Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Different Approach to Reaching Street Boys

The vision of Masana has always been about reaching street children and rebuilding families.  In the past, that has been accomplished through building relationships with boys as they attend our day center, speaking with them about God's design of family and the need to return to theirs.  We teach often on the plans and purposes God has for their lives and the fact that those plans and purposes cannot come to be as long as they are living on the streets.  We have helped over 100 boys leave the streets of Maputo.  Over 100 families have been rebuilt.

But now, something new is happening amongst the street boys of Maputo.  HIV rates for adults in Mozambique are around 11% but in the capital city of Maputo, that number is closer to 20%.  We are starting to see the truth of those numbers reflected in the street boy population.  In the past 10 months, 6 of our boys have tested HIV+.  No longer are the conversations with these boys simply about the need to return to their families where they can enter into the plans and purposes God has for their lives.  Now the conversations are about returning to their families where they can receive the treatment and support they need and live a long and healthy life.  It's about convincing them that a positive test does not mean their is no longer hope.  There is Hope.

In the past few months, we've begun talking more about HIV/AIDS at Masana.  We've held 2 testing days with over 50 boys being tested in total.  We've invited professionals to teach on preventative measures.  Just this past week, we began a circumcision campaign as male circumcision is shown to reduce rates of transmission of HIV by 40%.  We're doing all we can to reach these boys before they have a positive HIV test.

And for those that do have that positive test, we make sure they get the care they need at the local hospital.  We encourage them to go home so that they can live in a clean environment with less exposure to sickness.  We go with them to their home to help break the news to their families.  We provide food packages on a monthly basis because we know how important proper nutrition is in staying healthy.  And most of all, we encourage them not to lose hope.  God still has incredible plans and purposes for their lives.  With the proper treatment, which, thank God, is readily available here in Mozambique, they can still live a very normal life.  There is Hope.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Finally Home

I met Zelfo in 2009 when I first started working with Masana.  He was one of the hardest boys to love...a bully to all the younger boys on the street.  I remember fiercely defending the little boys when Zelfo would take their food or force them to give a portion of the money they made begging on the streets.  He was well known by everyone who lived on the street.  We took him home two or three times but he always came back to the streets.  We even paid for him to go to South Africa where his brother lives, but still he ended up back on the street.  Over the years he softened up a bit.  He had stopped coming to Masana because of his age but he'd visit us from time to time.  He always knew he was welcome here if he was sick or injured.

A few weeks ago he showed up because he needed us.  He has been badly burned while trying to remove some electrical wires in an abandoned building.  Someone had taken him to the hospital but he ran away.  He showed up here with a barely recognizable face and wearing hospital clothes.  After chatting for a bit, Roberto and I convinced him to go back to the hospital with the promise that we would visit daily.  He accepted but only stayed 2 more days before running away again.

Fast-forward to last Friday.  One of our regular boys showed up at the gate and asked me to come outside and speak with him.  He had bad news.  Zelfo had passed away during the night.  Roberto and I quickly got in the car and went to the area of the city where he had been staying but the police had already removed his body.  So we went to the morgue at the Central Hospital where the police agent had us identify his body.  He needed Zelfo's personal data to put on the hospital intake form.  I was stumped.  I knew that Zelfo was he "street name" not his real name but I couldn't remember his real name.  So the agent had to list him as "unknown."  We headed back to Masana and I searched through our notebooks where boys' stories are recoded.  Jose Lino.  23 years old.  From Xai-Xai.

We tracked down Zelfo's family and 3 of them arrived at Masana on Sunday from up north.  That night we had a memorial service for all of the street boys to come together and honor the life of Zelfo.  80 people showed up.  Like I said, he was famous on the streets of Maputo.

Monday and Tuesday I spent hours with the family at the hospital trying to get Zelfo's body released for his burial.  We had to go to 3 police stations to find his process so that his name could be changed from "unknown" to "Jose Lino."  When it came time for his family to identify his body, they couldn't do it.  It wasn't because they were nervous about seeing him dead...they literally couldn't identify him because they didn't recognize him.

That was the hardest part about this whole ordeal.

Not spending hours sitting at the morgue with the stench of death all around.

Not walking through the morgue and seeing bodies everywhere....treated with so little respect.

Not treading with caution so that I didn't slip in whatever that gross liquid was on the floor.

Not the shock of them opening the refrigerator and pulling out the drawer with, not 1, but 2 bodies crammed in together.

The hardest part was realizing that Zelfo had spent so much time on the street that his own family didn't even recognize him.  Over half of his life had been spent on the streets.  Masana literally was the closest family he had.

I fought back tears as I stepped in to do the official identification of the body.  Precious Zelfo.  Notorious Zelfo.  His defiant attitude was both annoying and inspiring. He knew who he was and what he wanted. He was strong and was a bully. But he was also a big softy who hated his picture being taken.

Jose Lino.

To us you were not an "unknown" street boy.  You were Zelfo.  And we loved you.  Thank you for the privilege of caring for you these past 8 years.  You are home now.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Give Thanks to the Lord

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good.  His love endures forever.  Psalm 136:1

Despite a rough start to 2017, God is teaching us so much about the importance of taking time to reflect on Him and what He is doing in the midst of hard times.

We returned from the USA to news that 2 of the rooms we had built last year at our center had to be torn down.  One of those rooms was to be a bedroom for 2 street boys that we had invited to live with us in a one year transitional phase to get them off the street.  We scrambled and came up with a plan B....add a bedroom onto the house that Roberto and I have built on our personal land across the bay from the city.  What should have been a 3 or 4 week building project (a bedroom, kitchen, and veranda) is now looking like 6 weeks because of the lack of water.  Apparently cement work is difficult without water.  But, we give thanks to the Lord because there is still a home for Jose and Arlindo to live in this year and they have settled in well.

Speaking of a lack of water, we also returned to news that the reservoir that supplies water to Maputo is almost dry.  The water company has started rationing water in an attempt to stretch out what little water is left in the reservoir as we wait for rains.  We now only get water every other day.  We were managing fine until our day center reopened and we all of a sudden had 30+ people needing to wash clothes and bathe at our house.  After a couple of weeks of running out of water most days, we were able to purchase a 5000L tank and install it at our house so that we still have water on the off days.  We give thanks to the Lord for provision of water.

We started the year short staffed at Masana because of 2 staff members out on maternity leave, 1 completing an internship for his university course, and 1 stuck in the USA awaiting documents to return.  One of the other street kids' centers here in our city stopped accepting children during the day because of funding issues which means the number of boys at Masana increased.  35 boys a day with only 4 staff members was not easy.  But we give thanks to the Lord for the new boys that are now a part of our ministry and for the hard work of our staff members.

This past Friday was our first staff day of the year.  We read Psalm 136 together.  The first 9 verses are easy to ready as they talk about praising the God who created the heavens and earth.  When we got to the verses that talk about praising the God who killed the first born of every family in Egypt and who killed mighty kings, I debated jumping ahead.  But I didn't.  Because our God is both a beautiful Creator and a just Ruler.  Sometimes God's ways are harsh.  But His ways lead to freedom for the people of God.  Sometimes there is suffering.  But joy comes in the morning.  How many times have we seen God take hard situations and bring glory to His name?  How many boys have chosen to leave the streets and go home because of suffering?  So we give thanks to the Lord in both the hard times and the blessed times.  His love endures forever.