“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.” – Jeremiah 31:15
It is the New Year. We returned to the streets after a short break with all the joy and excitement one conjures up at the beginning of every New Year. We were hoping for something good this year, something different; none of us can really be sure what this would entail realistically. I think deep down, we are hoping that we would have a deeper connection with the children and teens this year, perhaps they might open their hearts to see us as their spiritual family. We didn’t know what we were expecting but we wanted to see some growth in ourselves and our ministry with the children. We met each other at the foot of the Cathedral where we usually meet. Before we could finish with the customary New Year greetings, it started to rain heavily. We took shelter in the church and waited until the rain lightened up a little. Finally, we got tired of waiting and went out into the weak and still annoying drizzling rain. The streets were wet and the children were no where to be found. Most likely they were taking shelter elsewhere. Our first day we walked around the whole center searching for the children and teens and did not find anyone. We were damp but our spirits were not; there is always the second day.
Today was the second day. It was a beautiful day. It made us feel hopeful again about the New Year. We met at our usual place and immediately after our prayers, one of the teens spotted us and ran up to give us a hug. It was nice to have such a warm welcome. However, then came the bad news. She told us that Mateus was murdered on Christmas Eve. We could not believe it. He was such a sweet boy and only thirteen years old.
Life was never easy for Mateus. He comes from a family living in abject poverty in a neighborhood ironically named Father Christmas’ Garden. His family life was a far cry from any Christmas specials. He was sexually abused at a very young age by a male relative and finally ran away to the streets seeking for a better life. Unfortunately, in the streets, Mateus used sex to survive and the other children used to call him by a derogative name for male prostitutes. Mateus did have some positive influences in his life. He lived in a Christian shelter on and off for several years and he bonded with our friend and fellow missionary, Luke. They formed a deep father-son relationship. However, Mateus was a restless soul and he could not remain in the shelter for long. My understanding was that he did not know how to relate with people who did not want to abuse him sexually. He was about twelve then.
Mateus was soft-spoken and a very gentle soul. He did not engage in any criminal activity except to prostitute himself. Every time he saw us, he would run up to us and give us each a hug. Then he would just stand there without saying anything. He did not know how to proceed from the initial greeting. He suffered from a severe learning disability and he reasoned like a seven year old. Just before Christmas, Mary took it upon herself to teach Mateus how to write. Even though Mateus had been to school while he lived in the shelter, he never learned how to read. However, we had a hard time trying to locate him. He roamed the streets alone and often kept to himself. Sometimes children with similar background would hang out with him, especially the girls. They felt safe with him.
On Christmas Eve, someone lured him to a dark spot under a highway bridge and repeatedly bashed his skull until he died. He suffered a brutal and painful death. His murderer is not from the streets and has no connection with him. His death won’t be investigated because he is a poor homeless teenager. However, for our friend, Luke who knew him more than any of us, Mateus was a special gift of God to him.
Mary managed to have one lesson with Mateus. We took his picture and developed it to give to him for Christmas. He always wanted a picture of himself. The day we presented his picture, he acted as if he did not care about it. He was being a typical teenager. We knew that he appreciated it. Mary wrote a Christmas card saying that he was special. It was the last thing we gave to him.
This is our first day back and it made us realize why God wants us to be here.