Juhariah* was a wild girl. Coming from a Muslim family that migrated from the south, she lived with her mother on the street. She regularly came to our open-day-center for street kids that was just next to the street corner where they lived. With her nine years, she had never gone to school. However, she knew how to throw tantrums, and almost never a day ended without her fighting with other kids. Nevertheless, she wanted to study and participated in a basic literacy course. Then her mother suddenly died, and a friend of her mother took her in. We lost sight of her for about a month. When she suddenly re-appeared, she told us how she was made to work and couldn’t go to school. She did not want to return and begged us to take her in. So she came to live with us, and enrolled in Grade 1 with eleven years. Slowly her aggressive behavior subsided, and she became closely attached to the house parents. Being an orphan she was declared abandoned, but social welfare failed to find an adoptive family for her. So she grew up with us. With sixteen years she began to live in a half-way home together with three other teenage girls. But when they all went to college, she was left behind, only having completed first year high school. She had developed tremendously, being involved in a local church and walking with Jesus. However, she was still too young to be independent and still needed close support, thus she came to live with our family as foster daughter. It is a great joy for us to remember the beginnings and see where she is now – a young woman with a grown self-confidence and with dreams of a bright future. Her story began in a make-shift shelter on the dirty pavement – where will it end? We don’t know, we can only trust. Success? Maybe, but if ever, only through God’s grace.
Kevin* was seven years old when we met him on the streets. He was one of nine siblings from four different fathers, and his mother went in and out of jail because of drugs. We went regularly to that inner-city to connect with the street folks – and later decided to rent a small space there, so we could be closer. Soon, Kevin began living with us – his mother was in jail and his father had long abandoned him. He was a shy but charming boy, and for the first time he now went to school, and he was good at it. He grew up doing well, and he never left our little community. In the mean time our small ministry had slowly grown into an organization working among the poorest of the poor – families and children on the streets. Later on, we could locate Kevin’s paternal grandparents, and with about thirteen years, Kevin was reintegrated with them. But that did not go well, he run away and again ended up in the streets. He wanted to go and live with his father, and we again helped him to transfer school. But that did not work either – his father was not able to give sufficient attention to his now teenage son. So Kevin returned to the streets and dropped from school. Soon he found a girl and got her pregnant. In order to support his family, he began to engage in petty crimes. Several times he got caught, but once he was eighteen, he had to do jail time. When he got out of jail, his body was marked with tattoos – a sign for younger prisoners being abused by older men. He separated from his girl friend and got together with Myra* who had been supported by us for several years, completing her high school education. She was one of our most talented young leaders, full of energy, vocal, intelligent. But before she could enroll in college, she had met a guy with whom she had a first child. Their liason did not last, either. Myra and Kevin, now with their own two-years-old child, came back when we started a small group with some of our “ex-kids”. They sat in a circle with about twenty other rough street kids, beginning to talk about their lives. Some of them now worked as street vendors or pedicap drivers. All of them struggled to survive. Some were still single, but many had already children, a next generation of kids growing up on the rough side. But one thing their stories had in common: experiences they had made with us. The most significant ones where those liminal experiences when we had left the city and climbed a mountain or slept in the outdoors, or when they went to the beach for the first time. They wanted to sing the simple children’s songs, and they read and discussed bible stories with a deep sense of reference. We were impressed how something had been planted in their hearts, and how they came alive with a hope that their lives could still turn to the better. Juhairah, Kevin, and Myra. Hope and despair, so close together. Failure or success, I don’t know. Maybe it does not even matter. But what does matter is love invested into these lives. The small things done, the hope shared – that’s all we ever have to give.
*names changed for confidentiality reasons