Happy Easter! If, like me, you’ve been celebrating Jesus’ victory over death, then resurrection power has been on your mind. Last week, while in Brazil, I got to experience resurrection power firsthand. No, I didn’t see a person raised from the dead, but I witnessed the hand of God as something virtually dead was given new life. I want to tell you about it.
Some of you may think that’s a really strange thing to say, but … if I’m going to be authentic and have integrity with you, I have to be who I am — viewing things through the lens of my own life experience. The reality is that one of the “puzzle pieces” of yours truly is shaped like Brazil. If you’re new to my blog and are wondering What’s up with Brazil?, then I encourage you to stop right now and read THIS post before coming back here. It will explain why I blog in the first place …
Let’s roll the calendar back 11 years to when Hope Unlimited for Children first began its work in Vitoria, Brazil. Because Hope was already running successful transformational care programs for street children in the million-plus inhabitants city of Campinas, Brazil, Vitoria’s state government authorities provided property to Hope Unlimited for our use. (To be clear: I’ll use the terms “our,” “us,” and “we” in this story, but understand that I’m speaking of the organization; Renaissance Man and I only came into the story 3 1/2 years ago.)
There were about 80 acres of land … and several jungle-hidden buildings.
Derelict, dirty, snake-infested … and full of potential!
Notice this dirt path. It will become important in a minute.
After much hard work, the jungle was cleared, and the buildings at the base of Hope Mountain came into view.
The wonderful covered atrium was added between buildings — and a fantastic paver-covered driveway was discovered beneath several inches of dirt — the dirt path I pointed out in the earlier picture.
For the past decade, Hope Mountain has provided residential care for hundreds of boys with nowhere else to go — and award-winning educational and vocational programs for thousands of day students.
Hope Mountain stands proud as Light in a very dark world …
Only a mile across the valley from our property stands the current children’s prison. While it may look like a nice facility, the reality is that within its walls occur some of the greatest atrocities to children you can imagine. No, quite honestly, some are so horrific you wouldn’t even be able to imagine them … Last month, the Organization of American States (OAS) issued a condemnation against Brazil’s prisons — and called out this children’s prison by name. In short, the State must clean up its act or face international sanctions. Not a good position to be in!
Last month, something else happened. Something we never wanted to see. Something heart-wrenching
Hope Unlimited for Children announced that we were no longer able to fund our programs in Vitoria and that effective April 15 we would have to terminate our staff unless we could obtain funding from the State or Brazilian business leaders. Fifty-three residential boys and 350 co-ed day students would be displaced. Unknown to us at the time, our announcement came on the exact same day that the OAS issued its report. You’ll see in a minute why that’s important.
Everyone involved with Hope (including the children in both cities where we minister) spent the next several weeks praying … and pleading … and struggling to trust.
Board members, staff, and friends in the U.S.
Board members, staff and friends in Brazil.
Board members and friends living in other countries around the world. All looking for that glimpse of Hope that sometimes through the years has been all we had to cling to on behalf of the children…
Last Wednesday morning when Renaissance Man and I stepped off of the plane in Brazil, we knew that unless God intervened by 5:00 on Friday, we would be making our last trip to the Vitoria campus. Our hearts ached for the children. Our hearts ached for the Board and staff who had searched unsuccessfully for another answer.
Upon our arrival, we learned that a meeting was scheduled with the Vice Governor on Friday at 4:00. Can you say 11th hour?!!!
On Thursday evening while experiencing another BEST tablescape ever at the Girls’ Ranch in Campinas, (check out the link if you haven’t seen the BEST tablescape!), we received a call that our meeting was canceled. Our hearts cried. Our faces remained neutral. Eventually our group of six said our goodbyes to the girls — and found refuge in the van. Driving back to the hotel, we prayed. We pleaded. We struggled to trust. Literally as the final Amen was said, the phone rang. The meeting was back on!
At 4:30 the next morning, we left for the airport and boarded our flight to Vitoria. We wondered what the day had in store for us … and for the children.
By 8:30 we were meeting with two Brazilian friends: the former Secretary of State who had provided the property to Hope and a high-powered businessman. Both are great advocates for the children and well-connected in State government. Unfortunately, their connections said we had little, if any, hope.
At 2:30 we were in meetings with local business men … asking them to partner with us on behalf of their children. We received the usual “let’s take a few months to investigate some possibilities…” routine — and our well-communicated deadline of 5:00 kept quickly approaching.
What would happen? Would the children, in fact the entire community, no longer benefit from our educational and vocational programs? Would we really be closing our Hope Mountain campus?
4:00 found us sitting in a large waiting room. There were nine of us: six Americans and three Brazilians … the uncertainty of the children’s futures weighing heavy on our hearts. I saw it in each friend’s eyes. The prayer … the pleading … the struggle to trust.
This was not a game. This was real.
This was God’s battle to fight …
At ten minutes until our 5:00 deadline, we were finally ushered into the conference room for our 4:00 meeting. The American missionary/CEO of the organization made an impassioned plea on behalf of the children — not asking to save our organization’s presence in Vitoria, but asking the State to provide security for the children. For what seemed like an eternity, I sat listening to Portuguese and English, picking up bits and pieces of both as people all up and down the table conversed with each other. I remembered the time three years ago when I first met the now-Vice Governor — still believing him to be an honorable man … but wondering what he would do in this situation. I listened to his questions … and watched his face, his body language … and we all waited. What would happen to our children?
In the end, I was reminded that God is NEVER late … but sometimes He gives us a chance to
sweat trust. After 20 minutes of dialogue and the Vice Governor’s 3-part decision, he announced, “It is concluded.”
Part 1 – The government will fully fund Hope Mountain for the next 4 months during which time…
Part 2 – … the State will seek to make arrangements to indefinitely fund 2/3 of our operating expenses — and we will do the same for the remaining 1/3. The State wants us to EXPAND our programs, so our 1/3 can even be spent to reach new children!
Part 3 – The Vice Governor has requested a proposal for developing a fully state-funded correctional facility for children based on the transformational model already in place at Hope Mountain. In his words, to develop something that would be a model for all of Brazil and South America.
Remember I told you that the OAS condemnation of Brazil’s prisons would come into play in this story? The State needs Hope. (Actually, in more ways than one; they just don’t realize that!) They now want to work WITH us … finally. After all, the world is watching — and coming to Brazil! The World Cup in 2014 and The Olympics in 2016 …
The Vice Governor’s request did not come as a complete surprise to us because God had already been paving the way for such a possibility through recent conversations with leadership of Prison Fellowship International. We aren’t committed at this point to running a children’s correctional facility, but rather we’ve agreed to explore with the State how our model can be used to transform the lives of children who come into the State’s penal system. Children who would be otherwise lost and forgotten … in one of our world’s wealthiest countries.
The State may see their partnership with Hope as the way to save face — and avoid sanctions … but we see it as God’s provision for the children He loves.
So, feeling a bit like Esther, Hope Unlimited for Children seems to be positioned in Brazil for such a time as this.
Americans and Brazilian friends alike now look out at the children’s prison across the valley and wonder what God has planned.
How many children are in that prison simply because there was nowhere else to put them?
Yes, that truly happens … often.
How many children aren’t yet “hardened” and can be rewarded with eventual transfer to our current facility to receive education and vocational training and the Hope of a future?
How many children … ?
So far, you have asked nothing in my name: ask, and you shall receive, so your joy may be full. (John 16:24)
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