Today I was meandering through some old video files, looking for some footage of singing in El Salvador, with the goal of finding audio for songs which we could sing with our congregation on an upcoming "El Salvador Sunday." In the meandering, I came across a video entitled, "Four Boys."
The title appears. This is one of the videos we created as a promotion for the scholarship ministry we coordinate with our sister church community. A boy's first name emerges in white letters on a black screen, and then the image transitions to the face of a teenage boy. He's wearing a Tazmanian Devil t-shirt. The camera follows him as he shifts nervously from foot to foot. Subtitles appear as he talks. "I'm [complete name]. Greetings to the brothers and sisters at [sister church name], especially [boy name] who is sending help to me. What I want to say...what I want to say...is thank you for the help that you have sent me, and take care of yourself, and of your family, your father, your grandma, your mom, just take care of yourselves. That's all." He smiles a little shy smile during the entire interview.
The next name appears. A little boy is seated in a white plastic chair. He has a big smudge of dirt on his cheek from wrestling around with his brothers. Around his neck he has a cross made from pink and red fun foam and blue yarn. His eyes look up at the sky, and he holds one finger by his cheek as he thinks of what to say. "Hello, good afternoon, I live with my mom and my dad and my brothers, and my little brother who has to have his little foot operated on. I go to school. I am 7 years old. I have brothers. That's all." He gets up quickly and has a big smile as he scoots off camera.
Same chair, new boy. This one has a Badgers football cap on his head. He swings his legs back and forth and talks fast. He is about 9 years old. "I live with my family. My mom's name is ____, my dad's name is ____. My brothers are ... and me. I am in fourth grade. I want to continue studying. Thank you to the brothers and sisters who give me some help. Thanks." He is eager to get out of the chair.
Boy number four: "Hi. My family is of people who are pretty poor. Everyone is working. My brother Marvin. My sister [name] went away on a trip. We'll have to see when she returns. Through God you are helping me. I want to keep studying. I go to second grade. Thanks to the brothers and sisters who are helping me. Thanks to my sponsors who are there in the United States, and I tell you that you are helping me and I will send you a letter later. That is all." This little guy has charisma. He is the kid everyone falls in love with. He could be a great leader, if all that energy is channeled in a positive direction.
The video was made a little more than six years ago. Six years...a long time in the life of a boy.
The first boy dropped out of school shortly after the video was made. He joined a gang. The reasons are complex but were partly due to stresses in his family. For most of the last six years he was out of touch with the boy in the US who was helping him. The US family never stopped praying. Both boys grew up. A short time ago, the grown boy began studying again. He is in a safe place. It is not easy for a young man to stay hidden. The US mom visited him. The love and prayers he receives from across the miles encourage him and sustain him when he is lonely.
The second boy has been studying. He still has that thoughtful manner and shy smile. His little brother, who was born with club feet, had surgeries and can run and play like his big brothers. This year, the boy dropped out of school for a little while, copying his older brothers. One older brother convinced him to go back. "You will regret leaving." The boy has returned to school for now.
The third boy needed to work to help support his family. He figured out a way in which he could work every morning and weekend and go to school every afternoon. After five years of working and going to school, he has quit school. He works as a mechanic and is very good at it, but without a diploma he will only be able to work at a non-professional level. The hope is to find a technical school which will help him to get the credentials he needs.
The fourth boy has moved away from the community. His brother, Marvin, was murdered while he was working taking fares on a micro-bus just one week after we made the video. The second brother joined the gang and dropped out of school. The mother took her younger children and left, leaving no contact information behind. I think about this little guy - well, forever little in my memories - all the time. Someday, I know I will connect with him again.