Hope for Autonomy

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.-John 14:2

We met Ana Paula in the streets. She was unusually happy. It is very rare to see her smile which is unfortunate because it really brings out her beauty. I have written about Igor in the past two posts but I hardly said anything about Ana Paula. Well, this is partly due to the fact that she is an enigma to us. She is the mother of Igor’s child, Isabel. They have been together for four years and their child is about two years old. Like Igor, she had lived in the streets all her life, but her parents are still alive. However, she hardly speaks about them. Even those who have suffered abuse by their biological parents mention them once in a while, but not Ana Paula. Besides this, Ana Paula has always been reserved and hardly spoke to any of our team. She was not exactly unfriendly but she tends to withdraw from the world. We heard from a team of mental health workers that she suffers from occasional hallucinations. Sometimes in her rare friendly mood, she would tell us incredible tales of her life but we knew that they were mostly fabricated. However, we were never sure if she knew that they were. She has a difficulty dealing with reality and Igor was her link to the real world. Unfortunately it is a very fragile connection. Therefore, when we saw Ana Paul all happy and beaming with delight, we really not sure what to expect. We didn’t have to wait long to find out; she blurted out uncontrollably that she has a new home.

The government program came through with its promises (the previous post sheds more light on this). They found a temporary place for those who were squatting in the abandoned square. The homeless squatters were sent to two different locations; one was close to the center and the other was about forty minutes away. Igor and Ana Paula deliberately requested the one furthest away from the center. This is a significant development for them spiritually.

Igor and Ana Paula really want a change in their lives. They are tired and weary of street life and they do not want to depend on criminal activity to sustain their livelihood. They believe that the further they are away from the center, the better the chances of them leaving this lifestyle behind them. This outward attitude reveals something that is happening within them. They have reached the point where the Prodigal Son in the famous parable of Jesus was when he realized that feeding the pigs was not the road to abundant living.* However, unlike the young man in the parable, they are not sure of the road back to the Father’s house. It is an internal and spiritual road which each person has to discover by themselves. We cannot take them there. It wouldn’t become real for them if we do, but we support and encourage them in this walk home. Nevertheless, it is journey that they have to discover for themselves. This is their trajectory to autonomy and self-discovery.

Coincidentally, the name of the temporary shelter where they are living is called “Project Autonomy for Life”. Ana Paula wanted us to see it right away and so, we went with her. On the way, she couldn’t stop telling us about this place. I won’t go into details here to bore anyone reading this post but certain keywords she used to describe the place struck me. They were “organized”, “clean”, “discipline”, ”privacy”, “rules” and “curfew”. All the things are completely absent in the streets and she was genuinely excited about all these things. It sounded like they were something she always wanted.

The shelter is not exactly a shelter. People have permanent rooms allocated to them. You cannot come and go as you please. In fact, no one can visit the place without authorization. There is a time period for the residents to stay there. The place itself is a former hotel that was bought and reformed by the government. There are about a hundred people housed here. They are given six months to find a job and rent a place of their own. There are social workers to assist each person in their job search and help them plan towards personal autonomy. Ana Paula wanted us to see her room but outsiders were not allowed to go up. We explained to the person-in-charge who we were and he made an exception. Igor was resting in his room and he was happy to see us. Like proud new owners of a house, they gave us a short tour of their room. It took us less than a few seconds. It looks like any small hotel room, but for them, it was a step towards something better and wonderful. Igor and Ana Paul had everything organized. There was nothing out of place. It would be hard to believe that these two people had spent most of their lives in the streets.

I asked Igor what he thought about this new place. He said that it was nice but he wants his own place soon. He is happy with this first step but he wants stability for more than just six months. He does not want to live by receiving handouts. This is understandable. However, Igor does not understand that when we start with nothing, we need some help. For those of us who have families and a good support system, our help comes from our families. More than anything, Igor needs someone to help him navigate the road to autonomy. Igor and Ana Paula have nothing and they do not know where to start. Then Igor corrected me though. He said that he has a daughter now and he always wanted a family and now he has motivation to move forward. I reminded him that God also has sent us here to be his support and walk with him in this journey. Together we are going to discover the transformative power of the gospel. The gospel is not just going to transform his life but our lives are slowly changing as well. Igor has enriched our lives and we hope and believe we have enriched his as well. This is the power of the gospel. It has taken complete strangers from different contexts and brought them together to see and experience His love in action in the lives of two orphans.

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