A Bible Can Change Someone's Life by Karen

Do you remember life before Smartphones?  Do you remember there being picture-perfect moments that you would have loved to capture, but couldn't because you didn't have a camera with you?  Well, that's still my reality.  I have a little point-n-shoot that I try to keep in my bag, but sometimes I go to grab it, and it's not there; other times the battery is dead, or the memory card is full.

When we had our first encounter with Christopher I wouldn't have felt comfortable taking his picture.  In the weeks following, when we saw him sitting alone on the sidewalk, it definitely wouldn't have been appropriate to snap any photos; and at our last encounter I reached into my bag for a camera that wasn't there.  So, you'll just have to imagine... 


Christopher comes from a really broken family that has constantly struggled to survive.  Twenty years ago he was born here in Puerto Rico, but was shipped off to New York City at various times to stay with relatives, or the friends of relatives, when life was more than Mom could handle.  He told me that he never spent a whole school year in one place.  Perhaps that explains why he couldn't put together a complete sentence in either Spanish or English.  After I assured him that we could speak in Spanglish - a mix of Spanish and English, he relaxed.  I asked Christopher if he had any siblings.  He laughed and said, "It's hard, ya know, to say, we just try ta' take care a' whoever's there."  I wasn't quite sure what that meant, but decided not to press the issue.  As the conversation continued, I invited Christopher to tell me his story.  Why was he on the streets begging at such a young age?  

"I just got otta la carcel (prison) two days ago 'n I don't got no chavos (money).  I dunno what ta do." 

He went on to describe the temptation he'd been feeling to sell drugs because that's such an easy way to make money, but said that he didn't want to end up in the slammer for another five years.  

This photo was taken inside one of the 
juvenile detention facilities here in Puerto Rico.
This is NOT Christopher., but I included it 
because he looks similar to the young man
in the middle wearing a white shirt. 
I thought this might help you to imagine
what Christoper looks like... more or less.

When Christopher was about 11 years old a guy living in his housing project, who knew well just how poor his family was, approached him with a proposal: if he would take the guy's small, black backpack across town on his bike to a certain house, trade it for another small backpack, and then return to the projects, he'd get paid.  I don't remember how much he said he earned for this first run, but it was a ridiculously small amount.  Christopher didn't care.  Having some money was better than having no money when bellies were aching and the shelves in the kitchen were bare.  Christopher took his earnings and bought food for himself, his mom, and those living with them at the time.  As you can probably imagine, this was the first step down a really dark path.  Within a couple of years Christopher was promoted from a runner to a dealer; which was an honor.  "They trusted me, ya know, sabian que podia hacerlo (they knew I could do it)."  Before long Christopher was so immersed that he couldn't see a way out of the darkness; he said that he couldn't imagine living any other way.  He knew it was dangerous, but didn't care.  "Ya gotta die some way, ya know." he said with an unconvincing chuckle.  I just grinned compassionately. 

He went on to explain the promises that "el jefe" (the boss) made him; promises of wealth, women, respect in the community, and protection.

This is one of the prisons here in PR
that house minors.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and we find Christopher handcuffed by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) who raided his complex in the middle of the night.  Surprise, surprise, "el jefe" was nowhere to be found.  At age 15, Christopher was incarcerated for 5 years.  "Fueron años duros (Those were some hard years.)," he said with glossy eyes.  After waiting patiently to see if there was more that he wanted to share, I realized it was my turn to speak.  "Where do I start?" I wondered.  I took a deep breath, bowed my head to pray and begged the Lord for help.  "Love" is the word that kept coming to my mind, but I wasn't sure what I was supposed to say.  I kept my head down until I gained the confidence to speak.  As I met Christopher's glance I was struck by his eagerness to hear what I had to say....in Spanglish of course.  I felt nervous when I realized that my heart was racing.  I started by saying something to the effect of: "Your story is sad for many reasons.  The thing that makes me feel the saddest is that it seems like you've never experienced real love; and without real love I don't believe that a person will ever be truly happy.  You know, out there somewhere is a God that loves us more than we'll ever be able to understand.  A God that created us to love; to love Him and to love one another.  When someone grows up around people who don't know how to love others in a real way, that person's understanding of love is usually very small.  But God created us as intelligent beings.  He gave us the ability to learn.  So, even though you might not have experienced real love in your life, you can.  You can learn how to love others, and you can learn how to receive the incredible love that God has for you."  Christopher's eyes began to twinkle a bit.  I told him that the only way he was going to learn about real love was to read the bible.  God came down to earth, in the form of a human named Jesus, to teach us how to love one another.  The back part of the bible is the story of His time here on earth. 

In this bilingual bible the Spanish is in
the left column and the English is on the
right.  Christopher can use both columns to 
figure out words that he doesn't know.
 
"No tengo," he simply said shaking his head back and forth.  "Don't worry, I have one in our van that will be perfect."  I ran to the van and grabbed one of the English/Spanish bibles that an AMAZING member of Team Carmody had sent us.  When I returned and plopped down on the sidewalk next to Christopher his eyes got really wide.  "I don't really read," he mumbled, "y that libro es grande! (and that book is huge)."  I laughed as I found the division between the Old and New Testaments.  "Don't worry about this part for now.  I want you to start with this little part, right here."  I briefly explained that the New Testament is the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.  I dogeared some of my favorite passages, and left him with John 8:32 which assures us that "the truth will set [us] free."  I gave him a rosary and encouraged him to ask for Mama Mary's help as he began to learn about love.  "When you went to prison you were a boy, and you acted like a boy.  When you left prison you were a man.  It's time to learn how to be the man that God created you to be.  Remember, you were created for love, and you won't be happy until you figure out how to love and be loved in a real way."  The rest of my family showed up just in time to pray over this young man and share some words of encouragement.  When we were done, Christopher thanked us all for taking the time to talk with him and promised to do his best to learn about God's love.  When we parted ways I agreed to keep Christopher in our prayers, which we did for about a week.  As the busyness of life got the best of me I started to forget about Christopher and his desire to learn about real love.  Once in a while, when we were driving through town, we'd see Christopher sitting up against a building.  We'd honk our horn, wave and smile.  He'd always light up and wave back.  As we drove away we'd say a prayer for our new friend in hope that he was staying out of trouble.  

Shortly after returning from vacation we headed into Aguadilla to pass out bibles and hand-painted wooden crosses in one of the many housing projects.  Although we don't ask anyone for anything, people sometimes insist that we take their donations.  On this particular day we received enough to pay for a yummy pizza lunch on the way home.  As we were waiting inside the restaurant a young man passed by the window.  When we made eye contact he stopped and stared, which caught me off-guard.  The young man rushed into the pizzeria.  As he approached our table I knew immediately that it was Christopher, but something was different.  He looked lighter.  He looked free.  He looked happy.  His eyes twinkled as he began to explain how he had been reading his bible every single day since we gave it to him.  He said that he's really grateful that it's in both languages because it helps him to figure out the words he doesn't know.  He unzipped his bag, pulled out the turquoise rosary we had given him, and said that he's been asking Jesus' mom to help him learn about love.  He went on to explain what happened a few days after we had met him.  He was sitting against a building, near the center of town, reading his bible when along came "una vieja (which directly translates to 'an old lady'), like you, that wanted to ayudarme (help me)."  He explained a bit about her story and why she's so willing to help, but I can't remember the details.  The important part for me was that this "old lady" is a faith-filled Christian who understands the power of prayer and the importance of being in The Word every day.  She's been sharing her food with Christopher, allows him to sleep on her back porch, and spends her time teaching him about Jesus.  He then informed us that he'd be leaving for New York in a few days because this wonderful woman made all the necessary arrangements for him to participate in a Christian-based rehabilitation program designed to help released prisoners learn how to live differently.  It's a long-term program that provides folks with the opportunity to complete their GEDs and/or skilled trade programs; they teach a whole range of life skills and help the participants establish sustainable routines.  With a sparkling smile Christopher told us that the people at the rehab center are going to teach him about love. 


He thanked us for giving him a bible and said that he didn't think the old lady would have stopped to talk to him if he wasn't reading his bible.  He promised to keep reading it and asked us to keep praying for him.   I gave Christopher our phone number and insisted that he call if he ran into any problems.  We haven't heard anything, so we assume that he made it to the rehab center.  

I thank God for allowing our paths to cross.  I thank God for the incredible members of Team Carmody who have provided us with bibles for the English speakers that we meet.  I thank God for each and every one of our mission partners and for their many sacrifices which make this mission possible.  I am constantly in awe at what He does when His beloved say "yes".  Thank you for journeying with us.  Please take a moment to pray for Christopher and for all the others at the rehabilitation center, that they're able to find their strength in Jesus Christ and can truly experience the joy that Jesus promises to those who walk in His ways.  

Peace, love and joy, 
Karen  


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