Toward What End?

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I will never forget the night we met Fran. It was our first night at Hope, and only her second or third. My wife and I had traveled to Brazil to see the program there firsthand. A pizza outing for some of the girls at Hope Ranch let us meet a few of the kids without being overwhelmed. While most of the girls actively engaged us—they were very accustomed to English-only Americans on mission trips—Fran shyly caught our eyes and smiled, head down. It was obvious she was new and didn’t yet know the ropes.
The next day we asked Adrianna, the counselor handling Fran’s case, about her. Four years later, I still catch my breath when I remember sitting in our hotel room as Adrianna told Fran’s story. Fran did not know her father. With her mother in a hospice dying of AIDS, eleven-year-old Fran became the responsibility of her 16-year-old sister. The first night in her new home, Fran was raped by her sister’s gang. Then, the gang began to traffic her, selling her nightly for group sex. Her sister. Eleven-years-old. After several months of this horrific abuse, a neighbor filed a report, and Fran was brought to Hope.
I said to Adrianna, “In the United States, there is no chance that this little girl would make it. She would probably be institutionalized, scarred beyond the hope of recovery.” Fire blazes in Adrianna eyes as she hears that someone would give up on a child. “But with God . . .” she says.
Move the clock ahead almost two years. I am standing at the back of a chapel service at the City of Youth. Pastor William invites those who want to commit their lives to Christ to stand. Several teenagers in the room rise to their feet; friends move to stand beside them in support. I see a young lady stand a few rows in front of me, and one her friends immediately moves beside with an embrace. I slip over to stand beside her, and as I do, she turns around. It’s Fran, and the once shy, head-down smile is replaced by one of the most joyful expressions I have ever seen.
A few weeks later, I am asked a question by an investor in our program. “Are you trying to prepare these kids for the workplace or for Sunday school?”
They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, both are absolutely necessary.
There really isn’t one for us without the other. Unless we give the kids at Hope a solid academic foundation and a marketable vocation, they will not have a future. At the same time, the scars that so many of the kids bear can only be healed when their souls are made whole, when they experience the gift of our Father’s love.
The little girl who I was so quick to pronounce “beyond saving” is thriving today. Fran is a good student and is preparing for a career in food services. And her smile lets us know that her past truly is in the past, because her future has been transformed.

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