And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.-Mark 12:17
I have posted about Janaina several times in this blog. However, for the sake of those who are not acquainted with her yet, I will give a brief introduction. Janaina is 30 now and we have known her since she was about eleven years old. The girl we knew then was a tough teenager who had grown accustomed to the homeless lifestyle. Even at a young tender age, she had made up her mind that it was her destiny to be a homeless person. She would not entertain any conversation in regards to leaving the streets. At the same time, she was always open to us. She always talked with us and did not hesitate to show that she liked us. She was orphaned when she was about six or seven and had spent her early years in a state orphanage. State orphanages are known for being overcrowded and understaffed. Consequently, she and her brothers did not last long there and they eventually ran away and ended up in the streets. It didn’t take for the siblings to go their separate ways. Janaina once again ended up being alone and abandoned. Fortunately, the other homeless children welcomed her into their fold and over the years they became the closest thing to a family she ever had. Understandably, she did not want to leave behind this newfound family when we first met her. Now, Janaina is married and mother of a one year old baby, Mariana. She has been successfully off the streets for almost ten years. This wasn’t easy for her. She still keeps in touch with her street family who have all grown up as well. For Janaina, relationships are really important and they determine the kind of lifestyle she wants to lead. Her relationship with the missionaries helped her think about a better future. When she met her husband, she was able to make the bold step of leaving the life she had grown accustomed to all these years. Today, she makes decisions based what is best for her daughter. She wants to give her best in a newly discovered role as a mother.
Janaina found us first literally. We were working in the streets when we heard someone calling out our names. We turned around and saw her bright smiling face. It has been almost two years since this reunion. We are amazed how God brought this young woman back into our lives after all these years. She was once closed to our opinions and help and now she seeks them out on her own accord. It took us all these years to come to this stage in our relationship and it was worth it. We pray that there will be many more like her in the future. We are discovering that the key in any missionary work is patience. It is a virtue that requires us to trust and wait for God’s timing. It also reminds us that we are not in-charge and God does not need to work according to our timetable. As we get older, the thought of waiting for our children and teens to open up to us in ten or fifteen years does not sound too bad. Time flies by quickly when you are older.
Janaina and her husband attend a Pentecostal church that is adherent of the so-called prosperity gospel. This has been a struggle for them as the church equates spiritual blessing with material wealth. They wondered why they were struggling so much financially even though they have a strong and lively faith in God. Janaina does not necessarily want to be rich. However, these churches preach that poverty is a curse and she wanted to know if she was in some way hindering God’s blessing in her life. She told us that one day as she was thinking deeply about this matter, she read the part of the gospel where Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” At this moment her eyes opened to see a deeper meaning behind this verse. Before she shared what she understood from this experience, she made sure to let us know that she wasn’t using any drugs or hallucinogenic substances at this time. She wanted us to know that she had a clear mind when she heard a still voice speaking in her heart that the blessings of God are not to be accounted for according to Caesar’s standard. It was at this moment she realized that she had gathered much spiritual wealth over the years. For her, the most valuable things in her life are her relationships. Even from back then when she was in the streets, all her relationships had made her hard life joyful. There was never a moment she was away from God’s blessing. His grace was with her even when she did not acknowledge his presence. It was her epiphanic moment. For us, it was one of the most gratifying things we heard from someone who used to live in the streets.
Just as footnote, I am sure some people are wondering why don’t they find another church that is not steeped in prosperity gospel. The situation is quite complex. The members of these churches tend to be from the lower classes and these churches are usually in poorer neighborhoods. People go to these churches for the familiarity and geographic convenience. Besides this, it is the hope of the very poor to have a better financial circumstance and the doctrine of these churches perhaps gives hope for a better material life.
Janaina is presently unemployed. Her husband works as a contract painter. His job is unstable and the pay fluctuates drastically. We asked her what kind of work she would like do. The only response she could give us was that she wanted to be with people. She needs the human contact to be motivated. We told her about a hairdresser school that provides scholarships for low-income families. We visited the school once and the director of the program said that the bulk of training was based on building relationships with the clients and the care and maintenance of the hair is secondary focus of the school. This school is a project that helps underprivileged families. It has acquired such a fame since it started that people from all walks of life want to get trained there. Consequently, there is a long waiting list for students. Janaina’s face lit up when we mentioned this but nothing was said at that moment. A week later she called and asked about the school and we offered to go there with her. Janaina was excited about the possibility at the same time she was trying to figure how to pay for the school. When we got there, the receptionist recognized us from our previous visit and immediately asked if Janaina wanted to apply for the full scholarship. We were surprised that they made this offer to us. We accepted the offer and Janaina will begin her training in a week’s time.
We heard about this school through a friend who is a hairstylist in one of the top salons in the country. The director of this project is his friend and colleague. Janaina got into this school for free because of her friendship with us. We are just amazed how God uses relationships to provide the needs in our lives.