They Call Her “Demon Child”

May 25, 2012

She was writhing and thrashing her body around on the floor of the library.

“See, See!” The other kids shouted. “She’s demonic!!” At their shouting she just thrashed even more.

“She’s full of demons!” They continued on.

I picked up the thrashing child, she’s four years old, cute as a button with a streak of wild determination. I sat her on my lap and asked her to look me in the eyes.

“You are not a demon child.” I said loudly for all the kids to hear. “You are a precious child of God. You are a beautiful daughter of God.”

I had to just say that out loud for all to hear. She calmed down and rested in my lap.

How many times has she been called this? And how often? And how can I put an end to this?

As soon as we pull up to the park she runs as fast as she can to the swings. She loves to swing.

She swings so high! She’s only four, but she’s so brave, she’s fearless. She loves the feeling of soaring through the air, higher and faster.

And the answer to the question above, how to put an end to the children calling her demonic? I sure don’t have all the answers, but this is what we will do:  continue loving, showing love, bringing joy, speaking life. And some conversations, heart to heart, hearing from the children and what they think being demonic means, listening to them, to their fears and concerns. Prayer and hugs. The things we do each and every day. We just keep going. That’s what we do.

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7

A friend sent me this song today, just to encourage me to keep on loving these kids. Thank you for that, you know who you are. Your message meant everything to me today.

All my love,

Leslie

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Yacser

May 22, 2012

This is our friend Yacser. He grew up in Nicaragua with his aunts and uncles while his mom and dad worked in Jaco, Costa Rica.

Finally, when he was 12 his parents were able to have Yacser and his brother Cristiam come and live with them. This was a huge adjustment for them coming from their village life in Nicaragua to the city of Jaco.

Now Yacser is 13. We’ve been friends with him for a year and a half now. As you can see our children love him and he’s become like part of the family. Most recently we’ve been trying to get him into school. (We’re close!) In the meantime he’s started a discipleship and woodworking program called Bridges of Hope. Through that program he’s also become part of the youth group and church body. He loves it! And we love seeing him spending more time off the streets in a positive environment, learning a skill he enjoys and supporting him as he’s building a relationship with the Lord.

Last week after church they were having a baptism. Yacser decided he wanted to be baptised, too!

He we are all sharing lunch together after church

And walking to the beach for the baptism.

It was so beautiful to see the entire church surround him and pray for him and to celebrate his new life in Christ! We are so happy to see how far he’s come in just the year and a half that we’ve known him.   And we’re excited to keep walking beside him as he grows in his faith. We hope for many, many more like him to come.

We love this boy so much!

Thank you for supporting us and helping us be a part of his life and so many others here in Jaco.

Much love,

Scott and Leslie


May 13, 2012

Ahhh… another great Sunday. Bringing a van load of kids to church, singing and praying together, being part of a life giving community, sharing food on our front porch and taking a dip in the pool.  Another day with hugs, laughter, smiles and love. Was it crazy? Yes. Was it worth it? Most definitely.

Want to know why I love Sundays so much? Here’s a couple reasons why:

Why We Need Sundays

Sunday

The Heavens Rejoice

Snapshops from Sunday Picnic

The Kind of Atmosphere Children Need


Turning a Life Around

May 9, 2012

I keep feeling this urge to write. Write more, write everyday, share these stories that are happening so fast. It’s hard to find time to write. And with my perfectionist tendencies I feel the need to edit and take way too much time with it. But I just keep hearing this voice in my head compelling me towards the keyboard to just write and hit Publish without second thoughts. So I’m doing it. Please excuse the mess!

Remember this post about a family we love with two boys that desperately need to get into school? With this letter we raised $400 in less than 12 hours, it was absolutely amazing. I wish I could write right now and give a glowing report about how well the boys are doing in school. Unfortunately that is not the case. They are still not in school and I’ve gone from being “So Encouraged” as the post said, to slightly discouraged.

Here’s what happened. The mom, Isabelle, was amazing. She took the money I gave her and hid it at her neighbors house – she kept it totally separate and guarded for this purpose of getting her kids in school. That, to be honest, just blew me away. Because these are families that are struggling day to day. And money-in-hand can easily get used up for rent, food, bills, clothing, etc. But this mom is DETERMINED to get her kids in school.

She took the bus to San Jose, ran around to all kinds of government offices getting stamps on papers and what-not, only to come back and be told that no, she needs a certain paper from Nicaragua. So she contacted her sister in Nicaragua to go get the paper stamped for her. Which just never happened, so she was simply waiting, and waiting and waiting.

Finally, I enlisted my neighbor in on this. Her name is Laura, she’s a Tica and works at Iglesia Radical, our home church here in Jaco. This woman is amazing. I could never have moved this situation forward without her. As soon as I told her what was going on – that very day – she said, let’s go fix this. We picked up the mom, boys, and 16 year old sister and headed to the school. Laura marched into the director’s office and started to figure out exactly what was going on. We spent the rest of the day running around to different offices in Jaco getting the boys ready for school. At that point we thought they would be able to start that very week.

Laura took this mom with her to San Jose the next day – she was already going for a doctor’s appointment for her husband, and she went out of her way to take this mom, including her own infant and toddler and spend the entire day at doctor’s appointments and government offices. Sounds exhausting doesn’t it?

There was still one final paper, and Laura found a courier that would take the paper to Nicaragua, get it stamped and send it back in four days. The money you all raised helped with every single bit of all of this.

In the midst of all this, the good news, the AMAZING news, is we managed to get Daña, the 16 year old sister in school! She started last week!

This girl just can’t stop smiling. She is so excited to be in school, she’s so happy to have the opportunity to study.

This opportunity is completely turning her life in a different direction. I can’t express to you how much this girl is at risk. Without school she has been out on the streets late at night, looking for work, in dangerous situations.

I don’t know what’s happened to her. I don’t know exactly what kind of situations she’s been in, but in this town I can only imagine. I do know that recently she was babysitting for a friend and was spending her days getting drunk by herself, most likely feeling hopeless.

But now? Now?? Now her smile is contagious. She squeals with joy when she talks about school. She is now involved with the Puentes de Esperanza program that my neighbor Laura does, where she will learn to make jewelry in her spare time.

I get goosebumps thinking about it. Instead of on the streets, or getting drunk, she will be creating beautiful works of art and studying with tutors.

We got her at 16. 16. A pivotal age. Only two more years before “adulthood.” Just enough time to turn things around. Of course it’s never too late. Never. But how important to get her at this age, rope her in, pull her into a loving community that will support her development as a young woman.

She came over last night to get help with her English homework. Here is our newest staff member, Lisa, helping Daña with her English.

But the boys. The boys…

They were denied entrance into school. We have everything. All the papers, all the work done to get them in, and they were told that it’s too late in the year and they will not pass their exams, so they have to start next year.

That doesn’t make sense to me? So what? They spend the rest of the year on the streets?

Luckily they have been permitted to start the Puentes de Esperanza program, where they will learn woodworking skills. This is a program for children that are in school, but an exception has been made for these two. So that’s something. But it’s not enough.

Laura and I are determined to figure this out and find a way for Cristiam (14) and Yacser (13) to start their studies soon.

Thank you to those who gave – you have literally turned the life of an at-risk young girl around and hopefully two young teenage boys also.

This post is already too long and I’m just getting started writing! I’ll close for now.

Thank you for reading.

With Love,

 

Leslie

 


The Kind of Atmosphere Children Need

May 7, 2012

Here I am sitting, typing quickly while the images are fresh in my mind. The thoughts and feelings are still right here in front of me. Before new events happen, as they will, as life keeps moving forward. I feel compelled to write. To write more. To tell the stories as they happen, because they are so rich.

Today was another amazing Sunday. So much of life, I believe, is about the atmosphere, the mood, the feelings, the “vibe,” or energy, you could say, that’s going on around us. We have a role in creating that. What kind of atmosphere are you creating – in your home? your church? with your family and friends? What kind of atmosphere do children need most? What kind of “vibe” will be most beneficial for chidren at risk? And how do we make that happen?

Those are things I think about and strive to create for children. Today it happened and I feel so good. The smile just won’t leave my face.

We brought 10 kids to church and they commented – we are such a few number today. Silly kids. Well, ten is a more adequate number that we can handle and fit in our car! Of course I want the others to come too, but realistically we need a bigger van and some more hands. So ten rough, wild, rowdy kids are good for today.

When we showed up, what a surprise to see a sibling group of three standing there waiting for us. I squealed with delight and hugged them. “We’re going to come every Sunday now.”

I could feel the tension immediately rise in the group of ten I brought. They began whispering to me and to each other. “They’re not coming with us after church.” And they stared each other down.

Sigh.

Why can’t we all just get along? 😉

But of course these children are from “rival” neighborhoods and are not so eager to reach out in friendship.

Apparently there is some history too – one of the boys hit a cousin of another boy or something like that.

We all troop into church together and the singing has already started. The airconditioner is broken today and the church is smokin’ hot. I can feel sweat dripping down my neck and back as people close in around me to greet me with the Costa Rican kiss.

We sing until the children are dismissed for children’s church. Over half the church gets up to leave, because yes, over half the church are children.

Those remaining are teenagers and a few adults.

Midway during the service my husband tells me that three of the kids were just asked to leave children’s church so I make my way quietly out the back to see what’s going on.

Julio explains to me, “Katherine was fighting with Geral and using bad words, Jefferson was fighting with Gaby, so they had to leave.” We chat outside the children’s room until the music director, a round, jovial, smiling man, came out and invited them to sit with him and his guitar off to the side. He stayed with them the remainder of the service, singing and talking with them in such a kind, gentle way.

What a joy to see someone in the congregation reaching out in love to these kids – each interaction is showing them a different way to be, a new way to relate to each other, a way of love.

I sat with Dana, a 16 year old girl, for the remainder of the service. When it was over we leisurely strolled out, chatting with people. The ten children we brought were very anxious that we might invite the other three kids to join us.

Sure enough the three asked if we were going to our house and were eager to join.

What to do?

I stood in the hallway with the children faced off – the three on one side and the ten on the other.

Well, we might as well talk about what’s going on here.

So, I just explained what was happening. I said I really want to invite you to our picnic, but these kids don’t want me to invite you because they say that you hit their cousin.

And so we began to talk about it. Luckily the youth leader came up just then and I said maybe he can help us figure this out. He began to mediate between them, helping them get down to the bottom of what’s really happening.

In the end, the three were hurt. One boy had tears in his eyes. They said they would prefer to just come another time.

It broke my heart, really.

At that point most members of the group of ten felt really bad. They changed their minds, they asked the kids to come with us. But two remained firm. They would not change their minds.

I encouraged them to take a look at the face of the boy who was about to cry. He’s 13, a tough kid, and there he stood, his face a mask of pain. “How do you think he feels?” I said.

“Sad.” they answered. I think the point was made. And I’m hopeful that next week things may be different.

Before we left I pulled the three aside. I said, “You are invited if you want to come. But if you don’t want to come right now, you can come another time. You are my very good friends and I love you very, very much.” I did the best I could in that moment. And I don’t know if it was enough.

So we left for our picnic.

We picnicked, we swam in the pool, we had a grand ol time! And one reason things went so well is because, finally, finally, we have a staff member working with us! Lisa arrived yesterday, and just jumped right in. She already served with us for six months last year so all the kids know her and were so happy to see her again. Having another pair of hands, another heart that loves, another warm body to give out hugs, it made all the difference.

My birthday was yesterday and so one of the boys gave me a cultural gift – he smashed an egg on me! We screamed and I grabbed him and gave him a big eggy hug.

And as we were walking back from the pool, one boy told me that he’s decided he wants to get baptized and he wants me to be his god-mother. I looked down at his bright, smiling face and just felt totally overwhelmed.

I’m overwhelmed that God lets me be a part of these children’s lives, that he’s given me such a great gift in knowing them. They enrich and enlarge everything about me.

“Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?” ~ Psalm 127:3

I see it, Lord, I see it. I feel it. It’s true. They are your best gift.

When I dropped the kids back off at home, they left with full bellies and happy hearts. Except for one girl. She’s the one who also got in trouble in church.

She didn’t want to get out of the car. There’s no food in my house. Anything we get, my uncle steals it. She just didn’t want to leave. In her tiny little wooden shack lives her grandmother, her mom, her brother and several more aunts, uncles and cousins. They have no electricity, no running water and no food. I promised to bring her a bag of rice and beans in the afternoon and pick her up for kids club on Monday.

There’s a lot of talk about ways to help the poor, programs, practices, grand ideas. But what about this family? What about this girl? What’s the solution for her today? Tomorrow? These are the things I think about.

I thought about that when she called me last week at night, whispering into the phone that she’s hungry. Our car was in the shop and I didn’t know what to do. I heard a man shouting angrily in the background, yelling cursewords.

“What’s happening there?”

“It’s the neighbor, he’s hitting the kids.” Like that’s normal. Just normal life.

“Could you run over to your dad and tell him you’re hungry?” Her father lives just on the other side of the small slum.

“No, he’ll hit me. I can’t go there.”

The man in the background continued shouting and it scared me to the pit of my stomach, so I hung up and called the police. But when the police got there all was quiet. They couldn’t find any disturbance. And my heart despaired. I wanted to get on my bike and go ride to that girl. But my husband said, no, you can’t. You can’t go right now. She’ll be o.k.

But will she? Really? Will she really be o.k.?

I’m asking myself that same question today.

I just read this quote that a friend posted on facebook talking about the importance of prevention in the area of human trafficking:

“What CNN and many of the others fail to appreciate or even convey is what are some of the root causes. It’s very media-friendly to broadcast spectacular rescue operations, but that does not deal with the root causes nor does it deal with the restoration of the victims.

“We know—you can read as many reports as you like; you can talk to as many victims as you like—that the root cause to human trafficking is unemployment. That creates high-risk areas for human trafficking. That makes people vulnerable to traffickers. So, we cannot talk about prevention—adequate prevention—unless we talk about job creation.

“As we deal with human trafficking [and prostitution], we need to be able to answer the following question: Out of trafficking and prostitution into what? There needs to be a job with dignity at the other end.

“So whether we talk about prevention or restoration of the victims of human trafficking, we talk about jobs: jobs with dignity, we talk about job creation, we talk about business people, we talk about business as mission.”

—Mats Tunehag, Senior Associate, Business as Mission

I really get what is being said here. This family is at high risk right now in an area where there will be pressure on this family to sell their daughter for sex. Unless another source of income becomes available to this single mom who is desperate to house and feed her family.

But I also understand that poverty alleviation isn’t as simple as just creating more jobs for people.

Bryant Meyers defines poverty in this way:

“Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.”

Anyways, I could talk a lot more about this, but I want to just finish for now. Hmm.. that’s kind of a strange way to wrap up a blog post. But in this work, things are never really wrapped up pretty with a bow on top. It’s messy work.

Thank you for reading.

With Love, Leslie

p.s. ~ I know most of the posts here lately have been written by me. It’s just because I like to write, I get a lot out of the whole process of writing, and so I share it here too.


Finding Flow with Children

May 4, 2012

Some days are hard.

Today was one of those days. I don’t know why exactly – because yesterday was so great. Somehow the dynamic of kids just didn’t quite mesh or something.

One little girl, 4 years old, tiny and skinny as anything, is just so difficult.

It’s because her stress level is so high; it comes out all over the place and affects the whole group.

With her behaviors she makes herself a target of bullying and so she’s always getting hit and pushed around, which she responds to by screaming as loud as she can.

She’s on high alert, constantly looking for perceived threats, with no attention left to focus on her developmental tasks at hand.

Can you imagine living at that level of stress? It’s exhausting just thinking about it.

I had a lot of kids with me that day and between dealing with her behaviors and helping the others, I wasn’t able to give attention to the older ones, who really needed it as well.

In fact, it’s not a far stretch to imagine them acting just like Angeline when they were her age. Only now they’ve learned to harden themselves so the behaviors look different. Instead of being the target, they’ve become the bully.

As the kids were climbing out of the van and saying goodbye, Byron, 7, wrapped himself around my leg and said, “You’re my mom.” I hugged him and told him he has a mom, and he said no, then he gave me a quick little bite on the leg and ran off.

In all honesty, my first thought after dropping the kids off was that I probably shouldn’t bring this little girl anymore.

She’s just too difficult. She’s too needy.

But as I drove away a new determination rose up in me.

No, that’s not right. She needs this more than anyone and I will find a way to get through to her.

Find the Overlooked and Ignored

In Matthew 25 Jesus talks about sorting the sheep and goats and saying to the sheep that he was thirsty and they gave him a drink, he was hungry and they fed him, he was cold and they gave him clothes, in prison and they visited, homeless and they gave him shelter.

The sheep are confused and ask, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?”

Jesus answers, “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”

And to the other group he says, “Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.”

And that becomes the mandate for El Refugio. To find the overlooked and ignored.

All this flashed through my mind as I was thinking about Angeline that day. In this work God’s called us to do, we come across children who frustrate us or who are difficult, who need more than we feel we can give and  push us beyond what we think we can handle.

But with those children in particular, it is essential to push through and show them that we love them, no matter what, the same way God loves me just the way I am.

Flow

When working with children with difficult behaviors (aggression, bullying, extreme whining and tattling, lack of impulse control, hyperactivity, high stress levels, etc.) I make it my goal to help them find a place of flow.

What I mean by “flow” is time and space where their little bodies can relax, their minds can open up, they can focus on a task like coloring, creating or playing, in a loving, safe environment.

I strive to create an environment where this can happen.

It doesn’t always happen. It doesn’t happen every day for every kid.

But sometimes it does. And when it does it feels magical.

We get lost in time, just playing, chatting or creating. The hours fly by.

It’s healing. It’s growth.

This is child development. And it’s what these children need.

Look at what can happen when we get to this place of flow.

These pictures are from an afternoon I spent with a group of siblings painting with water colors. These are three of the most difficult children we work with.

But on this day they relaxed. They opened up. They let themselves go.

And they painted. They painted and painted for hours. They used up every piece of paper I brought.

They would paint a little bit and then show me their finished picture. “It’s not done yet,” I would say, and show them spaces to fill in with color, encouraging them to fill their whole page.

They would roll their eyes at me and sigh, but then they would be back inside their picture, totally absorbed in what they were doing.

This might not seem like anything exceptional, but believe me, for these children it is.

It’s a break from the fighting, the stress, the bad language, the need to be tough and hard all. the. time.

It’s time for their brains to grow and their hearts to expand. To open up and let some love in.

I painted with them. We made some beautiful backgrounds and when they dried I wrote out a scripture for Katherine (pronounced Kaht-a-reen) to keep.

She began to make more backgrounds and copy out scriptures that I chose for her. She asked for her own Bible so she could copy more scriptures at home.

“Peace I leave with you.
My peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
John 14:27

We talked about the verses and what they mean, why we like them.

This is what happens in that place of flow – an easiness, an openness in children who are living their lives in a high state of stress.