Looking through the rough exterior
It amazes me to see the fragile shell of defense that kids who live on the street create to protect themselves from the dangers of this world. Children as young as 8 and 9 put on a front of toughness and independence to shield themselves from the pain and rejection they experience. When most people you know ignore, exploit or abuse you, you need to surround yourself with a protective barrier. These children are toughened from their experiences of stealing in order to eat, using drugs to dull the emotional pain of life, and fighting to physically stand up for themselves. But if you look closely, you can easily catch a small glimpse of this child for who he or she really is and longs to be.
The desire for acceptance and belonging always exists. You can see in their eyes or hear through their questions that they long to be embraced as special, beloved, beautiful. God created us and wove the need for love and acceptance into our very fabric.
Luciana, a sweet 15-year-old girl, always has a way of revealing the joy of God in this world. A couple of weeks ago while we were visiting the street, she said to me, “Tio, pray for me.” This is not an uncommon request, and I asked what she wanted prayer for. “Oh nothing, just pray.” “Of course,” I responded. “Just wait one minute until the Bible story is done.” The story ended, and we stood up, joined hands and began to pray. In the middle of the prayer, she let go of my hand, ducked down and wiggled her head under my hand so that I was “laying hands” on her. I was struck by Luciana’s desire to be prayed over and blessed. Not understanding grand theology or grasping all that Christ has done for her, she realized that she was receiving a gift of blessing and belonging.
I wonder how often we erect barriers and defense mechanisms in our own lives because of the fear of rejection and the pain of not belonging. We have all been hurt and suffered ridicule and rejection. As a result, we limit how much we allow people to know us. We choose to hide our own brokenness, opting to find solace in loneliness and self-mandated independence.
Yet, we are called to be in communion with God and with one another. In the embrace of community, be it our family, church or friends, we are called to seek and find wholeness in life. Jean Vanier says, “It is important to bring broken people into a community of love, a place where they feel accepted and recognized in their gifts, and have a sense of belonging. That is what wounded people need and want most.”1 As ministers of the gospel of reconciliation, we seek to bring healing to a world dejected by sin. By offering the message of hope that is found in Christ, we are identified as beloved and called children of the Living God.
I can’t imagine the pain and suffering Luciana has experienced in her young life. From being orphaned at a young age to living through the horrors of being a vulnerable girl on the streets, she has every reason to distance herself from relationships. Yet in her core, she wants to be cared for, treasured and loved. Christ said, “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). Christ revealed the depth of who He was, and in His time of suffering sought the support and encouragement of His disciples. As followers of Christ, we serve a dual purpose in community. We are called to reveal our deepest needs, allowing the community to embrace us, while also serving as God’s agents to embrace those who long to be valued and accepted. If we open our eyes to the small cracks in the protective armor of others and like Luciana allow our own shell to be broken, we will witness the healing of broken people and the church being ushered into a needy world.
Luciana’s name has been changed to respect her privacy.
1 Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1992), p.28.
Rich serves as the Brazil Field Director. Rich and his wife Rebecca are the current holders of the Nichols Cup, a fierce annual competition among Rich’s family that involves everything from tennis to Wii bowling.