When the gory newspaper article is someone you know

My heart felt like it stopped when I finally put two and two together and realized who Delmi was talking about. She had messaged me to say that a 15 year old from the community had been murdered that morning.  I could feel her sadness through the words she wrote but it took my mind a few minutes to connect the dots and realize who it was. 

Emerson. And then the tears came. Like a flood. I first met him in the summer of 2011.  His family lived near the church and school and he and his younger brother, Keiner were constantly hanging out.  We had added them to the sponsorship program and they were attending the school, Casita
Adonai.  Emerson was a charmer with the most beautiful smile.  He and Keiner just wanted to hang out with us and help.  I remember finally asking Delmi if they could help me sort school supplies and I can still see their sweet faces when we finished the last box.  They had given back and they were proud.  The teens on our team spent the afternoons painting and on the final afternoon they let the boys help them.  In celebration everyone smudged paint on their faces and t-shirts.  It was such a fun day!
As I learned a bit of their story I became burdened, but also at peace because I knew they were safe at the school and feeling loved by the people at the church.  The following year my heart broke as I learned that their family had moved and the boys would no longer be attending the school or church.  On my next visit I missed Emerson so much.

In January of 2015 the family moved back to the community and we quickly found a sponsor for Keiner so that he could attend school at Casita.  But Emerson was now in middle school and of course Casita only goes through the sixth grade.  I was happy to have them back in the area but concerned for Emerson for so many reasons.  This past summer I saw him.  He remembered me and smiled but his smile wasn’t the same.  It’s as if the life had been sucked from him.  All I could think was “We have lost him”. 

Sixth months later and he is gone.  We really have lost him.  One of the most shocking things that people see when they first visit Guatemala is how raw the newspapers are.  It’s not unusual to see photos of horrific car accidents with blood spilling in the streets.  This week the gory images I saw were of the lifeless bodies of Emerson and his friend, gunned down in broad daylight allegedly in a gang related act of violence.  My heart breaks for his family.  For Carlos & Delmi.  For his friends.  For his little brother.  And my heart just aches – because although I knew it could happen, I never really dreamed that a kid I loved would be taken from us in this way.

As I’ve processed this week and tried to put into words what I’m feeling, several things have made their way to the surface.

·    *   I read a story about a family that adopts terminally ill children who have been abandoned, and loves them fiercely until they pass away.  (You can read the story here).  One quote stood out to me:

“We invest deeply, and we ache terribly when these kids die, but our hearts are like stained-glass windows. Those windows are made of broken glass which has been forged back together, and those windows are even stronger and more beautiful for having been broken.” 

The tendency would be to back off – stop investing – stop loving, but God calls us to love these kids, knowing that it may mean we experience the ache of losing them.  It is from this investment and love that we become who we are truly meant to be. 

This verse keeps coming to my mind.
            “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
             and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
                                                -Psalm 38:14

I can choose to be crushed in spirit – or I can allow God to comfort me.

·     *  For the past few months I’ve sensed that we should invest more into the young adults who work with the teens at Iglesia Adonai.  The loss of Emerson only confirms this direction.  How can we love, support, and equip these amazing leaders so that they can continue to reach kids like Emerson?

·     * I was sharing with a friend today about how our passion for things goes through seasons.  It’s natural to get tired, lose focus, and wonder if what we are doing really does make a difference.  Sometimes God calls us to a period of rest where we are not dreaming and planning and running 100 miles an hour with hearts full of passion.  To be honest, I was losing energy and passion to raise funds for the third and final floor of the building that serves the school and church.  The dream has always been to offer middle school grades once the building is complete.  But fundraising is hard and sometimes exhausting and I had lost my drive to ask one more person for money.  And then I saw that newspaper article and I couldn’t help but think,

 “Would the story be different if Emerson had been able to stay at Casita for middle school?”

We will never know, but somehow God has used this loss to renew my passion to finish that third floor. 

And so, we grieve, question, cry, and then ask God “What next?”  Please join me in praying for Emerson’s family, especially his younger brother Keiner.  Pray for Carlos & Delmi and for the 15 year olds in the community like Emerson who are searching for love and acceptance.  May we be faithful to do our part so that they find it in Jesus.

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