Word on the Street

04 Aug

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Venezuela: Secret Names and Hidden Treasures

Most of the kids in our neighborhood in Venezuela live with violence and trauma as a normal part of reality, and they have little to no help in processing what they witness. The effects of this vary, but we see them using aggression to assert themselves, lacking a sense of protection, fearing the future, fearing stepping out, or the opposite — doing something that endangers them or others.

We recently started hosting a weekly club with 20 of these kids. They come to our rooftop, a large cement slab where we hang our clothes to dry and host big gatherings, to listen to Bible stories and process their life experiences.

One of my goals with this time is that everything we do — from drawing, to the way we tell the story, to the reflection on the story — encourages them to see their story in light of God's. Last week we addressed anger, and it was the most chaotic and discouraging meeting we’ve had yet. We left wondering if it's worth touching the deep-seated feelings in these children. Can they really learn alternatives to acting out?

Yet, in spite of the trauma, we know these kids are a very resilient and tremendously energetic group. It's true that they experience tragedy beyond what they should live with at their age, but we want to encourage and foster the strength we already see in them. We want to affirm, cultivate, and call forth their resources.

At the end of every gathering we give each child a secret name, reminding them that they are God’s treasure and that his love is theirs. Sometimes I wonder if they come simply for that special moment: the chance to have a caring adult take them aside and whisper into their ear, "You are a Treasure. God loves you and he hears your cries."

Many leave with a glint of hope in their eyes and a discernible satisfaction on their face that they indeed received the message.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Birgit Shorack and her husband, John, live and serve in the barrios of Caracas, Venezuela.