Working with street kids for me is a lot like peeling an orange. It usually takes me forever and is such tedious work to dig your fingernail into the orange peel and pull it off piece by piece. When I finally get the orange peel off, I then find hundreds of white stringy pieces all over the fruit that I have to pull off as well. By the time I actually get to eat the fruit, my hands are sticky and I’m exhausted. But the instant that first bite of sweet refreshing juicy goodness makes its way into my mouth, I remember why I go through all the trouble again and again…
Most of my life here feels like I’m endlessly pulling the peel off of a gigantic orange. I spend most of my energy fighting the boys to take the earrings out of their ears before they can come inside the center, breaking up fights, reminding them of all the reasons why bathing in the river does not and will never count as a real bath here, trying to keep them from throwing gang signs in pictures, splashing them with water to keep them awake during school, and trying to calmly convince them that just because your friends pulled your pants down when I wasn’t looking doesn’t make it ok for you to throw a giant stone at his head.
And that’s just Monday through Friday regular life at the drop-in center. Sunday church is a battle all on its own. Getting them dressed into clean clothes that are semi appropriate for church is sometimes an all-out war zone. No, you can’t wear your extra large, all red, baggy gang clothes and chains to church. Keeping all of them standing up during worship feels like a game of bop-it- I get the one to my left standing back up and the kid on my right is sitting down again. And making sure they all stay awake for the sermon…well…good luck!
That has been church for us for over a year now. It’s the area that for so long I have felt the most defeated in, honestly. All that we do Monday through Friday is ultimately meaningless if they could care less about church…about the only One who can truly change their lives.
At the end of last year, we hired a male and female house parent who have completely flipped everything upside down in the best way possible. They are SO in love with the Lord, in a humble, real way I can only dream of resembling one day. And the best part is the kids love and respect them and secretly really look up to them. For months now, they have been talking to the kids about Jesus, making him relatable and cool and yet never watering down the truth of the Word. And most of the kids are soaking it up.
Lately, our house parents have taken over the sticky, tedious work of peeling these oranges. I have just been sitting back and watching every day as they get closer and closer to reaching fruit.
This past Sunday, we decided to take the kids to a different church. They have been begging to go to our house parents’ church for a while now so we finally gave in. Sunday morning, I wearily rolled out of bed mentally preparing myself for the battle that would no doubt ensue over the next few hours.
When I got to the center at 8:00, there were already 4 boys sitting on the sidewalk waiting outside the center. I remember thinking wow they’re ready early today. I asked them all to take out their earrings and hand them to me before we went inside. They did, with no arguing at all. Amazing. We went inside for them to shower and change and they were SO respectful the entire time. No one tried to sneak on gangster clothes or fought over who would shower next. They even helped me sweep the floor and clean up the center for the visitors that would arrive after church without me asking…
We piled into the car around 9:00 with all my patience still in tact. When we got to church, they all sat down and quietly waited for the service to start. What is going on?! I thought to myself…who took my crazies and traded them in for these angels?!
The worship team started to play and we all stood up. The first song I recognized so I was in my own little worship world for a few minutes. But the second song in Bisaya I had never heard before, so I opened my eyes and observed. What I saw in those moments had me weeping inside!
The crazies! They were worshipping. For the first time in a year and half, they were actually participating in the service. No one was sitting down or trying to sleep. They were all captivated by the words of the song. Some of them had their hands raised. One of the boys was dancing. And the others were joyfully singing along, so clearly captivated by the love of the Father in that moment. It was incredible and unlike anything I have yet to witness in their lives before.
It just got better from there. When the pastor prayed, they all respectfully closed their eyes. During the sermon I didn’t have to keep one boy awake. They kept each other awake! If the boy next to him was falling asleep they would tap each other, or hold up each other’s head. It was precious. You could tell they realized (I want to say for the first time ever) that they were in a Holy Place.
It’s really like that for us on this journey with street kids. We spend months or even years, taking turns pulling off the peels and scraping the white strings off, until eventually we reach the fruit.
God is so faithful. As a staff, we are constantly holding each other’s arms up in this battle. Same as the story in Exodus, when Moses’ hands grew tired Aaron and Hur brought him a stone to sit on and then came on either side of him and held up his arms until the battle was won. I’m SO thankful for our new house parents and the way they have taken over on the front lines of battle for a little while.
And I’m especially thankful for privilege to see fruit in the lives of the kids! What a refreshing and encouraging moment for all of us. God is moving. God is slowing but surely busting down walls and barriers in the hearts of our kids. HE alone can save them.
The work is tedious and messy, but the fruit is oh SO worth it. I cannot wait for the day of these kids’ salvation. I’m so thankful for last Sunday and the tiny glimpse of what that day will look like when these kids are forever praising Him…