Yes, family is the ultimate answer. But family—as we understand it—is not always a possibility.
Stefani did not fit the profile of the kids who usually come to Hope. She came from a middle class family, with two parents. She was not a typical child of the streets, but in her 15 years, she has experienced a lifetime of hurt, abandonment, and abuse.
In her voice:
My parents started to drink, and then to fight. My mother was being bi-polar, and the alcohol drove her over the edge. And then my father left.
As mom’s drinking got worse, she introduced me to all the wrong things: drinking, drugs, pornography. Several times Mom tried to commit suicide, and I saved her life. Mom would cuss me for saving her, and blame her condition on me. Finally I ran away and went to live with my father and his new wife. He was still drinking heavily. One day, in a fit of rage, while I watched, he attacked his wife with a knife and murdered her. He went to prison, and I went back to live with my mother.
After I moved back with Mom, I was ‘befriended’ by an older man and went to live with him. He took care of every need I had; all I had to do was share my body. But soon he started using crack. One day, he saw me just hanging out with my school friends and became infuriated, beat me, and violently raped me. Later, to show he was sorry, he introduced me to crack. He started beating and raping me regularly, and giving me crack so I could feel better afterwards. It was a vicious cycle. Finally, with the help of some friends, I ran away from this man and started working as a prostitute and taking crack.
One day, I looked in a mirror and did not recognize myself anymore. I knew I had to get help. So I went to the youth authorities and soon found myself at the City of Youth.
Here I found something different; people who encouraged me, and believed in me, and introduced me to God and His infinite love. I used to always wonder ‘why me?’ and why my family had been taken away. But now I understand that God did not take away my family; He has given me one. The City of Youth is my family; the family I have never had.
Stefani told this story to a visiting mission team at our City of Youth and then said, “You may not live here in Brazil, but every one of you is part of my new family. With every smile, with every embrace, you show us that you care and that you will always be here for us. When I look at you, I see people who are not perfect, but who are doing their best to show every child here the perfect love of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In her words . . . from her heart.