Better is a little with righteousness than large income with injustice.- Proverbs 16:8
A young woman in her early thirties came up to me while I was talking to a young teenager and she asked if I was staying for good this time. I was taken aback; it was not a question I was expecting from a complete stranger. Then her face began to look familiar. I knew her as a young homeless teenager twenty years ago. Her name is Marcia and she had her fifteen year old daughter, Karin, with her. Marcia named her daughter after one of the German missionaries that worked with us then. I was quite surprised that Marcia remembered me. She told me that she left the streets not long after we left Brazil. She is no longer addicted to drugs nor does she engage in any criminal activities: all of this is in the past. Now she works hard to make ends meet. She has three children and she is recently unemployed. However, she has been doing odd jobs and selling sodas in the streets to help pay the bills. She was in the center doing exactly this. Before she left she told me that she will never forget the day we took her to a picnic with us in a local state park. I can’t hardly remember that day, but for her it was an occasion that marked her soul. I was happy to reconnect with Marcia and I wrote to our friend, Karin, about her. She delighted that Marcia named her daughter after her.
I had a second encounter with our past yesterday.
We found a small community of homeless people who invaded an abandoned park and use old wood and cardboard boxes to build shacks there. There are about a hundred people living there. Most of the older homeless teens have moved to this place. They call this place the Tent. The Tent has a gate and only those who are invited can enter and remain here safely. It is quite dangerous as some of the occupants are robbers and drug dealers. We were invited to this place. It is not exactly a slum area even though it looks like one. There are many children here and we do activities with the children in hopes of stopping the children from making the transition from the Tent to the streets. There are many drugs dealers here but they have their children with them. There are also many here who just want a home or place to live. Some of our older teens fall into this category.
While we were talking to a young boy, a woman came to us and asked if we were missionaries. Again, the question threw me off because most of the time people think we are a social agency, not a church. She saw my confusion and smiled and told us that she remembered us when she was thirteen years living in the streets. She is thirty three now. Her name is Glacia. She has five children but only two are with her. She gave up the street life and does not smoke or drink any alcohol. She decided that she wanted something better. She worked as a maid in another city and lost her job recently. She returned to São Paulo, but was not able to get a job here as well. She moved to the Tent because there is a possibility that the people here will be moved to a housing project. No one knows if this will ever happen but this is their hope.
Twenty years ago, Mary and I worked among the homeless children in the same area. There were about two hundred children concentrated in one particular section in the red light district. Marcia and Glacia were two of these children. I asked Glacia what happened to most of the children. She said that most of them are dead. They were involved in crimes and eventually were killed by violence or drugs. There were only a few that were alive and these were the ones who chose to leave the streets. To tell you the truth, the reality of what she said did not hit me until much later. Perhaps I did not want to believe it. However, when we worked with these children and teens twenty years ago, we always thought that most of them would end up dead if they did not leave the streets. Those who left the streets continue with life’s struggle. There is no fairy tale ending for any of them. Most of them continue to live in abject poverty. Marcia and Glacia struggle to make sure that their children do not go to the streets like them. Glacia lost two of her children because she could not take care of them. She did not have the means. She gave them up for adoption.
Life continues to be hard but it does not mean that they are hopeless. Glacia hopes to get a home in this city. It does not matter if it is tiny and even in the worst neighborhood. She wants a roof for her children. I think she will get it. She has managed to stay afloat all these years even though she barely earned enough to pay the rent. She managed to stay off the streets. She is determined to survive. Marcia will make it as well. Both of them won’t be millionaires but they are true survivors. We are proud to be part of their lives. They give me courage to press on. Their lives put everything in perspective for me. The challenges I face are nothing compared to their daily struggles. Yet they remember the simple things we did for them.