Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3
On Felipe’s birthday it was raining heavily. It had been rained for the past few days. On days like this, the children and teens take shelter under the highway bridge. They won’t come out unless the sun comes out. I don’t blame them. The streets are usually wet and flooded with dirty water and a grey and gloomy sky only adds to the overall melancholic atmosphere. It is better to find a dry place and say put. No one dares to complain about the rain. We just came out of a severe drought. The rain is much needed even though a slight relief from its onslaught might be greatly appreciated. We were really hoping for sunny weather this particular day. We wanted to give Felipe his present. Unfortunately, it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. Felipe has spent many birthdays in the streets. Many times even he forgot his own birthday. He was not expecting any gifts or anyone to remember the day. Perhaps it is his defense mechanism. He won’t be disappointed if he doesn’t expect anything. On Christmas, we gave him a simple gift. He felt a little awkward. It was obvious that he does know how to receive a gift. He is accustomed to receiving lose change and leftover food but not gifts. Gifts are special. They are given with thought and consideration. Felipe has forgotten what it means to be remembered and considered. Maybe he had never experienced such sentiments. Consequently, he has no idea what to say or do when someone gives him a gift. He was lost for words. Maybe he didn’t possess the necessary words to express gratitude for something given with love and consideration.
Felipe lives in a world where people are a means to an end. His only connection with people outside his circle is through begging. It is a simple transaction. The people give out of pity and he receives and thanks them without much emotion or eye-contact. We have watched this exchange countless times. It is very dehumanizing for everyone concerned, as well as degrading for the person begging. They feel humiliated and so treat those who give as nothing more than human ATM machines. Sometimes people who give try to treat them with humanity but they are too close to recognize the kind gesture. It is quite heart breaking. No one escapes the degradative effect of begging.
Receiving a gift is different especially when it flows out a relationship. It is an invitation to a deeper and long-lasting relationship. This is something new for Felipe and the other children. They don’t know how to relate to people who remember them on special days or occasions. It is something new and perhaps even strange for them. They know that it demands a deeper response than the mere words of gratitude that they easily dispense in their begging. The gift forces them to open themselves to the giver. They have to respond to the love that is behind the gift. It makes them feel unsure and insecure because it is new. They don’t feel comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone but at the same time the lure of love is very attractive. They like the fact that someone remembers them on their birthdays. They like receiving letters from people whom they never met. They are touched that people are taking time to pray and think about them. All this is new to them. They know that it is something good and new. Now, they have to find the words to express this new thing that is unfolding in their lives.
“The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.” John 3: 8
In search for something concrete and enduring, the kids come to the street. They want relationships that would help them discover their own self-worth. However, they only find others like themselves who are just as lost. Eventually they give up on finding anything good and worthwhile and drown themselves in whatever is available to help them escape their miserable situation. They have grown accustomed to this misery but things are changing. It is shaking the foundations of their existence in a good way. They don’t have the vocabulary to express their feelings and maybe their fears. Everything is new for them. They talk about it among themselves. They say that we are connecting them to people around the world whereas before people would just ignore or avoid them. They are accustomed to this. Now the foundation of their world is being shaken. They are not alone. Our personal foundation is being shaken as well. Our world is being transformed. We miss the children when it rains. Our day seems a little empty without our time with them. It seems almost pointless. We look forward to our time with the children and teens. They renew the hope in our lives. The hope that God is creating something new and eternal in our midst.
It rained for two days straight before we had a brief reprieve. Felipe was waiting for us. He looked as if we was waiting for us for two days. His face lit up and he wore a big welcoming smile. He said out loud, “You missed my birthday!” He wasn’t mad or sad. He was glad that he could say these words to someone who cared about his special day. We told him that we didn’t forget it. We had a small gift for him. He did not open it immediately. It is almost like he wanted to savor the moment for a while. Finally I had to prompt him to open the package. It was a comic book that he had wanted for a while. He smiled and thanked us. We told him that we had some letters for him as well. We sat down and read one. He wanted to write a reply immediately. In it, he wrote these words,
“God has sent many people to show us that He will care for us.”
It seems like he is discovering new words to express what is happening to him and the other children.