March 19th: When I turned around and saw Marvincito sitting at the picnic table right behind me at Friday evening’s “Nightstrike” event for street youth, it shouldn’t have been a shock. After a two and a half year journey, he’d walked away from Micah a month earlier, had been living in a dangerous neighborhood with friends, and we’d been worrying about him and praying for him on a daily basis. It shouldn’t have been a shock… but it was. Because in all those weeks, Marvin hadn’t gone back to inhaling glue and sleeping on the streets, and he had been persistently pursuing another opportunity at Micah. We’d had a series of meetings with him, but were still unsure as to his level of desire and what would truly be the best option for his future. It shouldn’t have been a shock to see him there, glue bottle up to his nose, glassy eyes staring at me… but it was.
And then Marvin began to cry. As I sat down and asked him what had happened, he looked at me, said simply “I relapsed”… and tears began to roll unchecked down his cheeks. And he continued to stare at me. He spoke again of his overwhelming desire to get back into Micah. Brian Wiggs and I told him how much we loved him, and we held his hand. And he continued to quietly cry. I explained to him that we had been thinking as a staff that his best option was going to be living with a Honduran family out in the country for a while, possibly for years… away from the city and its pressure and temptations and tensions. He continued to look at me, nodding and saying, “okay, that’s okay.” Then he asked, “When do I go? Today? Will you come visit me there?” As I tried to explain to this crying boy, high on glue, that this family was still just in our imagination, I realized that we were seeing a desperation and vulnerability that was new for Marvin. And in the midst of a heart-breaking situation, that filled me with hope for him.
At the end of Nightstrike I told him that through the weekend we would continue discussing and praying about the best way to help him, and talk to people we know about a family he could live with. I told him I’d look for him on Monday morning, under the bridge where he said he’d be.
All that night and the next day, his glazed-over crying eyes burned into my heart. I couldn’t shake his face from my mind, couldn’t stop trying to figure out how we could best facilitate Christ’s redemption in this precious life. Sometimes I worry that after six years working at Micah, and all the highs and lows, I’m growing less sensitive to those we serve, and to the harsh realities that they face, but my own tears reassured me that my heart isn’t as tough as I fear.
March 20th: The next evening we were at a Micah dinner with a freshly-arrived youth group from Central Presbyterian Church in St Louis, Missouri. Twenty-two teenagers and their leaders heard about Marvin’s situation, and prayed for him and for wisdom for us. I was nearly in tears again, as I heard their heartfelt prayers for a boy whom most had never even met.
Following dinner, Brian and Natasha Wiggs, Micah staff members since November 2009, pulled John and me into the downstairs Micah bedroom (the only meeting place we could find that wasn’t already full of people). They said that they had both been unable to shake the image of Marvin from their minds all day as well. Natasha felt very strongly that he needed to leave the streets NOW, or death was imminent for him, and Brian felt the same sense of urgency. They avoided discussing it between the two of them for hours, but then finally talked, and were relieved (and scared) to discover that they were thinking the same thing – “we need to be willing to consider being that home for him.” They knew that if they took him in to temporarily live with them and their two pre-teen sons, then we would have the freedom to continue looking for “step #2” without having him spend another night on the streets. (below: John, Mocha, and I with Brian Wiggs)
To make a long story short, we and the Wiggs sat and discussed the risks and the benefits, the pros and the cons, and their concerns about taking a troubled 15-yr-old Spanish-speaker into their English-speaking home… and at 7:30 pm Brian, John, and I set out in the pickup truck to look for Marvin.
So, there we were, looking for one boy in a dark city of over a million people. We started under the bridge, but none of the street youth we know had seen him since the afternoon. Next, we parked by Central Park, and walked through the plaza to the fast food restaurants where the street kids beg… There we ran into Kevin, another teenager we know, barefoot and sniffing glue, hoping for a McDonalds handout. He greeted us warmly, and said he’d seen Marvin a few hours earlier on another main city street, near an Esso gas station. We thanked him, and headed that way in the truck.
As we drove those blocks, I sat in the back of the truck, praying for Marvin. I’ve often told him that the love I have for him is so strong (even when he’s at his worst!) that I know it HAS to come from God… I know I’m not capable of that kind of love on my own. And while I know that love sometimes means letting go, and letting natural consequences run their course when poor decisions are being made, I prayed for mercy and for a new life for that boy.
As we swung into the gas station that Kevin had sent us to, Marvin was the first thing I saw. Dirty, needing a haircut, with glue bottle up to his nose under his shirt, hat pulled over his eyes, and following people from their car into the store, begging for a few lempiras. It was like watching your own child begging, when everything is waiting for him at home – seriously, can you imagine it?? Stop and picture your own child or sibling or friend… How often does God watch HIS children begging for crumbs, while He extends a hand that offers everything they could possibly want?? But I digress…
We called out and Marvin turned and saw us, and made a beeline for the truck. As Brian got out he got eye-to-eye and said just one word – “¿Listo?” Yes, Marvin nodded. Yes, I’m ready. Not a second of hesitation.
By then five other street kids we know had surrounded us, asking us questions, asking for money, and in the case of 11-year-old Axel asking us to take HIM with us too. A middle class Honduran guy walked over as well, and asked us if we were taking Marvin with us. “Yes,” I told him. “Yes, he belongs with us, and if he’s ready to go, we’re taking him now.” The man went on to tell us that he’d been chatting with this group of kids for over two hours, just getting to know them, treating them as people should be treated (which is what we strive for in our street ministry as well). He said that Marvin kept telling him, “These are my last days on the streets. The gringos are coming to get me.” I just don’t think this Honduran man thought the grimy little teenager was actually telling the truth – and I’m sure he was shocked to see the truck pull up, see us embrace Marvin, and open a door to something different.
On the way to the Wiggs’ house, we explained the plan to Marvin, and he agreed to all of it. His one concern was whether he could still make up 7th grade this year, and we assured him that it all depended on HIS effort at this point. Once at the house, he showered, changed, was shown his new little room (the first room he’s ever had to himself in his whole life), and welcomed into the family.
March 28th: A week has passed since then, and Marvin is doing well. He is cooperative, quiet, observant, and helpful. He calls John and I if he needs to talk or needs us to translate something for the Wiggs family. He has visited Micah several times, but always seems relieved to return to the peaceful life outside of the city. As a family, the Wiggs are more willing than ever to care for Marvin for as long as God asks them too, even though it is SO far outside of what they had expected. They also realize the risks and challenges for opening their hearts and home to a child this wounded and abandoned. (below, Marvin on the couch at the Wiggs’ house, smile back in place)
So pray with us. For Marvin. For his mother, Karla, who disappeared over five years ago, and who he longs to find. For the Wiggs family. For the rest of the Micah staff as we feel the pressure of the heavy decisions we make every day. For God’s glory to shine through the lives at the Micah Project.
Currently, the Micah House is a bustling, noisy, joyful place filled to the brim with 14 boys. They represent a wide range, from 17-year-old Maycol, who will graduate from high school in November, to 11-year-old Axelito, who left the streets a week ago to join the project. They are visited daily by the nine young men who live down the street in the Leadership House, who add a more mature (but just as noisy!) layer to the Micah House. Even so, deep in our hearts, we understand the shepherd in Jesus’ parable who left the 99 sheep to go after the one that had wandered away. That is, after all, the message of Easter…a God who was willing to give his life to redeem our wandering souls. So…we go after the lost ones like Marvin, believing that God can continue to do miracles in their lives even when they are running far and fast in the opposite direction.
Thank you for going after them with us. And as always, thank you for your love, support, and faithfulness… and this time Marvin thanks you as well.
John and Rebecca Bell, for the Micah Project