The Dark Side of Hope: Failure to Forgive

If you’ve visited here a few times – or simply read my About page – you know that I sometimes share stories of the kids served by Hope Unlimited for Children. Often, as with Patricia, they’re stories of success. Stories of broken cycles of poverty and abuse. We’ve been blessed to see a lot of those. Occasionally they’re peeks into some of the demons our children face.

I’ve never shared a story like this one.

Until now I’ve spared you from this darker side of our kids. I think I’ve done you a disservice; protecting you from the real world.


But today I need you to hear the story of Luis, one of our boys at Hope Mountain in Vitoria, Brazil. It’s told by Corenne Smith, an American missionary and wife of Hope Unlimited‘s founder, Philip Smith. She’s the mother the boys at Hope Mountain had never known…


It is rare that I suddenly drop whatever I am doing to write, but feel compelled to do so today. Luis Roberto, 13, is dead. Shot by, well, who really knows. He was a bright, sweet kid, who saw his father shot down by drug traffickers. Worried for his safety, his mother convinced the authorities to send him to Hope Mountain.


But even at Hope Mountain, Luis often expressed the heaviness of filling his father’s shoes, and providing for his family. Unfortunately, filling his father’s shoes meant becoming the neighborhood’s most intimidating drug trafficker.


My heart breaks as I remember the last time I saw Luis. I was leaving Hope Mountain one afternoon and saw Luis walking down the mountain, evidently “running away.” As usual, I was in a big hurry, but asked him to get in the car and pulled over to talk.


He said he was sad and he wanted to go see his mother. But Luis had run away once before, and we had learned that he was hanging out with kids causing trouble at the local malls, and enjoying the notoriety that comes with being the son of a legendary drug trafficker. We had also learned that he had stated a desire to get revenge on the drug runners who killed his father.


I said, “Luis, look at me. If you go back to your neighborhood, you are going to be killed. You are going to die just like your father did, and that is not what he wanted for you. I want to see you graduate from school. I want to dance at your wedding. But if you leave here, the next time I see you will be at your funeral, and you won’t be able to see me.”


Luis got tears in his eyes, and agreed to go back. I drove him back up the mountain and he said he would stay at least through the weekend. But he didn’t. And now he is dead. He was barely 13 years old.


Today Phil and I tried to find something in the paper about what happened. In that same neighborhood, two girls, 13, and 16, both drug traffickers, shot by neighborhood vigilantes. A 4 year-old-boy shot by a stray bullet in front of a church. Lots of kids shot dead in other neighborhoods too, but Luis didn’t even make the paper. By law, he has to be buried within 24 hours. It will be in a pine box, with a number, no name on top.


I needed to write today, because I needed to grieve. I want someone to be sad with me that Luis is gone. I have been at this long enough to know that we see about three kids a year buried. But hopefully, it will never get any easier. Hopefully, life will not just go on.


When we told the other boys, they were sad, but not like you would expect. But what should we expect? The other morning, our CFO overheard one of our boys telling the other about seeing his mother killed and dismembered by traffickers because of a drug debt. The other boy said, “Yeah, I know how you feel. I saw my mother chopped up too.” Unfortunately, we know it to be true from the official reports. And we have yet another boy with us with the same story. Grief and loss have to be dealt with differently here. There has to be a way to cope and go on.


How can we go on? What is the point? For it to make sense, I have to think about Weverton, who had killed, and almost been killed himself. But now, a year after graduating, he is a soloist at his church, and providing for his family through his job at a bakery. And, I have to think about the surprise visit on my birthday last night from Golbery and his family. Golbery came to us at age 12 after being involved in the shooting of a bus driver during an assault, and seeing his brother killed. Now, at 33, he drove an hour in the rain with his wife and daughter (yes, he owns a car) to bring me flowers, cake, balloons, and presents on my birthday. The chain of vengeance and violence has been broken for Weverton and Golbery. And so, encouraged by these blessings, we do go on.


If you can, please take a moment to remember Luis and to grieve for him. Please take the moment to pray for our other boys and their wounds. Luis couldn’t let go of the anger. He wanted revenge on his father’s death. He told one of our social workers he could taste the blood of his father’s killers. Only Christ can heal those kinds of wounds. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. The old has passed away and all things become new.” Easter is past, but I guess that is our message. A resurrection message that all people can begin anew.


Luis’s story is one of unforgiveness at its most tragic, but the truth is:

Failure to forgive is always tragic.


Here at My Place to Yours™ my overall desire is to inspire, encourage, and challenge you. Today I’m here to encourage; perhaps even to challenge. Only you and God know… but you may need to do a little interior re-design of your soul.


Is there someone you need to forgive? Someone in your life who hurt you so badly that it affects every fiber of your being? Oh, you might look “normal” on the outside, but you know… Things aren’t healthy on the inside. You may even need to forgive yourself.


Forgiveness may seem impossible – and certainly unfair for the one hurt to have to also be the one to extend the olive branch – but it’s necessary.

Necessary if you ever want to be set free from the stranglehold you’re in.


If you don’t know where to start, let me suggest you get a copy of Set Free By Forgiveness written by our dear friend Randall O’Brien. The book’s been out a few years, but its message is timeless… and if you’re struggling with unforgiveness, you need to hear the message.


I’m praying for you today. I’m praying for the boys at Hope Mountain – and for the boys and girls at the City of Youth in Campinas, Brazil. I’m praying for every person who’s carrying the burden of unforgiveness, and for their friends and family who suffer its effects.


The consequences of unforgiveness are lifelong… unless the cycle is broken. Don’t you think it’s time to break the cycle?


I’ll be linking to #TellHisStory.


  1. Heartbreaking and so very, very, convicting. I know first hand how the peace fills you when you are able to just forgive. I once had to pray to forget as well. I asked God to remove the details from my memory of something that had happened. I knew that I couldn’t (and didn’t) expect Him to remove the memory, but I just wanted to be able to stop rerunning the details at the slightest nudging. He was faithful to do that.

    Right now, I am dealing with something akin to unforgiveness, though not exactly the same (because I know the difference) Someone has been really hurtful to me. Regardless, I’m trying my best to make God proud of me in my response.. I have tried repeatedly to come to a peace with her, and she bites back every time. It is nearly driving me crazy to be honest. I do need prayer.

  2. Oh, Susan….truly heartbreaking…praying today for Corenne and the boys and girls affected by the violence…praying they can experience God’s love so powerfully that they can grieve their losses and eventually forgive so they can be set free…so sad.

  3. Susan,
    I linked up behind you at #TellHisStory back in May and I linked up behind you again and it is September….God has been calling me to a deeper work of forgiveness…incident by incident …and with His help and grace, I am grieving, forgiving and healing….and I do grieve with you …again…prayed for the children…it is so hard to imagine how traumatized they are….and like you said, at the same time, to remember the ones who did make it like Weverton.

    • Dolly, thank you for your prayers for the children tonight. I am praying for you, too, as you continue on the path to a deeper work of forgiveness. May God heal your pain, strengthen your resolve, and enable you to forgive the wrongs you have experienced. Only He is able to work such a miracle in our hearts when we choose to forgive.