The Joy of Christmas

“For with God nothing will be impossible.”- Luke 1:37

The past few weeks we have been busy tying up loose ends. The ministry takes a short break during the Christmas season. We decided to visit some of the homeless teens and children that are presently incarcerated in Juvenile Detention Center. This would be the hardest time for them. One of the boys we visited was Bruno. He is fifteen years old and has spent most of his life in the streets. He was born into a family that lives in the streets. I am almost certain that we worked with his mother when she was a teenager about eighteen years ago. Bruno is very calm boy who loves to draw and he does a wonderful job at it. Unfortunately, there are not many options for Bruno once he leaves the detention center. He cannot go home because his family deals in drugs aggressively. He prefers to be in a homeless shelter than in his home even though he would never say anything negative about his family. He has been in the detention center for almost two years. According to the guards and social workers, he is the most well-behaved teenager there. They like him because he does not cause any problems and is good-natured. It is hard not to like him. I was asked to give a short devotional message during this visit. I thought a Christmas message would be appropriate.  The message of Christmas must say something important to someone like Bruno. Not just Bruno but all the people we visited these past few weeks. We visited the families of some of the young boys that have decided to return home. All of them live in situations of extreme poverty. We visited the family of Maicon who was recently released from the detention center. He is thirteen years old. His family of six had been living in a small one room plywood shack with no bathroom. They had been using plastic grocery bags for their bathroom needs. They recently decided to squat in an abandoned house. It has been abandoned for years in this tropical climate and it is old and musty. To make matters worse, part of the house is used by drug lords as a distribution center. However, this place is a step up for this family. Apart from Maicon, the rest of the children are from ages 7 to 11 years. Maicon did not last long in this environment. He succumbed to the drug dealing and  is presently incarcerated for drug dealing. His younger siblings are not sure if they can dream of a better life. The Christmas of Santa Claus and exchanging gifts is meaningless to them. It is a Christmas fantasy of the middle class. Only the true message of Christmas can say something meaningful to these children of God.

The greatest surprise of Christmas is that God comes into our reality. In most pagan religions or even popular religious sentiments, people pray to God or the gods to help them change or escape their situations. God chose to face the harsh reality of our situations. He chose Mary to be his mother. A young girl whose life prospects were limited. She was most likely an orphan and poor.  Her only hope was to be married and become a mother. She had no pretensions of doing anything else than living out this humble and limited existence. Joseph was a kind older man who was willing to rescue the Virgin orphan girl and give her a home. These people had limited perspectives but they are remembered today all over the world. They will be remembered even after we are gone. One person transformed the meaning of their life. Jesus did not change their situation but he changed the significance of their existence. They were no longer limited to the temporal or cultural roles given to them. They were given new roles in the eternal plan of God. Jesus came to transform the meaning of our life.

We don’t have anything to offer to these people this Christmas. No presents that we can give that would change the meaning of their life. Only God can give them a gift that would change the meaning of their existence. God does not change our situation but He gives us a new meaning for our existence through His Son Jesus Christ. When we discover this new meaning for our lives through the person of Jesus, then we will know that nothing can steal the joy of Christmas from our hearts.

Merry Christmas from us and the children.

Merry Christmas from us and the children.

Have a Blessed Christmas.

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Celebrating Life in a Tunnel

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. -Jeremiah 29:11-13

We found the children!!!

I mentioned in my previous posts that we have been searching high and low for the children for weeks and now we finally found them. They found a new place of refuge in a highway tunnel. It is not the quietest place but it is hidden

Stephen and Caetano walking down the tunnel in search of the children.

Stephen and Caetano walking down the tunnel in search of the children.

The first young boy to greet us was Israel. He came up to me and asked if we were going to have an early celebration. I was quite taken aback by his enigmatic question. Thankfully he reminded me that his birthday was on Nov. 30th. Israel turns 18 on this day. I remember when he told me this for the first time about a month ago. I said that we should celebrate his birthday with a cake. I was surprised that he remembered what I said. Well, a promise is a promise. We asked Israel if we could celebrate his birthday two days after the fact because we needed to prepare for the celebration and he happily agreed.

Melanie agreed to bake the cake. Mary was going to get the card and Caetano decided that as a team we could give Israel a baseball cap because he is never seen without one. His present one is old and filthy. I wanted to find a moment where I could pray for him. I wanted to make sure that Israel knows that his birth is a special gift from God to this world.

Mary with little help from Fernanda serving the cake lovingly baked by Melanie.

Mary with little help from Fernanda serving the cake lovingly baked by Melanie.

When we got to the tunnel, the children and teens were eagerly waiting for us. They made us extremely nervous when one of them tried to rush across heavy traffic to greet us. We have never seen them so open and enthusiastic to receive us. The older ones forbade any use of drugs while we were there. This is the first time they have done this. We brought balloons and everyone helped to set the table made out of scrap wood. The cake was placed on it and the candles were lit and the birthday song was sung. We had enough soft drinks to go around and Israel was smiling and visibly joyous. He wasn’t sure that he was to blow out the candles and cut the cake. It appears like this was the first time he had a birthday celebration. All the teens and children were grateful that we remembered this day. For them, it was not just Israel’s birthday but it was an event where they were remembered. It was a special moment for us and  a breakthrough. We were able to communicate with simple gestures that they were special to us. I am not sure how long this is going to last but it is good for the moment. Finally, we got Israel aside and I prayed a prayer for him. It appears that at this precise moment, something cut right through to his soul. He held back his tears and thanked us for a wonderful birthday.  He read his birthday card which has the above-mentioned verse and he kept it in his pocket.

Israel reading his birthday card with a little help from Mary.

Israel reading his birthday card with a little help from Mary.

Please pray for Israel. He has been in the streets since he was 13 and his older sister was living in the streets before him. She disappeared and no one knows whether she is alive. Israel comes from a very poor family that has not been looking for him. He sniffs thinner constantly and has developed tremors in his left hand which has been a concern for us.

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