When Life is Cheap, Smiles Disappear

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I received this email today. It is reality we see far too often. Tough kids, kids for whom life is cheap, but kids that God loves as deeply and as passionately as He loves you and me, and as He loves our children and grandchildren. Kids that we are called to love.

From my friend Corenne:

It is rare that I suddenly drop whatever I am doing to write, but feel compelled to do so today. Luis Roberto, 13, is dead. Shot by, well, who really knows. He was a bright, sweet kid, who saw his father shot down by drug traffickers. Worried for his safety, his mother convinced the authorities to send him to Hope Mountain.

But even at Hope Mountain, Luiz often expressed the heaviness of filling his father’s shoes, and providing for his family. Unfortunately, filling his father’s shoes meant becoming the neighborhood’s most intimidating drug trafficker.

My heart breaks as I remember the last time I saw Luiz. I was leaving Hope Mountain one afternoon, and saw Luis walking down the mountain, evidently “running away.” As usual, I was in a big hurry, but asked him to get in the car and pulled over to talk.

He said he was sad and he wanted to go see his mother. But Luiz had run away once before, and we had learned that he was hanging out with kids causing trouble at the local malls, and enjoying the notoriety that comes with being the son of a legendary drug trafficker. We had also learned that he had stated a desire to get revenge on the drug runners who killed his father.

I said, “Luiz, look at me. If you go back to your neighborhood, you are going to be killed. You are going to die just like your father did, and that is not what he wanted for you. I want to see you graduate from school. I want to dance at your wedding. But if you leave here, the next time I see you will be at your funeral, and you won’t be able to see me.”

Luiz got tears in his eyes, and agreed to go back. I drove him back up the mountain and he said he would stay at least through the weekend. But he didn’t. And now he is dead. He was barely 12 years old.

Today Phil and I tried to find something in the paper about what happened. In that same neighborhood, two girls, 13, and 16, both drug traffickers, shot by neighborhood vigilantes. A 4 year old-boy shot by a stray bullet in front of a church. Lots of kids shot dead in other neighborhoods too, but Luis didn’t even make the paper. By law, he has to be buried within 24 hours. It will be in a pine box, with a number, no name on top.

I needed to write today, because I needed to grieve. I want someone to be sad with me that Luis is gone. I have been at this long enough to know that we see about three kids a year buried. But hopefully, it will never get any easier. Hopefully, life will not just go on.

When we told the other boys, they were sad, but not like you would expect. But what should we expect? The other morning, our CFO overheard one of our boys telling the other about seeing his mother killed and dismembered by traffickers because of a drug debt. The other boy said, “Yeah, I know how you feel. I saw my mother chopped up too.” Unfortunately, we know it to be true from the official reports. And we have yet another boy with us with the same story. Grief and loss have to be dealt with differently here. There has to be a way to cope and go on.

How can we go on? What is the point? For it to make sense, I have to think about Weverton, who had killed, and almost been killed himself. But now, a year after graduating, he is a soloist at his church, and providing for his family through his job at a bakery. And, I have to think about the surprise visit on my birthday last night from Golbery and his family. Golbery came to us at age 12, after being involved in the shooting of a bus driver during an assault, and seeing his brother killed. Now, at 33, he drove an hour in the rain with his wife and daughter (yes, he owns a car) to bring me flowers, cake, balloons, and presents on my birthday. The chain of vengeance and violence has been broken for Weverton and Golbery. And so, encouraged by these blessings, we do go on.

If you can, please take a moment to remember Luis and to grieve for him. Please take the moment to pray for our other boys and their wounds. Luis couldn’t let go of the anger. He wanted revenge on his father’s death. He told one of our social workers he could taste the blood of his father’s killers. Only Christ can heal those kinds of wounds. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. The old has passed away and all things become new.” Easter is past, but I guess that is our message. A resurrection message that all people can begin anew.

In His Love,
Corenne Smith

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