And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works-Hebrews 10:24
Felipe is about six feet tall and is always seen with a huge backpack in which he carries all his life possessions. However, despite his height, he still looks and acts like a young boy. This is not to say that he is naive or childish. He is a survivor and street wise and at the same time, he has managed to maintain his innocence. He is perhaps one of the boys who has spent the most time in the streets. He has been living in the streets since he was nine and he just turned twenty a couple of weeks ago. When he saw us after a month of absence from the streets, he ran up and gave us a big hug. Even though it felt good for our own self-esteem, we were still surprised. Felipe is usually quite reserved and does not express his emotions openly. We had a gift for him this day. It was a framed picture of Felipe with his faithful companion, Ursula the dog. Filipe is never seen without her. However, today he was alone.
Felipe had a special relationship with Ursula. It isn’t unusual for the children to have a pet but none of them can be compared to Felipe. He was a very attentive pet owner. He would give up or forego things for the sake of the dog. Felipe was never involved anything illegal whether stealing or dealing in drugs. It wasn’t in his nature do such things. He also did not want to risk being caught and leaving Ursula alone to fend for herself. He found her when she was a puppy. Someone had abandoned her mother and all the new-born puppies in the streets. The mother was too weak and eventually died. Felipe managed to rescue all the puppies and he found homes for the rest and kept Ursula. Ever since that day, Felipe made sure Ursula was never left alone or wanting for anything. He became her father. Felipe gave her everything that he never had.
Felipe is a very private person. He hardly speaks about his family. We know that he returns home at least once a year during the Christmas celebrations but he never stays beyond a week. He is the kind of boy that every parent would desire to have as a son. He is very considerate and trustworthy. Unfortunately, he sniffs paint thinner but not as often as the rest of the children. All the teenage girls say that he is a very respectful young man and they feel safe with him. It makes us wonder why such a pleasant and kind young man would find his home so intolerable that he would prefer to live in the streets. We never met his mother although some of the children told us that she usually comes at the end of the year looking for him. He usually returns to his home with her.
Felipe has yet to come around and tell his whole story. Occasionally he gives little snippets of his family life. So far we have gathered that his biological father is in prison and he does not have a relationship with him. His mother is remarried and he was two younger brothers. However, he is hesitant to say anything beyond these basic things about his family. Perhaps, his silence reveals more about his relationship with them. Felipe has grown accustomed to being alone in the streets. However, this does not mean that he is closed to relationships. For some reason, he is just not open to living with his family anymore.
When Felipe saw his picture with Ursula, he hugged us and started to cry. He told us that Ursula died while he was at his mother’s house. The public transport in São Paulo does not allow pets. He has to take at least three buses to his mother’s house. He usually leaves Ursula with another homeless friend. Ursula was pregnant and she died while giving birth to her third litter of puppies. It was unusual for Felipe to show any emotion but this time he could not control himself. He cried and we consoled him. We could sincerely say that Ursula was well loved by him. These words brought relief to his pain. He asked if we could do an activity with him. He sat with us and played a game. Felipe did not have much to say to us but he wanted to be with us. The games helped to do this. He spent the whole afternoon with us. Then he gave us a hug once again and thanked us for the photos.
Felipe has his own group in the streets. They are a small group of boys who take care of each other. Sometimes they welcome girls into their fold. There is a certain interesting characteristic about this group; whoever joins them tends to adopt a more considerate and caring posture. There is a newcomer to the streets. She is an adult who has some serious mental illness. She was going around pestering all the homeless people including our children to give her paint thinner to sniff. Unintentionally she was irritating the children and most of them tried their best to ignore her. Then one boy started yelling at her to stay away. A boy from Felipe’s group stood up for her and asked the others not to be so brusque with her. He said that she wasn’t fully aware of what she was doing. Then he spoke to her gently and told her that they did not have what she wanted. It was difficult for us to see this young woman in the streets. She was more vulnerable than the children. Felipe’s group were able to see that she was worse off than them and they tried to help her as much as they could.
I don’t know why Felipe is in the streets. However, there is something happening in his life. He is able to influence the children for the better. I saw him once reading the Bible and he said that it is helping him to make right choices. God is forming a small group in the streets. It is a spiritual oasis in this urban desert. The children are learning that they can still be compassionate and loving even though they did not experience these things in their family life.
I am grateful for the hug I received from Felipe. I look forward to spending more time with him.