The Kind of Atmosphere Children Need

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.


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.


3 Responses to The Kind of Atmosphere Children Need

  1. Lisa Shaffer says:

    Leslie, thanks for sharing this day and your heart. It brings tears to my eyes. we’re always praying for you guys and your ministry. love you.

  2. Cost Of Hot Water Tank…

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