Olga and Sarah Find a Home
This time it was neither worship nor bible study that brought her to the pastor. Olga wanted food for 2-year-old, Sarah. The months of struggling to provide had taken their toll and Olga's resolve to make it on her own was gone. The church had nothing to give, other than compassion, and to suggest that she try the organization next door because they "sometimes help poor mothers with babies."
So, there she stood, different then all the others before her. Olga had a blank look on her face, empty and hollow. Baby Sarah remained absolutely silent as she laid her head on her mothers shoulder. Occasionally she would look around but even with coaxing her expression never changed. Sarah is fine featured and beautiful but quite thin. She was relatively clean and dressed in a faded pink dress. She also, would stare straight into your eyes but showed no emotion, whatsoever.
I asked Nitsy, our education coordinator, to come out front with me and talk with this young mother. Olga glanced back and forth between us. She acted as if she wanted to direct her comments to me, but would glance back to Nitsy and stop short before saying anything. Nitsy asked three or four times what we could do for her and she kept glancing like she had a secret that she couldn't tell to more then one person. I told her that my Spanish was, "not so good" and that she should answer Nitsy's questions and it was only then that she spoke. At first her lips were moving but no intelligible words came out. We kept moving closer and repeating the question, “what can we do for you?”
At some point Nitsy started to understand what was being said, but I never did. She told me that Olga lived only a few blocks away and that her 75-year-old father was very poor and unable to support her and her baby. He is the watchman for a property where they live in a wooden shack with dirt floors, no electricity, running water or plumbing. He receives 3 dollars a week for his pay and even in this economy that is only enough for one day’s food.
Olga thought she was marrying the father of little Sarah but as soon as she was pregnant, at age 16, he was gone. I have said before and it is worth repeating. Most of these girls have gone through the courtship rituals of this culture and when they live with a man it is because they believe that married life has begun and this is the beginning of a long term relationship, regardless if there was a wedding or not. In the poor communities where we work, very few people have had a wedding or have even done the paper work with the local justice system. So I want to reiterate that the four girls that we currently have in our crisis center were not morally loose girls who's promiscuous life style brought about these natural consequences. No, these girls, so far, are all victims of persuasive men that essentially made life long promises that they did not keep.
After listening to Olga's story I asked three or four direct questions about her level of education, her desire to continue studying and her interest in the bible study with her neighbor. Her answers, though positive, were short and barely audible. I asked if we could go and visit her home and she agreed, still not smiling or showing emotion of any kind.
The property is only five minutes walk from our office. It is on top of hill overlooking this whole community. The walls around the property are made up of old galvanized metal, boards and terra cotta block in some sections. Inside the rustic gate it is beautiful. A small lake, shade trees and well-manicured grass surround a leveled spot where a thatched roof covers two hammocks for resting during the heat of the day. The house that sits part way down the slope has simple board walls, and one corner that is sectioned off for Olga and Sara to sleep. There is an old metal bed frame with one leg missing and a board tied into its place. This is where the father sleeps. His worn out leather shoes were under the bed and a blanket covered the metal springs where a mattress should be.
Someone had tied some cotton rope from the rustic table to some picnic style benches to keep then from falling over as the legs settled into the damp earth. There were several pictures from the newspaper stuck on the wall. A large tourist map with water stains and spider webs covering the top section was hanging crooked beside the open shutters. Olga's bed is just wooden planks with a handmade headboard and footboard. There was one blanket to sleep on and a smaller one to cover with on chilly nights. A small hammock was tied close to the bed where baby Sara sleeps at night and naps during the day. The typical fire ring was on the floor in the other corner of the house and a few pots and pans and kitchen things were grouped in that general area. There was no food in sight and several tin cans with homemade wicks were set in strategic locations so that after dark the smoky kerosene lamps could shed light on the final activities of the day.
I asked for Nitsy's opinion of this girl. I asked if she thought Olga was just incredibly shy, a little afraid or maybe just a little simple. They had opportunity to talk while the father engaged me in conversation and confessed that he simply could not provide what he should for his daughter and grandbaby. He is old and weak and nobody will hire him since there are thousands of younger, able-bodied men, looking for work every day. During their short conversation Olga said, "I am sorry I can't talk, if I say much of anything I know I will cry and I don't want to cry anymore."
There was really nothing more that I needed to see or hear. Olga is exactly the kind of girl we want to assist in our center but instead of good news I started forming the speech in my mind to tell her that we didn't have room or the resources right now to help another mother and daughter. I wanted to explain to her how faith works...you know? Just pray and wait and I am sure God will open a door somewhere for you and your baby but I couldn't think of a way to say it without piercing my own heart with the message that if God can provide for Olga, then He can provide for us while we support, nurture and protect her. All I could come up with in that moment was to say I would come and find her as soon as God provided a way for us to help.
For the first time in our moments together I saw just a hint of emotion. There was an instant when her eyes dropped and she looked away, then back to me. I saw her take a deep breath and pause. Then with some hidden strength she tried to smile but the quivering of her chin interrupted the effort. Here lips formed the word "gracias" but again, it was an inaudible whisper. This was Wednesday.
Thursday morning I went through my regular routine. Up at 5:30, getting the girls off to school. Next was my morning worship time alone, and then with the volunteer group and staff, then off to breakfast. I was troubled with thoughts of Olga. After we ate, the group headed out for the day and I would spend the next few hours in the office. As I turned on the computer the first email I opened was from a friend regarding KEEH, Positive Life Radio, heard in Spokane and the Inland North West. They were finishing their annual Share-a-thon event that funds their own ministry for the entire year and having already reached their goal they wanted to give 10% of the overflow to the People of Peru Project. They were trying to reach me for a live interview while the Share-a-thon was still underway.
I immediately called Positive Life Radio and within a few minutes I was talking to thousands of people who have a heart for Christ and His work not only in the Spokane area but in places like the Amazon jungles of Peru. At the time of this interview, before I ever said a word, there was $1,000 in the fund for People of Peru Project and by the end of the day this number doubled.
As Part of the interview one of the announcers asked me what this specific money would be used for? It was difficult to keep my composer as I told them that Olga's prayers had been answered and that I was going straight to her house to tell her the good news. My fledgling faith had been replaced, once again, with confidence.
Today we took Olga to the foster care facility in Santa Thomas. The other girls made her feel welcome and assured her that this place would be a home where tears are not necessary. The four girls are in one small room. We have bunk beds for the mothers and one crib for two of the babies to share. It is crowded but it is home. There are always 3 meals a day, medical assistance for the mothers and babies, educational opportunities and vocational training for a bright future. Lorenzo, our director, and his family have the gifts of hospitality and within moments you know you are welcome and loved.
The architects dropped off the plans for our new building for this property. It is a beautiful U shaped facility with a courtyard and a two-story structure surrounding a central plaza. There will be 18 rooms total and three will be handicapped accessible. We have the money to start one section of this facility but nowhere near the amount we need to finish it. I think God was showing me once again that he has resources and ways that I know nothing about. I hear a very clear directive to move forward... and those we will do.
I look forward to the day when we are able to provide a place of love, education, health and safety to many young mothers and little children who have been betrayed and abandoned. We want to demonstrate to these kids that it is possible to have trust and confidence in someone that loves you, no matter what! More importantly, we want to introduce this generation of young people to a friend and confidant that will never, ever, let them down. We want to prepare them for a life in a place where tears will only be a memory and Jesus himself will wipe every eye with His nail pierced hands and say, "You don't have to cry anymore!"