Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.- John 14:12-14
We walked around the square looking for the children today but no one was around. We know some of the places where they beg for money and went looking for them there instead. We found Breno and Filipe. They were sitting outside a bakery which sells artisanal bread. Breno’s face lit up when he saw us. He jokingly asked me for one dollar. I pretended to give him some change and then he pulled his hand back. He really thought that I was going to give him some money and he did not want any of it. He did not want that kind of relationship with us. He smiled when he realized that I was just joking. Filipe asked us to wait for them at the Cathedral steps. This has been our meeting place for the past month. We have been doing all our activities there.
We sat and waited for them at the steps and it didn’t take long before other children and teens started appearing. They asked to play a game of Uno. This has been our common practice the past few weeks. However, today, we did not bring Uno with us. This was deliberate. It was time for something new. Today, we wanted to just sit and talk with them and maybe do some art. At first, they were disappointed. Nevertheless, they remained at the steps with us. Initially they did not want to anything else. We took out a coloring book and started coloring instead by ourselves. Their curiosity perked and eventually one by one they started asking if they could join us in coloring. However, Dreyson did not want to color but he wanted to talk instead. He started asking questions about Mary’s childhood and Maine where she grew up. We have known Dreyson for almost two years. He ran away to the streets when he was 13. He hardly speaks to us, mainly because he is always high on paint thinner. We were surprised when he started asking things about us. He was also curious about our relationship and how long we have been married. He shared some about his experiences and the places he visited with his father once upon a time. Something happened between his father and him which caused him to run away. We know that his father was a crack addict. We asked him if he was angry with his father and he nodded his head. He did not want to say anything much about it. We did not push him for more information. It is his story and he will tell us at the right time.
Ruan was sitting beside us during this whole time pretending to be coloring but was really eavesdropping . He is used to be terror in the streets. Despite being only 13, he is really big for his age and he used his size to bully others. He stole our deck of Uno cards before and started yelling profanities at us when we asked him to return them. Today, he has changed in the way he interacts with us. He has become more tender with us. He even obeys us whenever we insist that he try not use any profanity in our presence. He apologizes to Mary whenever a swear word slips out. This is a big change for him. He was sitting next to us listening to our conversation with Dreyson and it was obvious that he was beginning to get a little jealous. He wanted some attention from us as well but he was willing to wait for his turn. This is itself is a miracle.
Gabriel appeared out of nowhere and asked for a game of Uno. He has been our constant companion in the streets for the past few weeks. He is about fourteen and we have known him for a little over a year. We told that there was no Uno for today. He did not seem disappointed. He asked what we can do together. We suggested just talking and he smiled. We spoke about a variety of topics. Soon everyone was just talking like a family. The topics ranged from Christmas to things we liked and disliked. They shared about their homes and family members. They shared about some good experiences they had with their families and the homeless shelters where they stayed. They asked about the things we liked and wanted to know how we celebrated Christmas. One of them even asked if we had spent anytime in prison. Everyone they knew has been to prison so for them this wasn’t a strange question. This was the first time in two years where we just talked with children and teens without any activities. We wanted them to know that we just wanted to spend time with them and they blessed us by doing this exactly. When it was time to go, they complained that we were leaving too early. We had been there for almost three hours.
There has been a change in our ministry. Our relationships with the children and teens have grown stronger. They have taken the trouble to learn our first names. They call us, “Uncle Estive” and “Auntie Merie”. Both our names are difficult for Portuguese speakers to pronounce. The children and teens whom we once considered to be tough and closed have changed their demeanor towards us. We set strict limits when they are with us. They cannot use any chemical substances or use profane language when they do anything with us. They struggle with it and yet they don’t mind when we insist that they follow the rules. The positive change is obvious. Perhaps it is just the time we have spent in the streets. One could say that our relationships have evolved through time. In reality, time is neutral. It does not make things better or worse. There are people who have worked in the streets for many years and still do not have good relationships with the children. I think the changes are a result of prayer.
In one of my newsletters to the churches, I suggested that people adopt some of these children and pray for them. The concept of adoption wasn’t so much in the sense of financially sponsoring the children and teens. We did not want any finance involved in this process. We wanted people who felt called to pray and correspond with these children. Some people and churches responded to this challenge. Some wrote to me personally and asked for the names of specific children. I always gave the names of the toughest children and teens. It was interesting to see the effect taking place in some of these children. I am not saying that everything is wonderful and these children are now our best friends. I am saying that there is a change in their hearts. Some might say that it is coincidence. William Temple had the perfect answer for such people; “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t pray, they don’t.”
Jesus said that He will do whatever we ask in His Name. This verse has been abused and distorted ever since it was spoken. This is not a license to get what we want. His words are to meant to comfort our souls. Those who think such way have forgotten the preceding verses. Prayer is a gift to us to do greater things than Jesus did while He walked in this world. It sounds impossible because it is impossible. Only prayer can make this possible. Jesus never was able to touch the hearts of people thousands of miles away from Him when He walked this earth. Today, the church is able to do this through prayer. It is God’s way of helping us participate in something that seems impossible for us to do. It seems impossible to make a difference in the lives of people thousands of miles away. Those who have been praying for these little ones can be comforted to know that their concerns and compassion voiced to our Father are being honored. Anything done in the hopes of spreading the knowledge of God’s love is never in vain.
Ruan used to be a bully and disrespectful, but now he wants to spend time with us and is sometimes even willing to throw his paint thinner away to play games with us. Alan used to ignore us. Now he wants to spend time with us and asks about our lives. I could go on and on about the changes that have occurred. The most logical reason for these is prayer. This has been the major change in our approach since we started this ministry. More Christians are engaged with us in the streets through prayer. It is not magic. It is just the Holy Spirit opening our eyes to see His active presence in action. We are becoming more impressed with what God is doing. Prayer is opening our hearts and minds to God’s actions.