Last week I attended a class about reaching out for children and teenagers who live in social risk conditions. This class was taught by one of the most experienced missionaries at JEAME, the nonprofit organization with which I’ve been working.
This class is a preparation for the people who wants to work with them specially in the juvenile detention center, where they reach kids and try to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society.
I learned about the reality of the children and teenagers there. Almost all of them come from broken homes, very poor families, and soon they get involved with drugs. It doesn’t take long until they start thinking that the traffic of drugs is their only option in life.
But there is another fact about them that I had no idea: the majority of them were abused in their childhood or early teens, by someone close to them or after they entered the “system”. I’m not talking about only sexual abuse, but also psychological or physical.
Do you know what happens to a child that was abused when they grow up? They become abusers. They end up repeating that traumatic experience they had, and they create new victims, and future abusers. So the vicious circle of abuse goes on.
The teacher told us many examples of boys and girls that were violent vicious young people. They terrified everyone in the juvenile detention center, and they all had one thing in common: they were viciously sexually abused as children.
She said that when the person is an abuser, you can be sure that inside of them there is an abused child.
I was so upset how we as a society are incapable of protecting those children, and the only thing we do is to punish them when they start repeating the abuse they received, and then we don’t protect the new victims which will become future abusers. So the vicious circle of abuse goes on.
The teacher told us that when she looks at a cruel and violent teenager, she sees a tiny hurt child, a child that is begging for help.
I believe that this is a gift from God. I don’t think any one of us would be able to deal lovingly with a teenager that rapes children, or one that has killed many people and admits it proudly. If we look at them as abusers, drug dealers and murderers, we can’t help but demand justice, cold heartless justice.
But that’s when God reminds us that if it weren’t for His mercy and grace, we wouldn’t stand a chance either. We will never be good enough according to His standards, neither we nor those teenagers at the detention center.
We all depend upon His love, grace and mercy.
And I believe that when we see hurt children instead of cruel criminals, we have a small glimpse of what God sees through his loving eyes. It is not about ignoring the wrong, but about trying to see the whole picture.
That’s when we become His hands reaching out to the ones who beg for help.
Then we discover the power that can break this vicious circle of abuse: love and forgiveness.
God uses people like JEAME’s missionaries to show His love to those children and teenagers. When they experience God’s love, they are also able to experience His forgiveness. And once they do, they are also able to forgive the ones who have hurt them in the past. That’s when the vicious circle of abuse is broken!
Love and forgiveness allows them to step out of the circle of abuse. They get over their hurt, which frees them from being abusers themselves.
Our teacher told us many stories, real stories, about real people who did just that.
There is no one who is too lost or too hurt or too far from God’s loving arm. He can reach the darkest of souls and bring them back, restore them. And we can be the ones that God uses to reach those people. Isn’t that amazing?
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)