We saw Alan, 12 years, carrying a small plastic bag with a yellowish substance in it. It was something we haven’t seen for a long time. It was cobbler’s glue. The children used to sniff it a long time ago and now it is back in the streets. Someone was selling it to the children and Alan was the distributor. Most likely, he does not get paid much for his work, maybe protection and a few dollars. It was enough for Alan. He makes him feel like a tough guy and a gangster. We were wondering who was the adult behind this operation and then we saw a tall woman in her late thirties dressed very conservatively in the way that many of the traditional Pentecostal church women do here in Brazil. It made her look awkward in the midst of the children and teens. She was involved in a heated argument and a small crowd of homeless people gathered around her. The commotion did not last long and once it calmed down we noticed that this woman looked a lot like Bruno. Bruno is one of the boys we have been visiting in the Juvenile Reform Center. He has made some positive progress with us and recently he was released to his family. We tried to get in touch with him but his mother who always answered the phone said that he was at his relatives whose contact number she did not have. Right now she was in front of us in flesh and blood. His mother was the one selling the glue to the children. Our main concern was Bruno at this moment so we asked her about him. His mother recognized me from twenty years ago. She had spent all her childhood homeless in the streets. I remembered her from twenty years ago. She was nineteen then.
We found her behavior to be strange when we spoke to her about her son. She did not appear to be the least interested in her son. She appeared like a empty shell of a person. She told us that her son was with her mother but she did not know the physical address of her mother’s house. We told her that we wanted to visit her son. He asked for our help to get enrolled in an art classes. Nothing appeared to interest her. She was not rude but she just appeared empty of any human emotions. Our encounter with her helped us understand Bruno better. He always appeared subdued and quiet. This woman was his mother and she grown up in the streets. She was not a bad person. She just passed onto to him what she had received. Unfortunately she did not receive much.
On the same night, Eric, 9 years old, was playing with some of the children in the streets when his mother showed up and asked him to go home. His mother looked thin and haggard. We are not sure but we suspect that she is homeless or living as a squatter in one of the abandoned buildings. She could even be a drug addict. However, she did not want her son to be near the children that were sniffing glue and using other drugs. Unfortunately I saw Eric sniff paint thinner before his mother came. He refused to leave with her and started getting aggressive with her. The poor mother appeared helpless in trying to get her son out of the environment. All the other teens and children felt sorry for her. They tried to help the mother by trying to convince Eric to go with her. For many of them, they never had their mothers concerned for them like her. Unfortunately Eric threw himself onto the filthy floor and refused to move and his mother just sat there next to him without knowing what to do. It was quite a difficult scene to witness.
João Vitor is only 11 but he acts and talks like he is 18. He is relatively new to the streets and he got involved in the drug trafficking as soon as he arrived. Unfortunately, João Vitor is a hardened criminal even at such a young age. His mother wanted to see him and she got in touch with us. She was a single mother. She has four children and João Vitor is the youngest. Her husband died at a young age and she was married to another man who adopted the children as his own. However, the marriage did not last and now she is back on her own. She has to wake up very early in the morning to work and travel a couple of hours to work. The children are left on their own all day. The only housing she could afford to rent with her salary was in the outskirts of the city and her neighborhood is a hotspot for drug trafficking. Only her youngest chose this path and she does not know what to do with him. Her life has gone from bad to worse and João does not seem to care. We met this woman at the subway station to take her to her son. On the way she shared her burdens with us. We just listened. There was so little one could do to help this mother. When João saw her mother, he ran up to her and gave her a hug and kiss. He acted like his age. However, she was not too enthusiastic about seeing her son. She looked tired and disappointed at what her son had become.
These three mothers we have met this week. We know them superficially but enough to know that they are working with the resources that they have. João Vitor is the one who has the best mother of the three. Yet, he is the worst situation of the three boys. Reality does not come ready with the answers. There is no easy formula. None of them are hopeless cases. We don’t have the answers for these mothers and not all of them are looking for answers. We have a strong conviction that the power of the gospel can bring Light in the lives of these mothers and sons. Our conviction can only mean something when we are willing to encounter the tragic realities of these mothers and sons and still say, “Yes! The Gospel can transform these tragic realities.” This is our hope.