Sergio & Rafael his Sunday School Teacher
I thought to update the blog with a post about Sergio (Checho), who in many ways became my chief focus the last 2 months that I was in Honduras. I wrote an article about him for the EMM's monthly magazine and I think I'll post that here and then give some updates.
From the June-2012 Missionary Messenger:
Our work in the garbage dump community of Los Laureles these past four years has revolved around offering hope. Hope in a way out of poverty through a quality, secondary education. Hope in a positive sense of self-worth through soccer teams, birthday celebrations and loving, Christ-centered friendships. Hope in Jesus and his transforming grace through Bible studies, church meetings and discipleship classes. There are many, many youth in Los Laureles that are learning to live by this newfound, holistic hope in Jesus; allowing him to take their brokenness and the brokenness of their community and transform into something beautiful and new. One such boy is Sergio, a 17 year old child of a garbage collector. Sergio was born and raised in Los Laureles and when I first met him he was a 13 year old in 5th grade; working on the garbage trucks in the mornings with his father and attending classes at the community elementary school in the afternoons. From the beginning I could see that there was something special, something unique about young Sergio. At the time he didn’t have hope for a different life than what he’d known, he fully expected to join the family garbage business once he’d graduated 6th grade the following year and from there I know he imagined soon after finding a wife and beginning a family. It may not have been what he wanted or hoped for, but it’s what he knew and what he expected. I could see in Sergio though a deep desire for something different in his life – he worked hard with his father so as to help his family survive and hopefully prosper, and he worked hard at school because he truly wanted to learn and be educated. As I grew to know him better I learned too that he longed to be different from the vices and darkness that seemed to flourish around him. He would often tell me, quite frankly at times, how he daily turned down invitations to alcohol, drugs, and sex; he knew what kind of corrupting influence they could have in his life and he truly desired to walk a different path. He just wasn’t sure how or if he could hold out forever.
What strikes me as so remarkable about Sergio and his desire for a better future and a life free from darkness is that Los Laureles is a dark place. Death, destructive living and darkness is celebrated and actively sought after. It’s seen as axiomatic that beginning in their teen years, people will begin to live any kind of life as they see fit and that no one has the right to correct them. I don’t stand in judgment of the community, I imagine if I lived in destitute poverty on the edge of a garbage dump, had worked in garbage from the time I was 6 and had no hope for anything I better, that I too would try to self-medicate as means to escape reality. That’s why this boy has struck me as so special. With so many people around him, much of his family included, racing headlong towards self-destruction; Sergio, for as long as I’ve known him has longed for and strived for something more, something different; the better part.
Our presence in the Laureles community has been about offering that hope for something better, about helping him realize his desire for a different life, about putting a name and a faith behind his longing for a different way of life. For the last 4 years Sergio has actively participated in our daily activities –eagerly joining in the group devotionals, Bible schools and outings. He’s become a regular and much-loved attender at the local Mennonite Church in downtown La Ceiba, a leader in the Los Laureles Soccer Club and a member of the high school scholarship program; instead of working in garbage for the rest of his life he’s now in his third year of high school. He talks expectantly of attending University to enter either education or medicine. I’m not sure if such dreams are realistic but the fact that he is even considering the possibility of University is amazing; three short years ago such talk would have been laughable. In many ways life has changed dramatically for Sergio and as he matures and grows both in his educational career and as a follower of Jesus, his desires and hopes for something different are being cemented and turned into reality. It’s not all positive and perfect though – Sergio still has a number of challenges and difficulties that beset him. His mother has not lived within 3 hours of him and his family since he was 10 but more recently his father has also disowned him because he, now studying in high school, isn’t able to help support the family like most 17 year olds in Los Laureles can. As a result, back in March Sergio had to move into a tiny shack along with his younger brother, find work during the day so that he could survive and then take high school classes at night. When I arrived back in Honduras at the end of March after a 4 month furlough I found Sergio severely discouraged – he questioned why this was happening to him, if there was any point in continuing to attend classes and if he should just get full time work on a garbage truck and start a family. In many ways he was wallowing self-pity. The past month then has been spent reminding him of his hopes for the future, about the strides he’s made in his life, about the scores of people that are praying for him, and about what awaits him if he chooses to turn aside from this path. We’ve spent long days together talking about the options he has, where he can seek help and the fact that for now this is his lot in life and how he decides to proceed in this moment will affect how he lives for the rest of his life. I’m happy to relate that he’s in a better place than he was a month ago – back at school, working hard through the day and learning to save his earnings and live within a budget. I would ask for your prayers though; Sergio has a long road ahead of him and pitfalls and discouragements are bound to come. We will also soon begin a year-long discipleship program with 3 other young men from the community, discovering on a deeper level who Jesus is and what it means to be a follower of him. Pray for transformation, maturation and developing leadership in that process. - mlk
I wrote this article at the end of April and am delighted to say that the month of May was much of the same in seeing growth in all areas in Sergio's life. He got serious about saving money and so we devised a system where of the $40 per week that he made he would turn over about 75% of it to Maureen to be put away in the bank; as of my departure he had about $100 saved. He did have to drop out of school in order to continue working but he made it very clear to me that he fully intended to enter a trade school this coming year so that he could both work and study at the same time. Most importantly, I continued to see growth in his spiritual life - he very often and without any coaxing from me simply showed up to church on his own, he began establishing real friendships with the youth from church and he began to see the church family as his main foundation and support-system. A few days before I left he even began inquiring about baptism and what that means.
Since leaving Honduras 3 weeks ago I've been in regular contact with Sergio and it has been a rollercoaster of emotions on both ends. I've had many long conversations with him about his feelings of lonliness and abandonment - there were many times in these 3 weeks that he's felt directionless, hopeless and depressed. He even talked of running away to escape life in Los Laureles. He's resilient though and through encouragement from myself and others he's begun to once again reach out to the church family, stop by Maureen's house to simply hang out with her, and continue to attend church on the weekends. More than that though he decided that we as a discipleship group needed to continue our weekly lessons at Maureen's house via Skype, he organizes people from Los Laureles to go to church on Sundays and he's told the pastor of our church there that he wants to get baptized this year. All of this is exciting to me, to see how God is at work in the life of Sergio, to see how the church is fulfilling it's mandate to mentor and disciple others and to imagine the great man of God that Sergio will become. Please continue to pray for him.