Updated: Jul 25
This is a story written by one of our youth pastors Cadaniño. It does a powerful job relating what it is like to work in the difficult places where God has called us.
Luke Dove, Youth Pastor, Cadaniño Santa Fe I sometimes find it hard to describe the depth and scope of what Cadaniño does and what it's like to serve vulnerable children where we do.
While I am a Youth Pastor, what I and the Bible teachers I work with do is so much more than just teaching Bible classes.
I was reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, called Turning my Mourning into Dancing: Finding Hope in Hard Times. It's an excellent resource I highly recommend, as it has helped me work with kids experiencing hard times. It has a beautiful explanation that encapsulates so much of what we do here.
Nouwen is examining the word "Compassion"...
"For the word comes from roots that mean literally to "suffer with"; to show compassion means sharing in the suffering "passion" of another. Compassion understood in this way asks for more from us than a mere stirring of pity or a sympathetic word. To live with compassion means to enter others' dark moments. It is to walk into places of pain, not to flinch or look away when another agonizes. It means to stay where people suffer. Compassion holds us back from quick, eager explanations when tragedy meets someone we know or love."
That defines what we seek to do, and here is a story that illustrates it:
"Justin" (Name changed for privacy reasons) is a student in our program. He's 12 years old and soon be joining the youth classes. He has a cute little sister who isn't old enough to be in our program yet, loves taking care of the little baby chicks they have at their house, and likes old Disney movies. He plays the bootleg DVDs on an old 12-inch box TV and lives with his whole family in a one-room house/shack.
His neighbors are his grandmother on one side and his aunt and uncle on the other; their homes look the same.
The roof undoubtedly lets in water during the rainy season, they don't have a car, and they live close to the edge of the ravines surrounding the community. Ultimately, His living situation is typical for students in our programs.
Justin is a good kid, always early, dedicated to his work, and proud to serve when it's his turn to help clean up the center or assist the teachers.
He actually volunteers to pray in Bible class, which is great, and we love to see that, as many of our kids struggle with that or are scared of speaking in public.
But Justin will step up and pray. It's usually for his parents. That's rare. Lots of our students don't have or even know both of their parents. Most are missing fathers due to abandonment, death, immigration, etc. But Justin did know his dad. He would always pray that his mom and dad would be happy, that they would get back together (they were occasionally separated), and that they would quit fighting. His prayers are very sweet and consistent.
I had only been here a few months when we got a phone call. Justin's father had been killed in an accident. His motorcycle was hit by a truck. I can't describe the emotions that passed through our team at that moment. Just like that, Justin became fatherless, like most of our other kids.
Eduardo, our coordinator, and I went to visit Justin and his family the next day.
I didn't have words to describe what it was like to walk into their home and sit with Justin until I read Nouwen's definition of compassion.
We entered the dark moment, because how could we do anything else?
Compassion "is to walk into places of pain, not to flinch or look away when another agonizes. It means to stay where people suffer."
I sat and talked with him and his little sister for about an hour and a half while Eduardo talked to the mom. Mostly what I remember is emotional feelings of hurt. I didn't have words to talk to the kid who had just lost his dad, the one person he had prayed for more than any other. I didn't have words for the 4-year-old who will never know her father. I didn't have words for the grieving mother and wife who must find a job, take care of the kids, and manage life as a single mother.
I still don't have words for any of that.
But it wasn't my words that mattered. It was that we were there for them. Praying for them, being with them, and showing compassion to them.
Being present with them encompassed what we are called here to do.
Justin's story has a lot yet to be written. There is a lot of wrestling with God still yet to be done. There is much mourning yet to be felt, and I can't do that for him. But at Cadaniño we are here to be present and walk alongside him.
Being with him and his family on their worst day makes our days of celebration with him a little bit brighter. Our commitment is to walk with each student in the bad and in the good, in the low places and the high ones.
When Justin placed top 10 in his class at the end of the school year (a truly impressive achievement), I can't tell you how happy and moved we all were. Seeing him at Christmas when we gave him presents brought us such joy.
My prayer is that we never grow callous to the suffering around us. I hope that we don't begin to ignore it and that our hearts always break when something difficult happens to the children we care about. I pray that when they come to us for help, we are there to listen to them, to sit in their pain with them, not flinching or looking away but feeling it alongside them.
It's a challenge, but when we commit to doing life with these kids, that's what it means. Many of our students are hurting like Justin is. Whether from past wounds or recent ones, many are in mourning and feel deep pain from loss, or abuse, abandonment, neglect, and loneliness.
Our job is to walk with them in their pain and direct them to the Savior who loves them more than they know. To sit in their darkness with them and do our best to point them to the light. We hope that when we suffer here at the ministry, we suffer in communion with each other, look squarely at what causes us pain, and understand that God has given us a path through it.
When we say come as you are, we mean it. We don't want the students to feel like they must put on a face of being okay or feeling like they need to bury their pain. We are learning to let Christ live near our hurts because that is where we most need to hear of hope and new life.
"Mourning makes us poor; it powerfully reminds us of our smallness. But it is precisely here, in that pain or poverty or awkwardness, that the Dancer invites us to rise up and take the first steps. For in our suffering, not apart from it, Jesus enters our sadness, takes us by the hand, pulls us gently up to stand, and invites us to dance. We find the way to pray, as the psalmist did, 'You have turned my mourning into dancing' (Psalms 30:11), because at the center of our grief we find the grace of God. And as we dance, we realize that we don't have to stay on the little spot of grief, but can step beyond it. We can stop centering our lives on ourselves. We pull others along with us and invite them into the larger dance. We learn to make room for others- and the Gracious Other in our midst. And when we become present to God and God's people, we find our lives richer. We come to know that all the world is our dance floor. Our step grows lighter because God has called out others to dance as well." -Henri Nouwen-
Working in these places is hard because the lives of those we serve are often filled with great pain and immense sorrow. We don't gloss over the pain. We don't try and brush it away. We simply walk with them through their moments in the valley of the shadow of death as a reminder that a God who loves them is with them.
Partner with Cadaniño today and impact lives for eternity!