When Children Speak, Listen
The young women of our church were going on a weekend retreat. Their husband’s ability to cope in their absence was a topic of lively speculation. Nathan, Kayla said, had offered to fix breakfast while she packed and Laney, their five year old daughter, wanted waffles. “And” she told her dad, “a mountain.”
Kayla had to interrupt the father/daughter discussion to explain: “I cut the waffles up, stack the pieces, pour syrup over them and sprinkle powdered sugar. That’s a mountain.”
The trip had not even begun. “Wait until Nathan tries to fix her hair” Kayla said laughing.
Laney is fortunate to have Christian parents that love her and provide for her needs.
In the city of Rio de Janeiro in the South American country of Brazil, untold numbers of children Laney’s age live on the streets. Many have a police record. Their bed at night is a piece of cardboard lying on the ground in a park, on a sandy beach, or in the doorway of a business.
Children living in the favelas, the slum housing areas, are sent to the streets of this beautiful city to beg by a mother living in poverty. Failing to bring home enough money, they are beaten daily by their mother or a man living with her. In a month or two they choose to stay with a gang that takes them in and gives them food.
Street children, menino de rua , form packs for mutual protection, especially at night when rival gangs or the police might prey upon them. Older children, some as young as eight, team up to rob tourists and unwary natives threatening the victim with a broken bottle or knife. Others beg, pick pockets, shine shoes, wash car windows, and sell cigarettes and trinkets to earn money for food and glue to sniff. Some serve as lookouts for the drug dealers; some sell drugs.
Many businessmen consider street children as blight upon the face of the earth and hire off duty policemen or ex-policemen to kill them. The going rate is about $50.00. Some have been killed in front of churches and schools. Fifty, sleeping in a park were ambushed by the police; eight were killed and others wounded. Three thousand children a year are shot to death in Brazil, others are dismembered or mutilated. Some are incinerated alive in what drug traffickers call microwaves for perhaps knowing too much about their business. Many are thought to be buried in secret cemeteries and uncounted in the official totals.
Street children seldom bath and wear soiled clothing they have stolen or scavenged. Most cannot read or write. Churches refuse them entrance and many “nice people” consider them cockroaches to be exterminated. There are millions of them living on the streets of Brazil.
Living by their wits, harassed by the police, hunted and killed by merchants and drug dealers, using drugs, prostituting their bodies, having poor diets and no health care, few menino de rua will live to age eighteen.
If they have lived on the streets for several years, it is difficult to rescue them. Street children are wary of anyone outside their pack; they do not trust adults and certainly not the police. Although a few churches provide meals most churches do not welcome them. The legal system is weak and provides little relief. So what can be done?
Jim Kern said, “Each child comes to us with a message from God and it is our job to help them deliver that message.” Are you listening?
In Brazil menino de rua are crying, “Help!”
In Jesus’ name we must. Each of us can pray and support those seeking to rescue them. These children are not cockroaches.
http://hopeunlimited.org/ Before and after photos of some rescued children may be seen at this web site.
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