Yesterday I received a Christmas update from our ministry partner Philip Smith, founder and CEO of Hope Unlimited for Children. Isn’t this a wonderful picture of his family?
Unfortunately, Christmas Day with the boys at Hope Mountain wasn’t all smiles. Hear the story—in Philip’s words…
A patrol car pulls up in the middle of our Christmas celebration with the Hope children. Out comes a shirtless, angry 15-year-old, with a yellow mohawk and a cantering swagger. Walking across our campus, he immediately picked quarrels with our boys, boasting about the people he has killed. He says within earshot of the house mothers that he plans to settle a score with (kill) one kid before he left.
The police say his name is Alexandre; he’s a runaway from the state of Bahia. He had showed up at a relative’s house in Vitoria, but while he was napping, the relatives called the police to take him away. The police woke him up and brought him to the place for unwanted kids – Hope Mountain.
The problem was, we didn’t want him either.
With no documents, for all we knew he was an escaped murderer who might try to kill one of our boys. It would not be the first time (think 3 weeks ago). At the very least, our peaceful weekend would be disrupted with fights, maybe bloodshed.
My heart was hard against this yellow-haired boy. I was resentful for the threat he posed and the intrusion on our peaceful celebration. We vehemently argued with the police for half an hour to take him elsewhere, but they refused, finally getting back in their squad car and driving away.
Meanwhile, Alexandre untied a kite from his backpack and went to the soccer field to fly his kite.
At dinner, he was nowhere to be seen.
Maybe he had already run away (thank goodness).
But over dinner, I started feeling guilty about Alexandre’s Christmas Day reception. Nobody wanted him. And even here, instead of embracing him, we stood there arguing with the police to take him back. But they didn’t want him either.
And our boys had not been welcoming. Not to be intimidated by threats, they responded with taunts. Despite being sweet boys now, survival on the streets before Hope Mountain had meant showing no fear
… and on this day, the streets had come to them.
After dinner I learned that Alex was still around, and in the boys’ cottage. If he was going to stay, I decided to try to make him feel welcome. I found him bundling up his kite strings preparing to leave. He said he had never submitted to rules, and he was not about to submit to our rules here. I told him kindly that we hoped he would stay, and that we could help him learn a trade, but he had to submit to our authority and rules.
He was determined to leave.
I suppose I may have been able to beg or bribe him to stay, but unless he humbled himself before our authority, I was not the one would have to deal with the consequences if and when he acted up; that burden would fall on the houseparents and other children. It was not fair to them.
This ministry involves making tough calls.
Just a few weeks ago, we had a bad experience with a new kid, Bruno, who—according to the police we called to take him away—had 4 homicides on his record. He had tried to attack one of our boys with a club, but the boy managed to hide out in a frightened houseparent’s home as Bruno beat on the door. Even the police were unable to contain Bruno without a physical scuffle.
I asked Alexandre if he wanted a ride to the main road. He looked suspicious, then surprised, and said “yes.” He got in the front seat, with (my wife and children) Corenne, Marc, and Bella in the back. Some of our boys came by to give him a high five and bid him goodbye.
On the way out, I’d stopped to grab a full Christmas stocking reserved for a boy who was absent on home leave. (I’ll replace it!) Alex dug through the bag, ravenously consuming the chips and soda. As we chatted—and Marc peppered him with questions—the toughness disappeared.
There behind the bravado was a vulnerable kid—unwanted by anybody—who loved to fly kites.
At the top of the road, we prayed for him and wished him the best. I told him he was welcome to return whenever he needed our help, but he had to follow some basic rules. If he came back, I would commit to standing by him.
He got out of the car. It was about 10 PM.
I cannot shake the image of Alexandre, no longer looking tough and scary, standing alone watching us drive away… clutching his red Christmas stocking and 3 kites.
It was Christmas, and he had no place to lay his head.
I was awake much of the night. How I wish we could have done things differently. I console myself thinking at least he left with dignity, and feeling wanted.
In 2015, I pledge to seek new ways to embrace the Alexandres and Brunos of the world.
We can’t simply admit them if they refuse to submit to any authority. But although it is sometimes easy (too easy) to forget, we know that beneath those scary surfaces, they are promising young men with potential, dealing with life the only way they know; following the street’s rules, having themselves been abused, abandoned, or negligently forgotten by the very family members who should be caring for them—especially on Christmas.
We will figure it out. In the meantime, please pray for Alexandre—wherever he is.
I know I’m just asking for trouble, but please pray that God will change his heart—and bring him back to us . . .
Sorry I forgot to warn you to grab a tissue—or a vintage hankie.
This is the real world, my friends.
I had tears in my eyes as I read, “In 2015, I pledge to seek new ways to embrace the Alexandres and Brunos of the world.” Seriously? These words—and commitment—from a man who has already done more for our world’s Alexandres and Brunos than 99.9% of us ever will. A man (and his family) who challenge me by example to live a dirtier faith. To look further beyond myself. To keep stepping—sometimes merely inching—out of my comfort zone.
And as I keep stepping, I’m going to keep encouraging you to step with me. To remember (however unpleasant it may be) that many people who share our world need what we have to offer. They need our attention, our time, our side-by-side compassion, and yes… our money—because no matter how little we may have, we have A LOT more than they do… and we have the ability—and responsibility—to share.
If anything in Philip’s letter brought a tear to your eye … if the thought of a young man being “unwanted” breaks your heart … if a red Christmas stocking, three kites, and a boy’s broken bravado leave you feeling helpless …
Don’t be! DO something.
In these final hours of 2014, I’m asking you to search your heart. Ask yourself: Do I truly care about the peripheral people who share my world? If so, what am I doing to show it?
If you come here often, you know I encourage you to give to “the least of these”—and I sometimes share opportunities—but I don’t think I’ve ever asked you specifically to give money to support the ministry of Hope Unlimited for Children.
Today I am.
Today I’m asking you to invest in the lives of the Alexandres and Brunos (and Patricias and Beatrices) of our world. I’m asking you to cast a monetary “vote of confidence and support” for Philip and Corenne Smith and every member of Hope’s staff.
I’m asking you to click here and GIVE — as generously as you can.
From the bottom of my heart… THANK YOU. Thank you for stopping by here, for joining me on this journey called Life. Thank you for encouraging me to strive harder, share honestly, and focus on what truly matters. Thank you for coming back when you never know if I’ll be playing in the dishes (or vintage linens … or ornaments!) or talking about orphans and trafficked children and child prisoners. Thank you for letting me be Me—and for being you. I look forward to spending another year together!
Safe celebrating, my friends, and Happy New Year!
I’ll see you soon.