Have you ever ministered to children-at-risk? If you have, is there a child who you refer to as yours?
Most anyone who has ministered to children-at-risk has a child who defines their experience. For many of you reading this right now who have been to Ethiopia and spent time with the kids associated with Onesimus a picture or memory of a child automatically popped into your mind. You've probably even referred to a certain child in conversation with friends as "my kid." It's not that you necessarily have a favorite child, it's just that one child in particular left an indelible impression on you. Maybe it was his/her smile, behavior, or story. Maybe it was a combination of several factors. Whatever it may be, that child and your heart will forever be linked.
My family and I lived in Ethiopia and partnered with Onesimus for 15 months starting in January 2009 through April 2010. I had the privilege of teaching the drop-in center kids, hanging out with halfway home boys and girls, attending special programs honoring the SAFE project students, eating lunch several times a week with Onesimus beneficiaries and visiting children at their homes. I spent hundreds of hours playing soccer, pushing children in the tire swing, washing and bandaging wounds,and laughing with hundreds of kids. Of those hundreds of kids, there is still just one who ALWAYS comes to mind. I think about and pray for every one of the children that I have interacted with through Onesimus but there's still that one who has penetrated my heart and "pops" into my mind anytime Onesimus is mentioned or stories shared about another person's time in Addis Ababa.
His name is Asrat.
It's doubtful that many of you reading this have actually met Asrat. He was one of the boys in the first group of drop in kids that Joe and I worked with. He was best buds with Ashenafi or Ashu which I'm positive that many of you have met. He was one of the older boys but seemed very protective of the younger ones. He had been on the street for awhile but the streets had not yet killed his spirit. He was quick to smile, intelligent, funny, and vibrant. Needless to say, he was easy to love. The other kids, Onesimus staff, & volunteers all enjoyed spending time with Asrat.
Asrat attended the drop in center for several months and even with the language barrier, I could tell that the things he was learning and feeling at the drop in center were weighing on him. He was definitely listening to the message of the gospel through the lessons and witnessing the love of Christ through the staff. Asrat and Ashenafi both accepted Christ as a result of attending the program. We were overjoyed to see these two guys respond and to so genuinely want the hope found in the gospel. It was a great day for so many of us.
Shortly afterwards, Asrat started talking to the staff about finding his family. It was not certain whether his parents were alive but Asrat was sure that he had an uncle in a town about 60 miles from Addis Ababa. The staff assured Asrat that they would do whatever they could to locate his uncle. Asrat would ask often about the process and soon became impatient. One day he did not show up to the drop-in center, which was very much out-of-character, and we learned from the other kids that he had decided to look for his uncle on his own. I was heartbroken!
The first month he was gone, I asked Nega every day if he had received any news from or of him. The answer was always no. Eventually, I stopped asking but continued to pray that God would watch over him wherever he was at that moment.
A few weeks before we were to fly back to the states Nega popped his head into the little window of the drop in center that you can see from the office and said "I have something to show you." He had a weird look on his face and he was kind of laughing. Then he ducked his head down below the window and seconds later I was staring at Asrat's face. I jumped from my office chair and literally jumped through the window to hug Asrat! Our son had returned. It is a great day!!
The euphoria was short lived. I WAS ecstatic to have Asrat home. He was much taller, dirty, covered in sores, and wearing clothes that were way to small. He laughed and his face displayed the same smile as before BUT it was clear that this was not the boy I knew. It was evident that something was very wrong but I couldn't determine what was missing. AND then it clicked. HIS EYES! He smiled but his eyes did not light up as before. He talked and laughed but he no longer looked you in the eye. Again, I was heartbroken. The life of the streets had taken something from him.
In the weeks before we returned to the US, we learned that Asrat had indeed left to find his uncle but was unsuccessful. We also learned the realities of what life was like for him during that time and it wasn't pretty. He was disobedient, hurtful, disrespectful, no longer a leader and no longer confident. This time the streets had killed some of his spirit. He came to the drop-in center for awhile but then stopped.
I wish I could give you a blissfully happy ending but right now there just isn't one.
My belief is that Asrat truly accepted Christ but the things he willingly and unwillingly participated in on the streets convinced him that there is no way God could love him, forgive him, or accept him. I imagine he blames himself for the actions of others. There's probably a large part of Asrat that begs the question, "God, if you love me then WHY do these awful things keep happening. Why is this my life?"
This song by Tenth Avenue North is my song for Asrat. I pray that he realizes that he is more than the choices that he's made, more than the sum of his past mistakes, and more than the problems he creates (or thinks he creates). I pray that he will find healing, mercy and grace at the feet of the cross and that he will carry no shame from what others have done to him .
It's possible that Asrat has given up on himself. Maybe he's fighting feelings of never being good enough or maybe right now he doesn't even care! I can certainly relate!
So, I'm not giving up on him. It's impossible for me to give up on him. After all, he is "my kid!"