It was a birthday I will always remember. We spent most of it visiting: Saturday, the slums. Sunday, the children's home.
I don't like birthday parties. I just don't. Don't ask me why, I still haven't figured that out. I don't like going to them, I don't like throwing them, and I don't want one on my birthday. I prefer the quiet life, I guess - or to do something that is actually fun, instead of standing around small talking over cake. I'm not anti-social, just selectively social. B-day parties are not my gig... although I always get sucked into about a dozen a year or so.
So I managed to keep my birthday fairly secret, and off we went. I am often amazed how open people are to the gospel here. This weekend was no exception. When we arrived up in the slums, I sat in the car waiting for the okay to get out. We have a little thing we do: Tony pulls up, looks around, gets out, and says hi. He goes in, chats, and gets a feel for whether it is safe and whether we are welcome. As we pulled up Saturday, Cefe and his brother-in-law were just walking back to their shack. They were returning from buying beer. Tony talked with them for a bit, saw that they weren't drunk or on drugs at the moment, and then waved that it was okay to come in. We spilled out of the van, locked it, and went it.
It really is depressing how they live. It was chilly outside when we walked into their one room shack. The heat and claustrophobia hit me as I ducked in the place where the door should have been. It was so crowded with people and kids and animals that I couldn't even fully come inside. Tony said good thing I had a cold because it smelled like rotten food and animals. Little Sophia was sitting on the dirt floor in her filthy bare feet, her older brother Mishel was only in his underwear at the little table, Marcela and Cefe were there with her niece, her brother, and three or four of her kids, plus one nephew, several cats, and a dog. In a one-room shack. The wood stove was inches from the kids, blasting heat. Marcela says it get very cold at night when the stove burns out. I'm sure - it's getting down into the 30s right now at night. Brrrr...
Since I could barely stand in there, I went outside to watch the kids. Marcela's kids' bare feet are calloused over and they miraculously don't get cut up, but my kids, even with shoes, always seem to get hurt somehow. Marcela followed me out and we stood in her small, dirt front yard, just a patch of desert sand littered with trash and fruit peels and scrap metal and wood with nails sticking out of it. We talked. I really like Marcela, she is very friendly, warm, and open with me. She began telling me how she can no longer take her brother and niece living with them, her husband's drug addiction, the kids home all day with her, or this emptiness in her heart. I told her it was normal to want to have some privacy, all families should have their own space. I shared how Tony and I used to have problems, big problems, in our marriage. She looked at me in disbelief with that, "Oh, not you" look. Oh, yes, me. I have a quite colorful past. There's a lot I don't tell people. Been there, done that. When she talks to Tony she thinks, "How does he do it? How is he okay all the time? Where does this peace come from that he seems to have?".
It's only God. That's all. That's the only difference.
I was able to share with her that that peace we have comes only from Jesus. We have just as many problems as they do, just different ones perhaps. I told her my story, I told her Tony's story. It was a blessed moment. A holy moment. God was there with us in the slums. Right there with us. She just looked at me. Like she understood. Like she wants that, too.
We talked for a while. She said she doesn't find purpose in life, no reason to get out of bed in the morning, she thinks of suicide often. No, don't do it, I said. Think of your kids. If Cefe has a drug problem, who would take care of them if she killed herself? I reminded her that Tony is more than willing to come up and help them finish raising the walls of their new house. Winter is coming. It's already very cold at night. Once the house is up, she could move into it with her own family, leaving the shack to her relatives. Think of how nice that would be! She's too depressed though it seems to find the motivation to raise the walls herself. I understand that. I probably would be too if I were her, living in that place, with no Hope. We left, telling her we are praying for her and will see her soon.
The next day, my birthday, we headed down to the children's home.
We met some of the youth at church (they brought more cake), all piled into our van, and headed downtown. Played soccer, ate cake, talked to and hugged the kids. The kids all sang happy birthday to me. To me? I brought my cake for them, not for me. It was the sweetest. What a birthday present, these kids singing to me... it's so sad to think that their parents don't want them, or can't take care of them, or abused them. One of the girls ended up crying in a corner by herself. When we asked her what was wrong, she said she feels invisible. No one comes to visit her, no one loves her, she's so sad. It made me cry, too. My daughter came over and asked what was wrong. They know each other outside of the home - they both go to the same gym class (sports are free here in the city - one of God's many blessings). I explained to my daughter why her friend was crying, that she doesn't have a mom or dad that love her or take care of her. She looked at me like she didn't even understand that concept - no mom or dad, no love?? So, honey, Why don't you hug her and tell her you love her and you are her friend?
So she did. And we all cried some more.
Even though our time was up and we were supposed to leave, we continued talking to her, reminding her of God's promise, "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up." Psalm 27:10.
We shared the good news of God's love for her, and explained that although He does love her, God is gentleman. He wants to make her happy and to give her everything, but He will wait until she is ready, until she accepts what He wants to give her. We talked some more, and then she said she was ready. Keren prayed, she repeated. It was hard for her to get the words out, but she did it.
"...we are not to save souls, but to disciple them. Salvation and sanctification are the work of God’s sovereign grace" ~ Oswald Chambers
|sunset on the way home from the children's home|
Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. -1 John 2:6 NIV
A blessed birthday weekend. In more ways than one.