Monday, 19 January 2015

Music Monday: Faz Um Milagre Em Mim




Looking back over my blog, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I shared a Music Monday with you all! I intend to change that in the new year.

The song that I want to share with you today is a special one. It’s a Portuguese song written by Regise Danese. Because you may not understand the lyrics, here is the translation of them.  (Note that this is Google Translate, so it may not be entirely accurate.)

Like Zacchaeus
I want to climb,
The highest I can
Just to see You
Looking for You
And call your attention to me.
I need You, Lord
I need you, Oh Father!
I'm too small
Give me Thy Peace
Leave everything to follow you.

Come into my house
Come into my life
Move in my structure
Heal all wounds
Teach me to have Holiness
I only want to love you,
Because the Lord is my highest good,
Make a miracle in me.


The song is sung by Gospel singer Milena, who is quite famous in spite of her young age. She excitedly announces the name of the song she will be singing. I love her bubbly and precocious spirit! As the song builds, she is joined on stage by Regise Danese, the song’s author himself. Together, they sing an incredible duet. Despite the fact that I don’t speak the language, I adore this worship song and couldn’t help the tears that came to my eyes when I first heard it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

A New Compassion Blogger!

After months and months of hemming and hawing, I did it. I took the plunge. I am now a registered Compassion blogger! Look on the right side of my blog and scroll up a bit. See that nifty little blue widget that says, “I blog for Compassion”? Yup, I get to use that little badge to let everyone know that I blog for Compassion!

“So… what?” You might be asking. “How is this different than what you did before?”

Well, it is true that I blog about my Compassion kids a lot. After all, they’re the center of my universe!  The main difference is that now, I’ll be doing a fair bit of blogging about Compassion itself, not just about my kids. (Although you’ll continue to hear all about them too!)

I talk about my kids a lot… how they’re doing, what they’ve been saying in their letters, how proud I am of them, and of course, sharing new photos of them! I know that because of Compassion, they are growing into wonderful young ladies and men (well, man, in Mbula’s case).  Without Compassion, my kids wouldn’t be my kids… they’d be growing up in poverty, with no hope. No one to tell them that they are loved. That they matter. That God has a future for them. Isimbi’s grandmother wouldn’t have anyone to help her look after her grandchildren. Ada’s mother wouldn’t have had medical help when she had her heart attack last year.  Mbula wouldn’t be playing soccer and dreaming of university. And Miriam might not even be alive… three is such a vulnerable age for children in poverty.

But because of Compassion, there is somebody. There are loving project workers who watch over the kids, teach them, love them, and pray for them. And because of Compassion, I am able to be a part of their lives.

You all have heard me talk a lot about different organizations since I started this blog. Operation Christmas Child, Metro Ministries, and Shelter Them, among others. I don’t believe in being exclusive; God has His people everywhere, in many different organizations. I’ll continue to talk about all these ministries, don’t worry. I’ll just be taking more time to focus on Compassion’s work around the globe.


Over the past little while, I’ve felt God really speaking to my heart about becoming a Compassion Blogger. He’s been speaking to me about other things as well, but I can’t give away too many secrets yet! ;) It’s a new year, a fresh start, a chance to get out of my comfort zone and start doing more for God and for His people. It’s a curve in the road along the path trodden by the Carpenter of Nazareth, and I can’t wait to see what lies around the next bend! I hope you’ll all join me as we continue walking together… see you on the Path!


(And hey, while you’re here… check out this awesome video about how one child’s struggle opened his mom’s eyes to kids in need all over the world… you’ll fall in love with this kid, I promise!)


Friday, 16 January 2015

From Oklahoma to Rwanda: Part 2

Here is Part Two of my interview with Sharon Banning. Sharon traveled to Rwanda with Shelter Them in November of 2014 to meet her sponsored child, Jean D’Amour. If you missed Part One of her story, you can read it here: Part One

Hannah: Out of all the things Jean D’Amour said to you, what impacted you the most?

Sharon: There were two things that Jean D'Amour said that impacted me tremendously. The first was when he told me how grateful he was that I had sponsored him. He said he understood that his Mama was not able to take care of him (she suffered a traumatic brain injury caused by a machete during the Rwandan genocide and did not even recognize her own children) but now he had another Mama who would love him and take care of him and his future was bright. How blessed I felt to be able to offer this amazing child hope for the future!
The second thing he said left me totally speechless. We were having a conversation about his dreams and plans for the future. My sister Sherry's sponsored boy, Jean Claude, was translating as Jean D'Amour's English is not great yet. When I asked him what he wanted to do when he finished school he quietly and confidently replied, "I want to be the Minister of Youth and Fitness." Wow! What a goal he has set for himself. And I know, with our help and encouragement, he will achieve that goal. I feel in my heart he is special and is destined for greatness.




Hannah: Out of all the time you spent together, what was your favorite moment?

Sharon: Every moment I spent with Jean D'Amour was special so I can't really say there is one particularly special time. But let me list a few. The first time I met him was extra special, especially listening to him offer his thanks to us all. The chats we had at the Shelter them office were lovely. I especially liked watching him dance with the other boys in our Shelter Them family. He was so focused on the task at hand and you could see how important it was to him to get his steps right. I also thoroughly enjoyed bringing him shoe shopping and getting him new football shoes and socks. Football is a passion of his and he practices every afternoon to hone his skills. It made me feel good to be able to provide him with the proper equipment to play. The day we spent at Akagera National Park seeing the big animals was unforgettable. His favourite animal was the giraffe. That trip will give him memories to treasure for a lifetime. Then our last day together I got to interview him with Jules interpreting and Lee videotaping it so I could give my husband a glimpse of our boy. He told me a little of his story before coming to join our family two years ago and again expressed his gratitude for all we had done for him. He went on to talk a little about his future goals. He wanted to go visit his Mama and I was able to provide him with the resources to get there. I constantly joked with him and teased him about being so SERIOUS. Sherry's Jean Claude patiently explained to me that he had a very difficult life before coming to Shelter Them and he was not even talkative when he was in the company of his brothers at home. I told him he had to practice his smile and charged Jean Claude with the task of teaching my boy how to smile by my next visit. AND I WILL GO BACK AGAIN!


Hannah: Before you met Jean D'Amour, did you have any communication with him? (i.e. letters, Facebook, etc.)

Sharon: I had received two letters from Jean D'Amour over the past year. But they were very impersonal. I did not reply to either of the letters. I'm not sure why but I do know I will keep in close contact until I am able to visit him again. I am very anxious to keep up with his progress and want to offer praise and encouragement to help him achieve his goals. I need my boy to know he has someone who cares very deeply for him and who will always be there for him. He promised to send me a report on his visit with his Mama. So I am anxiously awaiting that communication. I pray the visit went well. It was scheduled for the end of November while he is still on school break.



Hannah: What would you say to anyone wondering whether to sponsor a child?

Sharon: What would I say to anyone wondering whether to sponsor a child? I would tell them not to hesitate. Sponsorship will offer hope to those precious children who have no hope and the blessings will be returned to you many times over. Think of how you would feel to know you were responsible for giving these children a future filled with love and promise. And that is exactly what Shelter Them provides for their children, with your help. They give them a loving home, health care, food, education, clothing, and the security to know that their future will be bright. A donation of $40 per month will provide all that. A small financial sacrifice will offer hope to a child in Rwanda who now has no hope. James 1:27 says...to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. I challenge you to obey His word and to help look after these orphans in Rwanda. I know it will change your life as it has changed mine.



Hannah: Would you encourage an existing sponsor to write to/visit their children?

Sharon: I know for some, just sponsoring a child will be a financial sacrifice and visiting a sponsored child is just not possible. But, I also know the blessings I received from getting the opportunity to do a mission trip to Rwanda and to see my sponsored child. So...would I encourage an existing sponsor to visit their child/children? Absolutely! Our 2014 mission trip consisted of people from many walks of life. For some, it was a huge financial sacrifice to make this trip. They saved for two years and did without a lot to be able to do this. But I know for certain that everyone there was blessed more than I can say.  I am a better person just by having the opportunity to be in the company of these amazing people. Yes. I would definitely encourage sponsors to do a mission trip but if you can't, you should certainly write and communicate with your sponsored child. They are treasures and we need to get to know them, help them, encourage them and love them. It will change their lives and also change yours.





Sharon, thank you so much for allowing me the privilege to share your amazing story. To see how you have been radically transformed by this trip and how you have become so passionate about helping other in need really touched my heart. 

To learn more about Shelter Them and our kids in Rwanda, please visit www.shelterthem.com 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

From Oklahoma to Rwanda: Part 1

Sponsorship.
It’s a word that has many different meanings for people.  For some, it’s just a monthly contribution to a charity, a set amount withdrawn automatically from a bank account and for the most part, never missed. For some, it’s a picture on the refrigerator or tucked into a frame; and when people ask, it’s the reply, “Oh that’s the little boy (or girl) we support in Mexico (or Cambodia, or Ecuador, or Togo).”  For some, it’s a monthly sacrifice, a way of giving back. For some, it’s a way to teach charitable giving to our children. And for some, the word “sponsorship” is akin to the word “family”; a relationship built despite the miles.


Sharon Banning is one of these. In November of 2014, Sharon embarked on a 13,000 km journey to meet her sponsored son, Jean D’Amour Iradukunda. Leaving her home in Oklahoma, she traveled with a small group of people, including her twin sister and brother-in-law, to Kigali Rwanda; a world vastly different from the one she was accustomed to. Although Sharon has previously spent some time in Africa; namely, Zambia, a mission trip was a huge step for her. So when she traveled to Rwanda with Shelter Them, she was unprepared for how the people of Rwanda would steal her heart.
I recently did an interview with Sharon, so I’ll allow her to share her experiences in her own words!

Hannah: So Sharon, what first prompted you to travel to Rwanda?
Sharon: I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life, having lost my son 22 months ago. I needed to find a new direction. I was prompted to visit Rwanda by my sister and brother-in-law, Sherry and David. They encouraged me to go, and their passion for Shelter Them and the people of Rwanda was contagious. They assured me that this trip would be a life-changing event and they couldn't have been more right. My husband Jim also recognized my need for a change, and about 6 weeks before the Shelter Them team was scheduled to leave for Africa, Jim surprised me by telling me I would be going with the group. I was thrilled and a little anxious all at the same time. But there was so much to do in such a short time I didn't have a lot of time to think about the decision. So I hustled and got all my shots and all the things I needed to travel to a third world country for two weeks. I also needed to gather things to take to our sponsored children and those in desperate need. As the time got closer I became more and more excited. I repacked a dozen times and had Sherry on speed dial. I constantly bombarded her with questions about our trip, our accommodations and living conditions, our children, the itinerary, and on and on.
Hannah: Did you have any expectations of what your trip would be like? What were they?
Sharon: I did have certain expectations of what the trip would be like - some positive and some negative. You see I lived in Africa, specifically Zambia, for a year about 9 years ago and it was my first experience with expat life. It was a difficult transition for me and I found myself constantly bombarded by people wanting something from me. I was also very disillusioned with organized religion there, having a negative experience with a church we tried to help there. I thought religion was Big Business and very corrupt, like most of the rest of Africa.
So my expectations of this trip were definitely influenced by my past experience. I did expect to find a lot of poverty (as I had seen in Zambia) and I expected to see a lot of people with their hands out looking for help. On the positive side, I also expected to see the smiling, happy faces of the children. I also remembered that even the poorest children in Zambia had such beautiful smiles and rarely cried.
I also expected to be living in very rustic conditions and wasn't sure how I would handle that. You see, I had been a little spoiled since marrying my wonderful husband. I worried about whether or not I would like the food so I brought along lots of protein bars just in case!



Hannah: Was your trip different/similar to what you were expecting? What were some of the differences?

Sharon: Some aspects of the trip were similar to what I expected and some were different. The big difference was how I felt about those in need of help. I never once felt used and I rarely saw anyone begging in the street. I felt it was a blessing to be able to help those in desperate need and the joy, gratitude, and love I saw on the faces of those precious people can’t be described in words.
I was also not prepared for the level of caring and dedication that our Rwandan Shelter Them team delivered. I know, I was told our people on the ground in Rwanda were honest but I still had my preconceived ideas that all aid groups in Africa were in it for what they could get for themselves. Boy, that could not have been further from the truth. Jules, Bright, Gloria, and Mama Yesu were the most honest, giving, loving, and caring people I had ever met. They gave so unselfishly of themselves that I was embarrassed that I even questioned their motives.


Hannah: How did you feel when you met your sponsored child for the first time?

Sharon: This is a tough question for me to answer because it is very difficult for me to put into words all the feelings I experienced at our first meeting. We arrived in Kigali early in the day after an exhausting 24 hours of travel. Then we had a few problems at the airport with Customs and I was ready to go to our guesthouse and crash. Then we were told we would be going to visit the homes of our sponsored children. All exhaustion was forgotten. The anticipation of meeting our kids, in particular my sponsored son, Jean D'Amour, was overwhelming. I could barely contain myself I was so excited. I was crying and laughing at the same time. The emotions overwhelmed me. I would be coming face to face with my sponsored child. When we arrived there I remember that no one was around. No one answered the door when we knocked and I thought maybe I would not get to see my boy today. But it turned out they were taking an afternoon nap. They soon emerged, looking sleepy but very content. When I first set eyes on Jean D'Amour I recognized him instantly. He was even more handsome than his picture on the sponsor sheet. I remember hugging him so hard through my tears. Yes, I was bawling like a baby. The joy I felt finally seeing him in the flesh was indescribable. I didn't want to let him go. He had such a haunted look in his eyes and such a serious face that I decided maybe I should let him go before I scared him to death. The boys proceeded to thank us and when Jean D'Amour's turn came I couldn't believe my ears. The president couldn't have delivered a more eloquent speech. How could these beautiful words be coming out of the mouth of this shy, introverted boy? Then the house papa told us that Jean D'Amour was first in his class at school. I was so proud of him. Two years ago, at the age of 12, when he entered our program he had never gone to school. He was struggling at school and barely able to keep up. To have come so far in such a short time despite his traumatic childhood spoke volumes about his perseverance. I just remember thinking how am I going to leave this precious boy in two weeks. Jean D'Amour spoke such touching words of his gratitude for Shelter Them and specifically thanked me, his new Mama, for saving him and giving him hope for a bright future. My heart overflowed with love for this child and my life was changed forever.


Since the death of my son 22 months ago I had this empty place in my heart that I doubted ever could be filled.  A mother is supposed to protect her children, but I was not able to save my precious boy. I constantly lived with this guilt. I will never be able to have my precious Greg back with me (not in this life anyway) but I realized that I could offer hope to this precious boy. I recently read an article that stated, "Don't let grief be your constant companion...Realize that your grief is born out of unconditional love and rejoice in that love which will never end...Embracing life again is not a sign that you have stopped missing your loved one, but an example of a love that is eternal." I was now embracing life again, thanks to Shelter Them and my sponsored child, Jean D'Amour.

This is Part One of a two-part series. For Part Two, click here: Part Two


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Welcome to the Family

As of a month ago, I was blessed to have four precious children to call my own. The four quarters of my heart… the four corners of my life. Handsome Mbula, shining Shakira, precious Isimbi and beautiful Ada.
So many times I shake my head at the goodness of God. You’ve heard me tell stories before of how I was blessed with my Isimbi, but my heart longed for another little Rwandan girl… until Ada joined my family. I was so happy with my two girls, until the Lord spoke to me; “You have room for one more.” And seventeen days later, Mbula became my brother. I told God after that, “That’s it; my family is complete.”
I’m sure He chuckled. A few months later, Shakira pulled on my heartstrings and wouldn’t let me go… shortly after that, she became the fourth member of my family.
By this time, I threw up my hands and said, “Lord, I give up saying my family is complete. Next time, I will just be quiet and let You do the adding!”
For over a year now, I have been content to nurture and mentor my “fabulous four” through letters. Then a few weeks ago, I noticed a Facebook post from Compassion International, the organization that Isimbi, Ada, and Mbula are through. A large company had decided to sponsor 1,000 children (yes, one thousand) in Kenya, and the call had been put out for correspondents for these precious kids.
My initial reaction was, “Oh, wow, somebody is going to have fun getting assigned new kids!” I didn’t even think about applying for one myself. Four was definitely enough. But then, I started thinking, “Kenya is fabulous with letters. The kids there right every two months, and in English! Mbula is from there and we have such a close relationship. I wonder what it would be like to add a very young child to my family? I could send so many cute items that my girls are a bit too old for now. I’d like to have a child to “grow up with” so to speak. One who’ll be with me for her entire time in Compassion.”
Unlike the others, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. I talked myself into… and out of… applying many times. I tried to figure out where I could fit a fifth into my writing schedule. Finally, a friend of mine told me in mock frustration… “I think you already know what the answer is going to be… you wouldn’t be talking about it this much if you hadn’t already made your mind up.”
Of course, they were right… and so I put in a very specific request. I wanted a three-year-old girl.
Then came the waiting.

I nearly drove myself batty, checking my account multiple times a day. I hoped to have her by Christmas… and then held out hope for New Year’s. Patience is a virtue I didn’t have at all, at least not for the past couple of weeks. Every night my prayer was… “Jesus, you see the little sweetheart who’s coming my way. Be with her and her family and keep her safe. Help me to show her your love…” I was more than ready for “Angel #5” to arrive.

And then, on January the 2nd, 2015… I opened my account, and there she was. She was everything I’d hoped for, longed for, prayed for, and dreamed of; the most precious gift I could have asked for.

So I’d like you all to officially meet Miriam, who is three years old and lives in Kenya with her mother and father. She’s too young to attend school, but she helps around the house by taking care of the animals and she loves playing ball games!

Welcome to the family Miriam… you are so loved! 

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Looking Back: 2014

Whew, what a year this has been! I would definitely have to say this this been my craziest year ever, with ups and downs and twists and turns. There have been some pretty rough times, but there have been some good ones too and I’m thankful for that.


Blogging:

I haven’t devoted as much time to blogging as I did last year, mainly because my life has been so insane! Still, I managed to crank out 24 posts. I’m hoping that number will be a little higher in 2015!


My Children:



My four children are doing absolutely great, and I am so thankful! I have been blessed so much by their letters.

I was excited to hear that Mbula, my oldest, is aiming for a university-level education; I am so proud of him! He is up to his ears in soccer stuff, as always… he’s really been enjoying playing an attacking mid-fielder position. I also got an updated photo of him this year.

Shakira is also excelling academically… she’s #1 in every class! I got to send her a package of stuff last month and she loved it. She also wrote her first letter to me in English this year, and did so well at it! I have lots of photos of her from the Shelter Them Mission trip.

I was a little concerned about Isimbi this year, as she’s not been as chatty as she usually is. So I was really happy to hear that her favorite memory is when my friends visited her back in 2012. She calls me her best friend and always wants to know when I will visit her again! I also received a lovely updated photo of her this year

Ada has also been a little quiet this year, and she’s been struggling a lot in school… she’s a little trooper though, and tries so very hard! Her last letter said that she was happy to know that she was part my family. She also said that my “accepting to sponsor” her reminds me of how Jesus loves her and “accepted to sponsor” her. What a beautiful metaphor!

This year, I have sent a total of 40 letters to my children.

This year, I have received a total of 22 letters from my children. Here is the breakdown on that:

Isimbi: 4 letters
Ada: 3 letters
Mbula: 6 letters
Shakira: 9 letters

We also celebrated Shakira’s 16th birthday, Mbula’s 19th birthday, and Isimbi’s and Ada’s 11th birthdays (born a month apart)!


Shane Claiborne

I got a chance to meet Shane Claiborne, founder of The Simple Way and author of The Irresistible Revolution and Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream (among others) when he spoke at MUN in St. John’s.  It was pretty exciting to hear his stories of ministering alongside Mother Teresa in the leper colonies of India, advocating for the homeless in Philadelphia, and with a peacekeeping team in Iraq right after 9/11. And it was such an honor to get a picture with this humble brother.


Driftwood Cross:



This stands out as the year that we released our first album! Titled “I Wanna Be Free”, it features 8 songs including originals and covers. We sold out of our first run of 100 copies and are waiting on our second run.


Life:

This has been a strange year for me… I got a job, moved communities and got an apartment, left that apartment and moved to another one, left that job, got another one, and ended up having to leave that one; meaning it’s been a bit of a stressful year, to say the least!

We also got the news in early December that my dear grandmother, or as we say in French, Mémère, passed away. It was quite sudden, but thankfully my father was able to be with her up until a few hours before she passed. She slipped away to Heaven shortly after he left to fly home. I believe it’s better that way… his last memories of her will be of her alive and awake, and she will live on in all our hearts.

I had several “firsts” this year… my first time attending the symphony, my first time signing an autograph, my first 1,000 km solo road trip, and my first time packing a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child.

The past year or so has been a difficult one for me, I’ll admit. I’ve struggled with depression a lot in the past year, although this hasn’t been my worst year for that, thank God. I’ve gone through some rather extreme personal attacks in the past month as well and at times it has been a struggle just to keep my head above water. It’s hard to keep a smile on your face when you don’t know who’s falsely accusing you behind your back. I’ve had to hold on to Jesus tighter than ever before; and when I slipped, I’m thankful for precious people who carried me to Him.

Although I lost much of my joy in 2014, I’m still in the fight. I’m battered, bruised, and bleeding… but I’m not broken. I have much to be thankful for and I believe 2015 will be a different and hopefully better year! 


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Fog in the Ghetto

This post is fiction. It's not the kind of story that usually gets posted on Christmas... but it's been knocking on the inside of my brain for a few months, ever since a random prompt generator gave me the title, "Fog in the Ghetto." When I get bored or stressed, I write... and this story is the result. 

I ran. I had no idea where I was going or what I would find when I got there; I just knew I had to get away. I stumbled over a crack in the uneven sidewalk and almost fell, before righting myself and plowing forward. The stiff, cold wind that was blowing brought tears to my eyes; my thin coat fluttered open, exposing the rip in my T-shirt.

“Tyrone!” My kid sister’s high-pitched wail broke into my thoughts. “Slow down, I can’t run so fast!” I jogged another half a block, hauling Jazmyn after me. I wasn’t stupid; I knew it wasn’t safe to stick around here. Finally I slowed to a fast walk, Jazmyn’s small hand clutching mine. I glanced down at her grimy pink sneakers and jean jacket; they wouldn’t keep her warm tonight. I had to think of something.

Too out of breath to keep running, I sank down on the filthy concrete steps of an abandoned brownstone building. Jazmyn nestled into my side and stuck her thumb in her mouth. Even at five years old, she kept doing that. It drove me nuts, but I wasn’t about to tell her off. I could already see a bruise forming on her dark chocolate skin and the swelling around her eye. Wasn’t the first time I’d seen that on her either.

Normally it wasn’t this bad. Sure, Mama’d slap us around a bit if we mouthed off or asked too many questions when one of her “boyfriends” was coming over, but we’d retreat into the back bedroom and I’d tell Jazmyn stories until she fell asleep. Then I’d sneak out and find something for both of us to eat. I hated leaving her in the tenement by herself, but we had to eat. Sometimes Mama wouldn’t come home till the next day or even two days later.

Sometimes, if Mama got too mad, I’d take Jazmyn outside until she and her man left for the night. Then we’d return to the one-room apartment. I didn’t like Jazmyn being around Mama’s boyfriends too much… I didn’t like the way they looked at her. She’s only my half-sister, but I kinda gotta look out for her. I’m her big brother after all.

This time, though, it was different. This time, we couldn’t go back.

I’d known for a long time that Mama was on crack. She knew that I knew, but she didn’t care much… as long as I kept my mouth shut and kept Jazmyn from bugging her, she pretty well left us alone. It’s like we weren’t even her kids. She told us often enough how much trouble we were, how her life would be better if she hadn’t had us. It used to bug me, but I tried not to think about it a lot. I didn’t care what she thought about me, didn’t care about her either.

For Jazmyn, though… this’s no life for a little kid like her. She’d never cry, even when Mama slapped her around. She knew better; if she cried, it’d hurt a lot more. I wish there was a way to get her out of here. Brooklyn ain’t exactly the best place for a kid to grow up.

I was yanked out of my thoughts when a cop car screamed by, siren on full blast. Jazmyn hardly flinched. The sound wasn’t new to her, having lived in New York for all of her short five years.

I shook my head and tried to formulate a plan. We could wander around for a while, but night would fall soon enough and I didn’t want her exposed to the horrors that lurked in these city streets. I shivered at the thought of a gun pointing at my baby sister, going off… or worse, pointed at me. If something happened to me, where would Jaz end up?

As the siren’s wail faded into the cacophony of city noise, I thought briefly about trying to find a cop. We could go to a police station… but I knew that idea was as dumb as it sounded. They’d probably put Jaz in a foster home or something where I’d never see her again. And I’d probably be headed for juvie. I had to think of something else.

“Tyrone.” I pushed the thought of juvie aside when Jaz’s hand tugged my coat. “Ty-ty, I’m hungry.” I swore, but only inside my head. Jazmyn heard enough of that at home… I didn’t want her hearing it from me.

“Okay, okay. Lemme think.” I put my head in my hands for a few seconds. If I could ditch Jazmyn somewhere, while I tried to scrounge up some lunch money… but then again, where would I leave a five-year-old in Brooklyn? It wasn’t like I could just abandon her somewhere.  If only mama hadn’t brought that creep home with her, I wouldn’t be worried about this…
(
Flashback) “Nice girly. Pretty little thing, ain’t ya?” His big, tattooed hand reached towards my sister’s curls, letting his gaze rove over her. She backed away, her huge brown eyes even bigger than usual. I narrowed my eyes and tried not to gag at the stench of alcohol coming from him.
“Leave her alone.” I spat the words at him, daring him to lay a finger on her. Never mind that he was about four times my size.
“Shut up.” He sounded bored, but I knew I’d gotten him mad. “I’ve got a pretty little present for her if she’s good… you a good girl?” He directed these next words at my little sister, who continued backing away until she bumped into the worn couch.
“Marcus. Come on already baby. We’re gonna be late.” I glanced at mama, taking in her smudged lipstick and too-bold eye makeup. If she could just get the creep out through the door…
The dude she called Marcus winked at my little sister, and I felt cold shivers run down my spine. “…She part of the deal?” He asked.
I lost it then. No way was I letting this punk anywhere near Jazmyn. She was the only thing I had left… I sure as heck couldn’t count on mama to protect her. “I said, leave… her… alone!!” I hollered at the guy.
He moved so fast I didn’t see the blow coming. If he hadn’t been half-drunk, he probably would’ve knocked my lights out and then some. As it was, I couldn’t stop the pained tears from filling my eyes. I grabbed Jazmyn and shoved her towards the door. He grabbed at my t-shirt and caught it, but thankfully the cheap material tore as I jerked away. Jazmyn burst into wails as mama tried to pull her away from me.
Down the hall, I barely had time to notice a neighbor poking his head out of his door. I was too busy lunging back inside after Jazmyn. I wasn’t letting mama hand her over to that monster. Jaz’s screams grew shriller, until mama smacked her across the face. “Shut up! Shut up brat! You want the cops to come?”
The creep laughed then, taking in my fighting stance, hands balled into fists. He could kill me bare-handed, and he knew it. “Let her go. She ain’t worth it.”
He lowered his voice as I pushed past him and grabbed Jazmyn. Terrified, she clung to me as I hauled her towards the door.
We left the tenement with her laughter ringing in my ears. Mama’s laughter… high-pitched and forced, but still… she laughed as the man she called Marcus drove her children out. Maybe she was afraid not to...but still, she laughed. (End flashback.)

“Ty-ty?” I jumped a little. I’d almost forgotten where I was. It was getting steadily colder, sitting on the brownstone steps, and I knew Jazmyn couldn’t be out here much longer. I had to think of a place to take her and I had to do it soon.

A thought jumped into my mind. Actually it was more like a picture; a big yellow bus filled with laughing, singing kids. Inner-city kids like me. Some white guy had a church or something going on in this area. I’d never been inside a church in my life but from what I heard on the streets, his was pretty different. For one thing, it was a church for kids. And for another, they held it outside a lot of the time. The big yellow buses would come and park on the side of the street or in one of the abandoned lots, and pretty soon the whole place would be jam-packed with kids.
  
I stared across the street, trying to remember the guy’s name. Bill, that was it. Bill somebody. Pastor Bill, they called him. I wasn’t really sure what the pastor part was supposed to mean.

I’d stopped and listened a few times, trying to figure out what was going on. A couple times, I’d edged close enough to grab one of the free suckers they were passing out. Jaz got a kick out of me bringing her a little treat.

Pastor Bill talked a lot about this dude named Jesus, and how He was supposed to love everybody and make them good people. How we were supposed to pray and stuff. He said there was a better way to live than doing drugs and stuff. I figured any man that had the guts to come to Brooklyn and say that to a crowd of kids like us, must be either weird or else he knew something we didn’t.

I’d kept an ear open on the streets after that, and started hearing some other stuff about this pastor dude. How he really cared about kids and even went around and visited the tenements and everything. Some guys threw a brick at him one time from an upstairs window… coulda killed him from what I heard. But he was back at the same building the next day.

“Ty-ty, I said I’m hungry!” Jazmyn’s voice took on a whiny tone.  She only whined with me… if she whined at mama, she’d get a smack. She knew it, too.

“Okay, okay. Think, Tyrone. You can’t sit out here all night. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to take a little walk and see if you can find that church place. They’re supposed to care about kids, right?”

For a minute, I wondered if I was nuts. Saving my sister from a total stranger, and then going looking for a total stranger to help us?

I got to my feet and pulled Jaz up after me. With her holding tightly to my hand, I tried to saunter as casually as I could down the street. Didn’t want anybody thinking I was up to no good.

“Pretty sure I seen the busses come from this direction… we’ll head down that way.

After almost an hour of walking, I still hadn’t seen anything familiar. Panic was starting to rise in my throat as I imagined me and Jazmyn sleeping outside.  Wouldn’t be the first time I’d done it, but could I keep Jaz warm? She was so little.

And then, just as the streetlights started coming on, I saw it. A chain-link fence surrounding a lot of old yellow busses. The words, “Sunday School” were neatly lettered on the sides of most of them. I’d found it!

Walking around to the front of the building, I discovered that the doors were locked and the windows were dark. Had we come all this way for nothing? Maybe there was a back door.

Around to the rear, I noticed that the back of the building looked more like a warehouse than anything. I found a door and banged on it, crossing my fingers that someone was there.

There was only silence, except for Jaz’s sniffling as she wiped her nose on her sleeve. Frantically I banged on the door again, then drew back, panting.

What did I expect? It’s the middle of the week. Nobody got any cause to be at church this time of day anyways.

I was just turning away, my heart spiraling down towards my shoes, when the door suddenly creaked open. I whirled around and Jazmin ducked behind me. A white guy with kinda long gray hair and a gray sweat suit peered out.

It’s him! That pastor Bill dude!

He looked at us expectantly, a ghost of a smile in his sober brown eyes. “Can I help you?” His eyebrows went up when he saw Jazmyn peeking around me.

“Um, we…ahh…” I stuttered. I hadn’t thought much about what I’d say if I did find the guy.

“Well… are you that pastor Bill guy that drives the busses around?” It was a dumb question. We could all see the busses parked out back.

“Yes.” Pastor Bill crossed his arms and leaned on the doorframe. He didn’t look impatient, just curious.

“Well, umm…” I finally decided to tell it like it was. “I heard you talk about some Jesus guy, and how He loves kids. We’re kinda in trouble and we figured, well…”

Pastor Bill looked us up and down. Finally he motioned us inside.

Crowding in through the narrow metal door, I was surprised to see the “warehouse” was fixed up kind of like an apartment. It wasn’t fancy; this Bill guy wasn’t rich; but it was pretty clean and a lot nicer than what we had at home.

“Have a seat. Can I get you a soda or something?” Pastor Bill motioned us to the couch. I perched on the edge, a habit born from never knowing when I’d have to run. Jazmyn was too tired to care much by now, and she leaned wearily on my side.  Remembering the offer of soda, I was about to say no when Jaz tugged on my coat. “Sure.” I corrected myself, “Yes, please.”

Less than a minute later, we both had cold sodas in hand. I popped the tab on Jazmyn’s and made sure she held the can with both hands so she wouldn’t spill before I took a swallow of my own. Pastor Bill took a seat opposite us and scuffed one brown shoe along the worn carpet.

“Well, you know my name, so how about you two introduce yourselves and tell me what I can do for you?”

It surprised me that I was so at ease, sitting in this comfy-but-strange living room with a strange guy. I prided myself on being a people-reader… it’s something you learn pretty quick, growing up around here. I could smell a skunk a mile off… and there was something about his man’s kind, sincere eyes that told me he was an okay guy.

“I’m Tyrone. And this’s my little sister, Jazmyn. We got no place to sleep tonight. Mama’s boyfriend run us out…” Pretty soon I had spilled the whole story. I could tell the dude was listening… he sat with his elbows planted on wide-spread knees and his chin in his hands, studying us with those eyes. I could tell he’d been around the block a few times… those eyes didn’t miss a thing.

After I finished spilling my guts, there was silence for several minutes. Pastor Bill leaned back in his chair and sighed. I guessed he was thinking pretty hard. “We can’t go to the cops,” I said yet again. 
“They’d take Jaz and stick her in one of those places for kids with no parents, and probably send me right back to mama.”

Pastor Bill tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Well…” he said at last. “It’s too late to do anything tonight anyway. You two need a good meal and some sleep. We’ll sort this all out in the morning.”

I gave a sigh of relief that worked its way up from my toes. Pastor Bill smiled at that. “Come on,” he said, “This little one looks like she could use some supper. And so do you.”

We followed him into the tiny kitchenette. “I’m not much of a cook… I hope spaghetti’s okay.” I settled Jazmyn on a phone book so she could reach the table from her chair, and brought her unfinished soda from the living room while Pastor Bill boiled noodles and microwaved spaghetti sauce out of a can. We were almost ready to eat when…

“Ty-ty, I gotta go!” Jaz was pretty insistent. I gave pastor Bill a sheepish look. “Okay if I take her to the can?” Pastor Bill pointed around the corner. “Bathroom’s right through there.”

Once in the bathroom, I stared at myself in the mirror while Jazmin did her business. What was I gonna do with her, I wondered. Would the dude call the cops in the morning? Maybe we could just live here with him for a while. I couldn’t see that happening though. I wondered if it had been dumb to bring Jaz here and ask for help. All the same though, I couldn’t let her sleep on the streets, and I sure couldn’t bring her home.

As we re-entered the kitchen, Pastor Bill was laying paper plates on the table. “Tyrone, I’ve been thinking. I haven’t got another bed, but I’m sure you’ll be comfortable on the couch. I’ve slept on it many times. I’ve got some pillows we could lay on the floor and cover with a couple blankets for Jazmyn. From what you’ve told me, it’ll be a bit more comfortable than where she’s used to sleeping.”

Preoccupied, I didn’t answer until a gentle hand closed on my shoulder. “Ty,” the voice was as gentle as the hand. “Did you know I was a foster kid once?”

I looked at him in surprise as he released my shoulder and turned towards the stove to serve the spaghetti. “My mom left me when I was about your age. How old are you?”

“Twelve.” I replied.

“I was thirteen when my mom left. I actually slept in a church for a while… all the ladies in the church would take turns bringing my meals. There were no beds then either; I slept on the pews.”
I continued to listen as I cut up Jaz’s spaghetti for her.

“I had nobody. Except the guy that picked me up off the street corner where my mom left me. He was the only friend I had. That’s why I came to Brooklyn… to make sure that another kid like me got a chance to get off the street.”

“Dear Jesus…” I jumped in surprise when the tone of his voice shifted. I had hardly notice that he’d bowed his head. Was he praying or something?

“…Thank you for bring Tyrone and Jazmyn to my door. You sent them here for a reason. Help them to feel safe and comfortable here. Thank you from protecting them. Help them to feel loved here…” I sneaked a look at his bowed head and clasped hands. Love? What was that? We didn’t have that in our home.

“…And help us to find a good safe place for them to belong. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

I shifted again. There was that guy, that Jesus dude that they all talked about. Pastor Bill talked to Him like He was right there in the room. I squinted… maybe, just maybe, He was.

Pastor Bill caught my eye as he looked up and smiled. “Dig in,” He said simply. I nodded and forked a mouthful of food, before asking, “Can you tell us more about that Jesus guy you talk about?”

Pastor Bill smiled again, and I was pretty sure I saw his eyes get a little wet. “There’s plenty of time, Ty. This is only the beginning.”

As I swallowed the warm food and watched Jazmyn nodding off in her chair, I wondered if this was what love felt like… and if maybe that Jesus guy had something to do with it.


Tyrone and Jazmyn are the products of my imagination. Sadly, however, their story is played out in the inner city way too often. Pastor Bill is a real person, right down to the bricks being thrown at him and sleeping in a church. Although this event is fictional, Pastor Bill helps a lot of kids in New York and all around the world. You can find out more about him and his ministry here :Metro World Child