As it turns out, this did happen from time to time as I walked alone. Only once did it get a little physical, but no big deal.
In our own country, we know that we have many adults that live on the streets of our cities, and I am sure that there are also many minors that are homeless and living on the streets. Nevertheless, in some cities of Latin America, and also apparently at least in Ethiopia, boys living on the streets can be a genuine security problem, even on a busy street in full daylight.
Hence the story from Lima, Peru. What I write below is not actually my story, but it was told to me by a man had opened a home for street boys and who shared with me some of the stories of the boys that had come into his home. (There are no real names in this essay).
THE STREET BOYS OF LIMA
Pedro is no longer a boy. He has grown into a young man and works as a janitor in a rescue home for street boys of Lima, Peru. He is married, has a child and is a believer in Jesus Christ – but this only after many years. And he still carries some scars in his soul.
When Pedro was born, his mother died in the delivery. He had an older brother and a sister, and for some years, the father kept the family together. Then, when Pedro turned four years old, his father called him into the room.
“Pedro,” his father said, “you are now four years old and for four years we have been waiting to tell you something. You are now old enough to understand. First, listen to your brother. He also has something to tell you.”
Pedro’s brother looked at him and said, “Pedro, the very first thing you did in your life was to kill my mother.”
Then it was the sister’s turn. She said to him, “The first thing that you did was to kill my mother and your own mother.”
After this, the father again spoke. “It is true Pedro. The very first thing that you did in your life was to kill my children’s mother, your own mother, and my wife. You are a murderer and an assassin, and we never want to see you again.”
With those words, the father put Pedro out of the house for the boy to tend for himself. So it was that when Pedro became four years old, he heard these words from his family and was turned out on the street. He has never seen them since.
The life of a street boy is deadly. Most never reach the age of 18. They die long before that age. Many, of course, die violently. A street boy who snatches a watch off of the wrist of someone on a sidewalk can be run down by a whole mob of people, who all join in the chase and then beat the boy to death. Or it might be with a bullet in the head from a policeman. Many simply die from pneumonia. Their bodies are so weak and they have no strength to fight infection.
The term “street boy” is really a misnomer. They do not live on the streets like an adult homeless person. These boys exist by hiding. They find a place in a drainage ditch or a sewer, a dark corner or a rooftop – any place that they can hide away in some relative safety. They only appear out of their hiding places when they need food. They do not come out to walk the streets for pleasure, because as they say, “El muerte me espera en cada esquina.” Death awaits me at every corner.
They are not street boys. The street to them is not their home. They have no home. They can only exist by hiding. When they need food, they will come out. They must do something to get food.
There are basically two methods by which the street boys can exist. They can steal, or they can prostitute themselves. They do not snatch a watch because they want a watch. They steal it because they can trade it for food. When they get food, they also try to buy some glue. They put the glue in a little piece of plastic and cover their mouths and nose so that they can breathe the fumes. “Con eso me borra,” they say. With this, I am erased.
Most of these street boys are the results of abusive homes. Almost none know who their father is. Most were turned out by their mother when a new man has moved into the house and did not want to put up with all of the kids around. It is the boys who are put to the streets. The girls are not so quickly turned out by the mother because the mother sees herself in her little girls. She knows the dangers that lie on the streets and she harbors a hope that her little girl can grow up to have a better life. If anyone can survive, she thinks, it will be the boy. So it is the boys who are rejected.
Strangely, the boys of the street do not blame their mothers for this. They blame themselves. Like Pedro, they have come to believe that they are bad people, and bad people do not deserve anything else. When asked what was the hardest moment of their life, they will not talk about being rejected by their mother.
“The most difficult moment is when I have to think,” they will say. To think is mental anguish and torture, so for this they get the glue. “With this, I am erased.”
Stealing is the preferred method of existence on the street. The other is far worse. It is by selling oneself for sex. To exist by stealing, however, a boy must be able to run. He must be old enough and healthy enough to outrun his pursuer. A boy of four who is turned out on the street has almost no chance of survival. It is no insignificant matter that Pedro was still alive long enough to grow into a young adult, but the price had been very great.
Most of us cannot imagine the depths of the horrors of this world. Pedro had been forced to do everything for every type of perverted and depraved creature (I cannot bring myself to call them persons). But somehow, he survived. Do we need to wonder why these boys are afraid to think?
Pedro came into the home for street boys when he was twelve. He did not come because he trusted the people in the home. He simply did not know what it was to trust. None of the boys do. That someone should want to help them is something that is completely foreign to them. They think that everyone must be some hidden motive. They stay in the home for a while, until they think it is getting too dangerous, and then they leave. After a time they may come back. This time they may stay a little longer and try to figure it out. Sometimes they leave and do not return. No one can know what has happened. Mostly it is assumed they have been killed.
A boy named Esteban left the home and disappeared for a long time – two years. Then one day he showed up at the door. He looked very ill. “Can we take you to the doctor?” they asked him at the home. Mostly the boys will not let them take them to doctors. They do not trust the people of the home and they do not trust the doctor.
“Why should these people try to help me?” the boys say to themselves. “I am a bad person.” If the doctor should want to give him an injection, they are especially suspicious. “What is in the needle this doctor wants to inject me with?” The boys are always on their guard.
This particular boy, Esteban, finally said “yes,” they could take him to the doctor. He was very sick. The doctor examined him and then told him bluntly, “you have AIDS and you are dying. You have three days to live.”
The people of the boys’ home brought him back to the home. “Let us prepare a room where you may stay and please let us be with you when you die,” they told him. “You only have two or three days to live,” they said, “do you not want to trust in Jesus?”
Here again is the matter of trust. We cannot understand how difficult it is for them. “Trust” has never been anything to them but the enemy. It has left them vulnerable and it has betrayed them. There are the scars.
However, this time Esteban said, yes, he was ready to trust. He asked Jesus into his life. “Now stay with us,” the people at the boy’s home told him. “Let us be with you when you die.”
“No, I do not deserve this,” Esteban responded. “For many years you have been kind to me and I have never loved you in return. I do not deserve to stay here and die. That I will die and be with Jesus, of this I am sure, but all that I deserve in this life is the street.”
He left. Three days later, Esteban was found dead, lying on the street.
But Pedro had survived. Somehow, (and I think that none of us want to imagine how) Pedro survived. He stayed at the home for a time, and then left. He came back, stayed a little longer, and left again. Slowly he began to allow himself to hope. Once he had left and was gone for a year or more. When he returned, it was with a young girl for a wife and a little baby. The people at the children’s home gave him a job as a janitor, so that he could buy food for his family.
Over and over Pedro heard the gospel. Over and over he heard the teachings of Jesus and was asked if he wanted to give his life to Jesus. He was never ready to do this. He was never ready to trust. One day one of the staff persons pulled him aside and told him, “Pedro, some day you are going to feel as if someone is pulling at your heart. Some day you are going to feel like someone is knocking at a door in your heart as if he wants to come in. Pedro, if that ever happens, it will be Jesus. When that happens, allow him to come into your heart and your life.”
Some time later Pedro was mopping the floor in the boy’s home, doing his job as a janitor. The staff person who had spoken to him about Jesus knocking on his heart’s door was sitting in his office. Pedro had a two-way radio that he could use to call the office and that they used to communicate between themselves. The man at the desk suddenly received a call from Pedro up on the 5th floor of the building – the top floor.
“Please come here quickly,” Pedro said. He was crying.
“Why? What has happened?”
“Just come quickly here.”
When the staff person arrived, Pedro was sitting on the floor crying. Pedro did not know what was happening to him.
“Look at me,” Pedro said. “I am crying! I never cry. I do not remember ever crying and I did not even know that I could cry. And what you said is happening. Someone is pulling at my heart!”
In that moment, Pedro received Christ into his life. He became a new person.
There are still some scars. Pedro still is dealing with many things in his life. But all is different now, and these are not scars that will remain forever.
Of the Lord Jesus, who came into Pedro’s heart that day, we read these words:
He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5 NIV)