As we pulled up to our house something was amiss. Garbage was strewn all over the ground in front of our house. Our garbage. It was trash pickup day and the assumption was that street dogs had torn open the garbage bags in search of food. This is normal practice in a country where dogs are not treated as people. Most are put out onto the street after they aren’t cute puppies any more. They become scavengers looking for their next meal.
But then came the realization that the garbage can was not knocked over, the lid was attached, and their was shredded trash still inside the can. This led to the second assumption that the garbage man was having a bad day or was carrying some vendetta against us. Of course this was possible, but not plausible. He was paid on time, we rarely interacted, and he had much to lose with our business.
Then it happened again. Not the next trash day, but the one following. We again returned home for lunch to find the same scenario. Trash strewn everywhere. No dogs in sight. Lid on the can. Shredded trash inside the can. Weird. My anger at the trash man began to grow as did the confusion in my mind. It just didn’t make sense, especially when I realized the neighbors’ trash had not been touched.
So just like the first time, we cleaned up the trash, re-bagged it, and pulled the can back inside. An hour later the trash man rang our doorbell. We gave him our trash and explained what had happened. He then told us that this was happening around town as well and from then on to just leave our trash can inside and he would ring our bell when he came by. The problem was solved. But not the mystery.
It just so happened that later that day we were walking near our house. As we were walking, a little boy approached us carrying a small bag. He immediately asked us if we had any trash. Apparently he was the culprit who had dismantled our trash bags. As it turns out he was twelve years old. He looked to be no more than eight. He confessed to looking through our trash for credit cards, bank cards, and other things he could sell for money. And us being
“gringos”, he just knew we had extra money to throw around and throw away.
This always angers us. But we understand. It’s true that we do have more than most, but it isn’t true that we are reckless with it. We give a lot of our money away. We steward it with care. So instead of shun the little guy or scold him for what he did, we started the process of checking his story. He said he lived with his sick grandmother and his siblings. They had no food or medicine. And just like the scavenger dogs, he was looking for ways to eat. In his mind it was ok to tear open the trash of the “rich”, in order to find sustenance for his family.
We still don’t know if his story is accurate. He wouldn’t let us follow him home to investigate. His excuse being that Grandmother was too sick. It’s quite possible. Keeping in mind that used toilet paper is not flushed in this country (but instead is bagged), he was willing to sort through it for hidden treasure. The end of this story is incomplete. But one thing we’ve learned since moving here is, desperate people in desperate situations do desperate things.
The tears began to flow when I told the boy he didn’t have to be the caregiver anymore. The relief on his face was obvious as the weight was lifted off his shoulders. The weight was too much for a nine-year old to carry. And as he realized it wasn’t his to carry any longer, his countenance changed. It was as if a little boy was re-created. As if the burden of a father was removed and the joy of a boy returned.
He was brought to my office, not because of good behavior. He was brought because his first days here at James Project of Latin America were of turmoil. He had spent the previous days fighting with the other boys in his home. In the eyes of the other boys he was quick to lash out and quick to throw a punch. In the eyes of his house-parents he was quick to disobey and quick to cause problems. But in his eyes he was only defending his little brother.
He was used to defending his siblings, for protecting them, and fighting for them. It was all he knew. He was the oldest brother. It was his job to protect them. He has the heart of a father, and a fighter. With no adult around to defend, he defended with his fists. And now that there are parents to answer to, he doesn’t know how. With adults now in his life to care for him and his siblings, he doesn’t know his role. And he doesn’t yet trust.
He is here with four of his siblings. Three sisters, one brother. That’s a lot of defending to do. There’s a lot of protecting that needs to be done. And his heart has to ache for the ones that didn’t come. As we chatted about his role as brother, he revealed that there are more siblings still out there. One was given away, but he didn’t know to whom she was given or where she was. Yet another was living with a family member. As he discussed this you could see the pain in him. He is ashamed that he couldn’t defend and protect them too. That somehow he had let them down.
But as the tears flowed, the fear fled. He still isn’t completely confident in his new caregivers, but I believe he understands his new role. Brother, not dad. Boy, not man. He was told the responsibility was not his alone to carry. That he was brave, but now he didn’t have to fight. That he could trust and let his shoulders relax. Please pray the boy becomes a boy. Please pray that he believes in us and allows us to carry the load that he’s carried in his young life. But more than that, please pray that he let’s go and let’s God. Pray he allows Jesus to take over. Because His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
Imagine having two children that are dying. Now imagine having the ability to save one, but not the other. Which would you choose? What would you do? It’s every parent’s nightmare. It’s a lose-lose situation that no parent should have to make. But in this story it was a reality. A real-life nightmare.
One of the most powerful parts of our ministry is serving widows and children in our community. Our ministry is not limited to the children we serve inside the walls of our property. We also reach out to those in need in the local community. On a regular basis we deliver baskets of food to the “least of these”. This is how we were introduced to the mom who couldn’t decide.
This mom is a good mom. She loves and takes care of her children. She would do anything for them, but not make the decision. And who could blame her? Both children suffered from kidney failure. She was a match for both, but only her. Nobody else could help. There were no other matches. She was faced with the decision to save one - only one. And she couldn’t do it.
Who could? Who could look at the children they love and say, “I will save your life, but not yours”? She held the power of life and death in her own body, but couldn’t say which child would live and which child would die. So she decided not to decide. She chose not to choose. And it was the best thing she could do.
Like all of us, she couldn’t choose one over the other. It’s not in a parent’s nature to do so. We love our children equally, just as she does. All she could do was pray and wait. There isn’t the opportunity or resources to find another donor. It’s just not a real possibility here in Guatemala. So she loved and cared for her kids the best she could for as long as she could. Equally.
Unfortunately the day came when she didn’t have to decide anymore. One of the children passed away from the disease that destroyed her body. The burden of having to choose between your children has now been replaced by the burden of moving forward without your child. Perhaps it’s an easier burden to bear. I can't speak for the mother, but I can imagine the relief of not having to choose anymore.
I don’t know exactly how she is processing the loss of her child. I assume she is questioning her decision to not decide. That would be normal. But I do know that she is trusting God with it. And having lost a child of my own, I know that’s all we can do. Trust Him.