Thursday, January 19, 2006

We are family

We were driving to a Bible study on our first night in Hackberry, Tuesday night, when the little girl from town started giving us a glimpse of her life.

"My mama locked me in the closet once when I was little. It was dark. I was scared. … Another time, she drug me down the stairs and I got a pink cast on my arm. … She lives in Texas. My daddy took me away from her."
Whew. I thought we were going to have to call child protective services on our first night in Louzeeana. She was friendly. She was inviting. She was engaging. She wanted to know what life was like outside of Hackberry, the only world she knows. Throughout the Bible study, she slept upright on the couch, tired head resting on the palm of her hand.

There are three children who practically live at the church that is our home base for the roofing work we’re doing this week. The older ones, a boy and a girl, are both in the seventh grade, the boy having flunked once already. The third is six years old. It appears her daddy lives with the mama of the other two. In a trailer no more than 30 feet long. With seven other people, including a 17-year-old sister who has a 7-month old baby.

The children are starving for attention, love and affection. The make friends easily with team members from Cornerstone Fellowship of Livermore, Calif. The parents don’t seem to mind that they are out at all hours of the night with these virtual strangers from California. The night before we got here, they went with the team to the "Hackberry Hilton," a nearby hunting and fishing lodge that put on a dinner for the previous team. Over lunch on Tuesday, as we were coming, and the others were going, the team members shared stories about them and told us their curfew was 11 p.m. We instantly made their curfew 10. Mind you, this is a school night, albeit 2½-day weeks because the local school shares its undamaged facilities with another nearby school.

These children have no hope.

Let me reiterate that statement. These children have no hope without the love of God. Clearly, they all know the Lord, thankfully. At the Bible study on Tuesday night, the boy sat with a townsman and paid attention to what was being said. He knew the words to all the southern spirituals we sang, few of which us Californians could sing after the first verse. He was not tugging on shirts. "Can we go now?" like other teenagers might do. No, that would ultimately mean going, which does not seem to be a big desire for these three kids.

I have chosen not to reveal the children’s names for this blog for their protection and safety. I have one request: Please pray for their safety and upbringing of the Lord. The pastor at the church is aware of the situation and feels they’re better off just hanging around our people than they are to go home to the insanity that is their lives.

Eleven o’clock curfew? They do not want to go home. To a life I cannot imagine. My 900-square foot condo seems so spacious right about now, even with my teenage son living with me. And a large canine. As I sit and type, at 5 a.m. local time, 3 a.m. California time, I could not sleep as I thought of them. On the table is a note that was printed on the church computer by the teenage girl. I was the last one in the church the night before, and I turned out the lights. The note was to a friend somewhere. "Pray for David (not her brother) - healing for his Dad! Steven (also not her brother) is fine, ate salmon," read the handwritten note. When we left at 9 o’clock, I had to ask the boy if he needed a ride home. "No, I got my bike," and off he sped, to where I can’t say. There was a full moon out, and quite beautiful, I might add, but there are few street lights in town to guide him home safely.

We look for ways to care for them in a loving, godly way. We want to give them rules and correct them when they act improperly. Our first night, our team talked about boundaries with the children. Don’t be alone with them. Two of us need to drive them home at night. While we were working on the roof next door on Wednesday, we schemed to put the boy to work cleaning up the shingles on the ground and pay him $5 an hour, only to be beaten to the punch by another team member who put him to work managing the trailers we are living in (donated by a nearby mission group).

The boy is trying to responsible beyond his age. He has volunteered to help me in the kitchen. He was astonished that I made him wash his hands before I allowed him to stir a pot for me. He took a load of laundry down the street to do laundry at a laundry mat during the day. The previous week, he did much of the cooking for the all-male group. A member of our group, Ted, has taken the time to teach him how to tend to our trailers, such as monitoring the toilets and propane so that we will be comfortable after Ted returns to the Bay Area today.

I was the last one to eat lunch, and when I sat next to my girlfriend, Miss Sue, the littlest asked me, "Why do you always sit by her?" "Because she’s my sweetie." And the three of us talked throughout my lunch. Fearing bad breath, she gave me a tiny breath mint as a gift. She engaged us about life in California.

After lunch, her sister was going to show me how to log onto the Internet on the church computer(which just so happens to be filled with downloaded kid games), but first I had show the youngest my assortment of Web photos I keep on my laptop as screensavers. I have quite an array of scenescapes, my favorite of which are beach shots.

"What kind of pictures would like you like to see," I asked her. "Nature? Animals …" "Yes, animals." I put the group of pictures up and set it for a slide show, which she enjoyed immensely. "That’s beautiful." "Oooh." "That’s perty." "Want another Tic Tac." "No thank you darling. I still got the other one you gave me," I said as I stuck my tongue out, green breath mint sitting there."

None of them appear to have bathed in several days. Today, I think Miss Susan will take the little one to our shower and give her a bath and wash her hair. Make her perty.

Each of us carries a burden for these children. We all want to love on them. If we asked any of them, I think they would have no problem stowing away in our suitcases to come to California with us. In fact, the teenage girl has already told us that when she’s 18, she’s leaving Hackberry to come and live in Livermore. "I just love Cornerstone. It’s a great church. I hear it’s big." The church has 4,000 people walk through its doors on
Sundays. There are 6,000 people in Cameron parish, total, about 1,100 in Hackberry.

She has never been to Livermore. For all she knows, it is the Barstow of the Bay Area. To her it is a beautiful place, because she has met so many beautiful people from there. Friendly, loving people. She is starving for both. She had no qualms about becoming friendly with twenty-something college men who were with the previous group. "Do you know (so and so)? They’re my friends."

Then she went on to tell us how much she hated living where she is and that she wanted to get away from it as soon as possible. Surely, Livermore is better than Hackberry.

She is bright and bubbly, always ready for a conversation, with the typical Louzeeanna twang that is soft and melodic coming from her lips. Always, she has questions about life outside Hackberry. Giving up a life with her mom and her mom’s live-in boyfriend and siblings doesn’t seem to bother her.

Susan and I have talked about her and how we can help her. I suggested that Susan would be the one to talk to the teenage girl about her goals in life and how to attain them. Getting pregnant at 15 would keep her in Hackberry awhile longer than she intends. So Susan is waiting for the right timing to talk to her about chastity and staying pure during her teenage years. In essence, "If you want to come to California, you’re going to have to tell the boys NO!" And they will be coming, I assure you.

Susan is a single mom who cares about her own son, 11, deeply, as well as other children. She has a heart for them. Susan and I have a covenant relationship not to have sex unless we marry, so she can talk openly about her desires and struggles she has about her sexuality with a teenager, but tell this impressionable girl that waiting is a choice we make, first and foremost to honor God. She has never seen that in her life, so how would she know to tell a boy no.

Saying no to boys may be her only way out. She could be homecoming queen or valedictorian at Hackberry High, but the day after graduation, she’s outta here, with a one way bus ticket to Livermore, if she has her way.
Our group has talked about other ways of helping the children as a church. It was suggested we send the two older children to summer camp, where they can be around other teenagers who love the Lord. We cannot make promises we know we cannot keep. The want to keep contact with everyone they meet from Cornerstone.
Yesterday, they were here at 1 o’clock; school let out at 12;30. Today, they will be with us most of the day, no doubt, because their part of the school week has ended. We will feed them three squares and their parents will never call to check up on them. I’m betting they’re here at 8 a.m., unbathed and possibly in the same clothes. Ready to be loved.

They are on my heart. I awakened at 3 a.m. local time, 1 a.m. California time, and found myself praying for them and crying for their lot in life. "Help them, Lord, you’re their only hope."

So that is my request for anyone who reads this. Pray for these three children. If Hurricane Rita hadn’t ravaged their city, they never would have known what a friendly town Livermore really is. Where would they have gotten that love we have given them so freely? Thankfully for them, we serve a God who has taught us how to love others.


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