmed my heart, “Can we help? Can we send food home with them?”
If only it were that simple.
Everything slowed down as I reached out to touch the young woman’s knee and ask many specific, careful clarifying questions.
I then studied each one’s face, looking into their eyes, not sure what words to choose. I must have stayed in silence for several minutes, ravaging through available vocabulary to find the words that the Lord would have me use. The whole conversation had the strange lightness of a dream, as if at any moment we would wake up and our dear friend would skip off towards her home where her mom waited eagerly for her with freshly baked cookies, her dad playing catch with his two sons in their small, rocky front yard.
Many times in our life here I feel as though I am placed in situations in which I am called upon to put in 1,000 words what the Lord has been teaching me for years. Where to start? How to communicate eternal hope to this young woman in front of me? How can I accurately convey the transformative work the Lord has been doing in my own life over the last decade in an unexpected conversation with a young person who has no concept of a loving, just God?
Oh, I did say so much to my young friend that day as I sat before her on the sudsy tile floor, my hand on her knee, coaxing her time and again to look me in the eyes.
“I cannot tell you that everything will be okay. We can pray for you and support you and help as we are able – and we will – but I cannot tell you that everything will be okay with your family. Maybe it won’t be, and that’s why our hope is not in this world. I don’t even know what will happen in my own life tomorrow. We can send food home with you – and we will – but that won’t solve the immense struggles you and your family are experiencing. Our hope is in Christ alone, in a just, compassionate God who in the end will right all wrongs, will erase death and suffering. That’s our hope. Our hope is not in the here and now, because as all three of you know, this world is unstable, people abuse, people lie, suffering is rampant. I cannot tell you that everything will be okay, but I can tell you that God is faithful, and that in the midst of our suffering we can find Him, or He finds us. He can be followed and loved and glorified here and now, even in the midst of suffering and injustice, and His provision, joy and presence can be experienced. Do not blame God for your suffering. God never intentionally designed a place like our neighborhood, clasping his hands together giddily, content with the hungry children and abusive mothers and absentee fathers, trash on the streets and rampant confusion and sadness, declaring, “Perfect! This is where my image-bearers will live and thrive.” No. He created the perfect environment for us, a wonderful garden with more than enough to eat, everything clean and beautiful, His own presence there richly among us, and presented us with a choice. So what you three have suffered is not God’s fault, but rather it’s the product of your parent’s sin, great-grandparents’, maybe neighbors’, and our own, yours and mine.”
Oh, there is so much more to say, to understand, to experience of God’s perfect love. On conversation did not end there, but rather it continues onward, day after day, as we carefully search out God’s will for us in the life of this young woman. A few weeks ago she arrived at our home for the first time dressed like a prostitute, high heels and a skin-tight, way-too-short, way-too-low-cut black dress. She wobbled about awkwardly, unable to even bend over or sit down properly, much less chase a ball or participate in a rowdy jumprope competition. We’ve talked with her lovingly about her body, the need to cover it and honor it because it belongs to God, and now she wears tennis shoes and feminine but loose-fitting t-shirts with not-skin-tight capris and pants. She has accepted Christ as her Savior and now runs and plays. Smiles.
We don’t know what will happen tomorrow or this afternoon, if in a few days or months her mom will appear at our gate with all or some of her four kids, wanting to leave them permanently with us. Please pray with us for her and her parents and siblings, that He may be glorified even in the midst of intense suffering, and that Darwin, Jenae, our kids and I may serve effectively as lights of Truth in the lives of the people the Lord brings to us.