Feliz Aniversário!

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The post this week comes from Karen Rodriguez, a member of Princeton Alliance Church in Plainsboro, NJ. A group from Princeton has been in Brazil this month ministering to our kids and refurbishing the sanctuary.

How do you get to spend your birthday? Do you get to go out with your family to a nice restaurant? Do they shower you with love, affection, and gifts in many forms?  Do you get to pick any cake you want and have people sing to you?  Does your dad sing the birthday song to you a week before your birthday and continue to sing it even after your birthday like my dad does?  Do you treat yourself to a day at the spa and squeeze in a little “Me time”? Maybe you anxiously await the many surprises your loved ones spring on you throughout the day.

Some of the children that come to Hope Unlimited don’t even know when their birthday is and therefore have never celebrated it. Imagine being 12 years old and never being recognized for your accomplishments by a family who loves you.  The kids here at Hope experience their “first” birthday when they arrive.  This organization does a wonderful thing every month.  They coordinate a birthday outing for any kids who have celebrated a birthday in the past month.  They take the kids for a night out where they get to do things like eat out at a Burger king or McDonalds and see a movie, perhaps play at the arcade but definitely get a birthday present.  These are 6-16 year olds who experience these things for the first time when they arrive at Hope Unlimited.

The boys’ outing was last Monday night. A few team members got to experience it and see the excitement in the boys’ eyes as they were given “credit cards” for the arcade, as they enjoyed a special birthday dessert at the mall and then ate dinner at Burger King where they were given a Whopper, fries and a milkshake. Such simple pleasures that we take for granted sent these boys to the moon.  Their smiles were as big and wide as the ocean.  What was even more touching were the hugs and thanks given at the end of the night.  They were just so grateful for the night out and the willingness of people to love them and treat them special.

The girls’ outing was Thursday.  When we got to the mall to meet up with them, we started the evening by taking them shopping in Walmart to spend 8 reais which equates to about $5.  They shopped for candy and tasty treats to enjoy for themselves.  I can’t imagine a parent in the United States saying to a 15 year old girl, “Here’s $5.  Happy Birthday!!”  What was heart-wrenching for us was helping the girls calculate the total so they can stay within budget.  At the end of the night, if they went over, they would have to choose what to keep and what to put back.  Every one of us wanted to tell them to take as much as they want without worrying about the budget, especially knowing that this was the first time shopping for many of them.  But, we knew that would not help them in their spiritual and emotional development.

After Walmart we went to Burger King where each girl got a Whopper, fries and a shake, just like the boys. They then went to the arcade with a few tokens and lastly, went to a movie.  The love they poured on us was much more than what they received in gifts.  All they wanted to do was give us hugs and kisses and spend time with us.  They didn’t just run off to do their own things with the allotment they received, but they wanted to be near the adults who just loved them on their birthday.  Some even shared what little they purchased with us.  It was quite touching.

The next time you get to celebrate a birthday and are about to blow out the candles on your cake, make a wish for the children at Hope Unlimited.  They could use an extra measure of grace.

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