I am the Child

June 25, 2012

by Leslie

I’m sitting here in Wisconsin, getting ready to teach a group of University students who are part of this seminar tomorrow.

The first two days I will be covering children with disabilities and the next three I will go over child development.

As I’m sitting here preparing, I wanted to take a minute and share this poem with you.  We’re going to talk about a lot of hard stuff tomorrow. We’re going to go over many injustices that are happening to children with disabilities around the world. But in the midst of all that, this will be the heart and focus of it all.

I Am The Child

I am the child who cannot talk. You often pity me, I see it in your eyes. You wonder how much I am aware of. I see that as well. I am aware of much … whether you are happy or sad or fearful, patient or impatient, full of love and desire, or if you are just doing your duty by me. I marvel at your frustration, knowing mine to be far greater, for I cannot express myself or my needs as you do.

You cannot conceive my isolation, so complete it is at times. I do not gift you with clever conversation, cute remarks to be laughed over and repeated. I do not give you answers to your everyday questions, responses over my well being, sharing my needs, or comments about the world about me. I do not give you rewards as defined by the world’s standards.. great strides in development that you can credit yourself; I do not give you understanding as you know it.

What I give you is so much more valuable… I give you instead opportunities. Opportunities to discover the depth of your character, not mine; the depth of your love, your commitment, your patience, your abilities; the opportunity to explore your spirit more deeply than you imagined possible. I drive you further than you would ever go on your own, working harder, seeking answers to your many questions with no answers. I am the child who cannot talk.

I am the child who cannot walk. The world seems to pass me by. You see the longing in my eyes to get out of this chair, to run and play like other children. There is much you take for granted. I want the toys on the shelf, I need to go to the bathroom, oh I’ve dropped my fork again. I am dependant on you in these ways. My gift to you is to make you more aware of your great fortune, your healthy back and legs, your ability to do for yourself. Sometimes people appear not to notice me; I always notice them. I feel not so much envy as desire, desire to stand upright, to put one foot in front of the other, to be independent. I give you awareness. I am the child who cannot walk.

I am the child who is mentally impaired. I don’t learn easily, if you judge me by the world’s measuring stick, what I do know is infinite joy in simple things. I am not burdened as you are with the strifes and conflicts of a more complicated life. My gift to you is to grant you the freedom to enjoy things as a child, to teach you how much your arms around me mean, to give you love. I give you the gift of simplicity. I am the child who is mentally

I am the disabled child. I am your teacher. if you allow me, I will teach you what is really important in life. I will give you and teach you unconditional love. I gift you with my innocent trust, my dependency upon you. I teach you about how precious this life is and about not taking things for granted. I teach you about forgetting your own needs and desires and dreams. I teach you giving. Most of all I teach you hope and faith. I am the disabled child.

– Author Unknown


A Question and an Answer

June 11, 2012

Questions are so great aren’t they?

We have really appreciated and valued people who have been able to ask the hard questions in our lives and ministry. It helps us to consider things we haven’t thought of. Or to challenge our thinking on areas we are weak in. Questions are just really, really good things.

We received a challenging question after our latest update was sent out. I thought that if one person is asking this question perhaps other are too?

Here’s the Question:

Scott and Leslie,

It is very admirable, and God/Jesus spirited, for you to be able to provide a safe developmental environment for children; however, one of the things I see missing is the provision for these children once they grow up.

Have either of you thought of job development or educational tools to help children learn skills for future employment?  Just trying to think of your concept from a wholistic perspective.

God’s Blessings to you and your family.

And our answer:

Thank you so much for your response and thoughts. We appreciate any input you all can offer. What happens to these children in adulthood is something very much on our minds.

These are our thoughts about it so far. Let us know if you have any advice.

We work very closely with another program called “Bridges of Hope” which is a ministry of the church we attend. A big part of what we do is helping plug these children into the church community. Then when they turn 12 we help them to transition into Bridges of Hope. The boys attend a woodshop where they learn woodworking skills and receive a small income to help with school fees. They also provide discipleship, mentoring and tutoring. The girls learn jewelry making. As much as we can, we support this project for the youth.

As far as working with the children, we focus more on “soft skills” (defined as general, non technical abilities such as solid work ethic, the ability to function in a team, strong communication skills, etc.) If the children can grow in these areas it will increase their opportunities for employment in whatever area they end up in. And these are the very areas that are not being taught in school or home, so when they are with us, it is really the only time they see these things modeled and emphasized. We hope it will be enough to be a foundation for whatever interest they pursue. We also are very committed to helping these children stay in school. Many are several grade levels behind so we provide tutoring and attention to help them get caught up. We also teach English which will be very helpful with any job.

We would love to hear your thoughts,

Thank you so much,

Scott and Leslie

Does anyone else have questions? Please feel free to send them along, (fivefreemans@gmail.com). We are more than happy to answer to the best of our ability. And if we can’t then it challenges us to think through that area of the ministry.

Thanks for being a part of our work. We consider you very much a part of this team and welcome your input in all things.

May Update

June 11, 2012

Ok, so we’re half way into June, but here’s our May update, in case you missed it! Just click the link:

May Update

Our Dream… is so close to becoming a reality!!!

June 11, 2012

Watch this video and catch the vision. Human trafficking and prostitution of minors is an issue that seems to be on everyone’s hearts these days. God is highlighting to the Church our need to understand this issue and respond. The Refuge is our response. What we are doing is prevention work. Each one of these children is at risk of being trafficked or sold into prostitution. Together we CAN stop this from happening. Join us in this fight against injustice.

Professional Play

June 11, 2012

Yesterday someone introduced Scott and I as “Professional Play-ers.” Wow! I couldn’t be more honored by the title.

I saw the eyes of the people we were being introduced to, though, and could see some confusion and questioning. They didn’t understand.

And that’s o.k. So many people don’t.

You see, when I hear the word “play” it means something different to me.

I love how Teacher Tom says, “…the word play is such a plump berry of a word, one from which a whole way of experiencing the world can be squeezed.”

He goes on to define Play:

Play is open-ended.

Play is what you do when no one is telling you what to do; it’s self-selected; it’s freely chosen.

Play is the way humans naturally answer their own questions; play is how we satisfy our curiosity.

Play is science, exploration, invention, and discovery.

Play is taking risks, thinking critically, and questioning the status quo.

Play is an active engagement with the real world and the people we find there.

Play is how we learn about the link between failure, perseverance, and success.

Play is holistic, inclusive, universal.

The most perfect synonyms for play are “art,” “life,” “love,” and “education.” For me, the word “play” encompasses everything worth knowing, and that’s why I’ll continue to use it.

If that’s our definition of play, then the converse is also true. Without play children are missing life, love and education – everything that they need to develop into the human beings God designed them to be.

And that’s the situation we are dealing with in our work. Children with a lot of risk factors – poverty, abuse and more, which translates into a lack of all things “play.”

The way of healing, the number one way to change the direction of their development, is introducing play into their lives.

When you look at it that way something so basic, so simple, so pure and yet essential is truly powerful and life transforming in the physical and spiritual realms.

For these children it’s like pouring a healing balm on a tired, weary soul.

Play… what does it mean to you?

He Knows My Name

June 3, 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the spiritual significance of naming children.

With Lisa, our new staff member here to help, we’ve been getting more organized. One of the things we’re doing is creating a file for each child, “club cards,” for each kid, and a visual schedule. Right now we are providing focused clubs for over 30 children!

When we talk about children at risk, so often we speak in statistics, and we get overwhelmed by it. The problem is so huge, so we create categories and labels, such as “street kids,” etc. But in the process, children lose their names.

So we’re taking the opposite approach – looking closely at each child, naming them and bringing value.

It’s interesting because the very day Lisa and I were making club cards, my friend and mentor here in Costa Rica, sent me a message. She emailed me this article, They Call Me Street Child, saying,

“This made me think of you. One of the most powerful aspects of your work is the naming and knowing of children.”

Will you watch this short video? I know it’s an old song, but it just keeps re-playing over and over in my head. It’s like each child keeps passing before my eyes and I lift him or her to the Father. As each photo and name passes before your eyes, lift him up. With your prayers place each child in the arms of God.

He knows each name, each tear, and hears each cry. This is the message we want to go deeply into the heart of each child.

I have a Maker
He formed my heart
Before even time began
My life was in his hands

He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
and He hears me when I call
I have a Father
He calls me His own
He?ll never leave me
No matter where I go

He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
and He hears me when I call

Emotions are O.K.

June 3, 2012

I’m so glad that God is ok with my emotions. He gets me. Everything I feel is ok with Him. There’s such freedom in a relationship like that.

Thank you for your prayers, love and light sent our way the night before last.

I’m going to be honest, I was afraid to post the story I shared.

Why? You might ask.

Well, it was because of my closing line, which read,

“Yes, prayers are powerful, but right now, though I’m praying will all my might, it doesn’t feel like enough.”

I know what Christians say to that. I’ve experienced it more than enough times.

“God’s in control,” “You have to trust in Him,” in other words, “Slap that smile on your face.”

Somehow in Christianity, it’s become a sign of lack of faith to show any emotion other than positivity.

I don’t agree.

One of my favorite verses is repeated three times in Psalm 42:5, 42:11 and 43:5,

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

I love how David, all through the Psalms is just so wonderfully open with his emotions before the Lord.  In his writings you can see depression, despair, worry, fear, doubts, it all comes out.

“…my tears have been my food day and night.”

“…I groan because of the turmoil of my heart”

“…why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning?” (Psalm 42:3, 38:8, 43:2)

I’ve had people tell me and even teach that worry and doubt are a sin. This is debatable, I guess, but to be honest, I don’t think it really matters. And what does it help to say that?

Have you ever tried to tell a person racked with worry to just stop worrying already? It doesn’t work. Suffering through worry is punishment enough in my opinion. It’s horrible.

Despair is crushing, doubts fall heavy on our shoulders. Whereas those moments of hope, belief and trust are light and freeing. God wants us to feel that way. But he knows we’re human. In fact, he’s been a human himself, right?

  • He was anguished to the point of sweating blood (Luke 22:44)
  • He was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (John 11:33)
  • “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
  • He saw the crowds “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” and his heart broke for them. (Matthew 9:36)

And yet He was without sin.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are —yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

You know how I said above that prayer “just didn’t feel like enough?” I think those type of prayers might just be the most authentic prayers I have to offer. Because they come from the very depth of my heart.

“Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.” (Psalm 42:7)

When words can’t express how I’m feeling, all I can do is just tap in to those deep emotions. Because God is within and all around and “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

So in a sense He goes through those emotions with me and counts them as prayer. The very deepest and most real prayer I have to offer is my sorrow, pain and despair.

“…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26)

But He doesn’t leave us there. As we go through the emotion, He honors our pain and our sorrow and gently, tenderly moves us out of despair and into hope.

He is so kind and gentle with us. He understands our weaknesses. He gets our emotions. They are O.K. with Him. Don’t be ashamed to feel what you feel or to express it. Go through it with Him. You have to go through the pain to the healing on the other side.

 “…for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14)

I’m tired of quick fixes and pat answers. The only way to get to the root of a problem and seek a solution is to go to the depths with it.

God is a safe place for our emotions.

Can we be that for each other? Can we stop casting judgment on others because they feel too deeply, or they are too honest?  Can we trust them and trust God to get through those emotions to the other side? No one wants to be stuck in worry and despair. But the only way out is through.

God is kind, gentle and understanding with us – can we be that way with each other too?

On Thursday night, God was kind and gentle with me in my sorrow. And He responded to the prayers that were offered.

Here’s how the situation unfolded.

On Friday morning Lisa went to the farmer’s market, and when she returned she had the three run-away boys with her.

Relief flooded over me as I saw them sitting in my living room. They had solemn faces, because they knew they had missed their court date. Just as I started talking to them, my neighbor walked in the door to bring me a mango.

She is an angel. Literally. She always appears right at the moment I need her. I explained the situation going on and we immediately got the youngest’s parents on the phone.

After talking to them, my neighbor called her friend who is a lawyer to explain the situation more. She also got on the phone with the municipality and the judge.

The biggest message out all of this was to the boys – that they are not alone in trying to solve their problems. They ran because they were scared. They thought they were going to jail. In our conversations stories of abuse came out.

As we addressed the problem with the court they had to face, I said to the boys, “Yes, we need to deal with this, but there is a bigger problem here, and it is that you keep running away from home.”

I asked them how they would feel if I called social services to see if we could get them into one of the children’s homes. I wish there was another option, but at this point that’s the best I could do. They all three looked me in the eye and nodded their heads.

All three said they would prefer to live in an institution then with their families. That to me, says a lot.

I spent most of the rest of the day on the phone trying to talk to the right people and get the right advice.

The boys relaxed in my living room with coloring books. I sat with one sixteen year old and we worked on my son, Jude’s (4), pre-school workbook. Yep, pre-school.

We sounded out letters and practiced spelling simple words. This was all at the boy’s initiative. He wants to learn. He’s expressed to me before his desire to learn to read. It is baffling to me that no one has ever taken the time to just sit with him and teach him to read.

The police came to pick them up and take them to social services. Before they left I fed them macaroni and cheese and gave them each a coloring book and pack of crayons in a little back pack.

I gave them each my phone number, looked them in the eye and said, “There are laws in this country that say adults are not allowed to hit children. You have the right to be in a home where you will not be hit or hurt. Do you understand? If you end up back home and you are being hurt by an adult, call me. I will call social services and keep calling until something happens. I will do everything I can.”

Their eyes filled with tears and they nodded. I hugged them each as they climbed into the police car. I made one final phone call to the social service office in Liberia to report the situation and request that they not be sent back home.

So what did I gain from all of this? Well, by spending so much time on the phone talking to different offices and social workers, I gained an understanding of how the system works here. Though it seems chaotic, there is a process to everything.

I gained a deeper understanding of the situation with the boys, so I will know better how to respond if they end up back here in Jaco again. These are all things I was seeking to know and understand.

Yesterday, through a long, chaotic day, I got answers to questions, which in reality were answers to prayers. All the issues aren’t solved, all the pieces of the puzzle aren’t in place, but it was enough for now and I’m thankful.