Jesus spoke this parable to them, saying: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”
We went to the streets as missionaries today for the first time after thirteen years. Before we left the mission house, we were warned that sometimes the children are hard to find. They move around the red light district in search of money and drugs. Drugs have become a big problem. Children are constantly using some form of drugs whether it is paint thinner or crack cocaine. Having a decent conversation with the children has been difficult. The missionaries also told us that the younger children were becoming more aggressive. They were preparing us for the worst. With this in mind, we set out to the streets.
We walked about two miles looking for the children and we did not find any. Throughout this time I was thinking about the parable of the lost sheep. Many times I have focused on the finding of the lost sheep but never realized that the search is quite tiresome. God’s grace is seen in His persistence to search for us even when we do not want to be found. These children do not want to be found by us. It is mainly because they are afraid and they found a way to run away from their fears through drugs.
I must admit that I was a little concerned that we wouldn’t find any children today. It is not that they are not here. There are about a thousand of them in the red light district but it is not always easy to find them. Finally we decided to stop and wait at a location where they usually hang out. Then a group of six boys appeared ranging from the ages of 10 to 17. They were high on paint thinner and the younger ones had acquired marijuana. They were very excited about this and not in the least bit interested in us. We decided to just stay there and invited them to join us for some games. Only one responded. His name is Jessé. He is about 11 years old.
We played a game of dominos and Jesse was high on thinner but he was able to play one game with us. We have strict rules that they cannot sniff or use drugs when they are with us. After the first game, Jessé decided that drugs was more fun than playing games with us. This happens. It does not change the fact that we had a good initial contact with him. Then within a few minutes, about twenty children and teenagers appeared. Most of them were older teens and they were not intoxicated. They slowly approached us and began to engage with us. There was one young particular boy named João who wanted to play a game with us. He was sniffing paint thinner but decided to put it away so that he could be with us. He was a very sweet and open young man. He was curious about us and asked lots of questions which gave us an opening to ask about him. He told us that his father had passed away before he left for the streets and his mother lives in the poorer part of São Paulo. When Mary asked him if he missed his mother, he simply responded that his mother knows where he is and she wanted to see him she would come. We were told that João is one of the children that has been in the street the longest. He is fifteen years old which is hard to believe. He looks like he is ten. He is one of the few teens who does not engage in any crime. He was determined not to spend any time in prison. We don’t know his story but we are patient for him to share his story when he feels more comfortable. For now, he enjoys playing dominos with us.
We met another young woman, Ana Paula. She is what people would call a hardened street girl. She controls some of the drug trade and looks tough. I noticed that there two little Chinese children in the streets with their mother. No one knows the story behind this woman but she was obviously an immigrant. Ever since we got there, I saw Ana Paula acting and speaking aggressively to the other children and teenagers, then I saw her go off to the side to talk to this Chinese woman. She asked about the children and their names and she was tender and kind towards this woman who seemed to be a little lost. The missionaries told us that a couple of weeks ago, Ana Paula had expressed that she wanted a better life for herself. However, she has given up on the idea for now.
A lost sheep is a frightened sheep. We have to approach those who are lost with patience and tenderness. The Good Shepherd is a patient shepherd. He seeks and waits for his lost sheep to entrust their lives to Him. It takes time for the lost sheep to trust the Shepherd. It takes patience and understanding. These lost sheep have taken refuge in drugs and violence but they still long to be in the arms of the Good Shepherd where they can find their true refuge.
Before we left the streets, João asked me how long we are going to stay here. I told him that we are here for good. He smiled.