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Today I welcome Maddie to the blog. Last summer sixteen-year-old Maddie and her family visited Hope Unlimited’s City of Youth in Brazil. She recently spoke at a chapel service at her school about her experiences in Brazil.  These words are excerpted from her presentation.

Imagine a girl who lives in a comfortable suburban house surrounded by a loving family. She attends Stanford games and vacations in Newport Beach with her family. She attends private school.

Imagine another girl who lives in a home of cardboard and plywood, without plumbing or electricity. She walks barefoot on a dirty, trash-filled street. Her mom suffers from mental illness and has to leave the house and take medication to avoid hurting her children. The father is a drug addict. On the way home from school, the girl sells herself on the street to earn money for her family.

These two girls met this past summer. If you have not already guessed, I am the first girl.

Last summer I traveled to Brazil to visit a Christian non-profit organization,Hope Unlimited, which rescues children who have been sexually exploited and are living on the streets. When I returned to the U.S., I struggled to understand what I had seen and experienced. It was hard for me to find the words to describe it.

My whole life I have lived in tight-knit environments where I have experienced love and expected it from those around me. In Brazil, the family system works differently in some segments of society. In the poorer classes, many families are so desperate as a result of poverty and addictions that they make money off their children by selling them into prostitution or using them to sell drugs. The children are not cherished members of the family, but products used to support the family.

Hope Unlimited works with social services in Brazil to rescue teenagers living in these situations of imminent risk. Hope provides homes for these children with loving house parents on spacious ranch facilities at three locations in Brazil.

While at Hope, I was invited to go with a group of boys celebrating their birthdays. A twelve-year-old boy with whom I had played arcade games offered me a piece of gum he had bought with part of his birthday shopping money. While his gesture may seem weirdly inconsequential as we sit here today, for some reason it touched me. He had a degree of gentleness and humble generosity that I was not expecting. I later found out that, before his time at Hope, he had wandered the streets and had been arrested for robbing people at gunpoint. The story seemed inconceivable.

Hearing the stories of the children at Hope made me uncomfortable. And that is exactly why it was so important to listen. After struggling with their stories and pasts, I was amazed at how they had learned to move forward towards a new future.

The love I witnessed in Brazil was unconditional. At Hope, that kind of love heals, and makes people feel that their past does not tarnish who they are in the present.

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