I don’t understand how we got here. I was so certain walking into that court room, that he’d come home with us. His case was cut and dry, black and white, so painfully clear what should (or should not) happen… I simply cannot fathom it. The scars covering his small frame obviously showed that he had been beaten not once, but numerous times. So plainly apparent that he was neglected and unwanted by his parents, by the oddly shaped finger on his right hand, fractured and left untreated. The hell that he had endured was so evident when he first came to us by his fearful joyless demeanor. All of the evidence was staring our Judge (not so) Perfect in the face… literally. He and the PGN lawyer had pictures splayed out in front of them of each cut, burn, scar, and lash taken before he was rescued and driven to our home. It was all right there. I just don’t understand how after all that, they could send him back. But first let me back up to that morning before our world came crashing down.
I arrived at Casa that morning feeling calm and confident, not my usual uncertain nervousness on court days. Alicia was dressed in a precious pink dress, waving and smiling. Elias contrasted her look starkly with a pair of old jeans, a stained polo, and a frown. He stepped out from under the awning of our front porch into the sunshine, and stopped a distance away from me. His usually happy-go-lucky self was gone, and the anxious, timid Elias was back. “I don’t want to go.” He said softly. He didn’t smile at me, he didn’t make a joke, he didn’t even say good morning. I beckoned him over to me smiling, and he stood without moving a muscle and repeated again, “I don’t want to go.” I had almost forgotten that this version of Elias existed. I hadn’t seen it since his second week with us in September (see Cough Drops and Kisses for reference). This extreme regression was quite disturbing to me and looking back on that morning it’s almost like he saw the storm coming none of us did.
I closed the distance between us and pulled him into my arms. “You know that I love you. Right?” I asked turning his face to look into mine. He was stiff, and relatively unresponsive to my affection. Also, not like Elias. “Yes.” He said cautiously, “but I don’t want to go.” “I know Elias. I don’t really want to go either. But this is part of what we have to do in this home.” This would be his first court hearing, and it’s understandably scary for a child, not knowing what to expect. I reviewed with him the people who would be there, and what their jobs are. We talked about how the judge is the most important person there, and his job is to make really hard decisions in really hard situations. “And when we go see the judge, we want to look nice. So, let’s go put you into some different clothes okay?” He shuffled into the house slowly, and 10 minutes later we were heading to court.
We had two court cases this day for both of our newest children. We were all uncertain about Alicia’s case. Her mother had contracted her out for labor (shortly after she had turned 10) to a woman in our city (a 30-minute bus ride from home). She had worked for her for a month when the police discovered what had happened. According to Alicia, there were several isolated incidences where she was hit by her father… but there was no consistent pattern and it hadn’t happened in years. She was hopeful that she would return with her family, and while she enjoyed her time with us, she felt ready to go back. All of the room for grey area in her case left us wondering how this hearing would end, so we had prepared ourselves to say goodbye to her.
On the other hand, Elias’ court case was black and white… or so we thought. The scars covering his body should have been all the evidence we needed, but I prepared a stack of information for the judge from my conversations with Elias anyway. Here are some snippets from what he told me: “…my dad and step-mom hit me a lot… they hit me with cables, ropes, and sticks… it happened many days… their faces are very angry when they do it… they only gave me tortillas with hot sauce while my sister got to eat chicken…I don’t want to go back, I want to stay at Casa de mi Padre.” If the marks on his body weren’t enough physical evidence, one of his fingers looks like a marble was lodged under the middle joint. It had obviously been broken and had healed incorrectly, because his parents neglected to seek medical help. When I asked Elias what happened to his finger he told me, “My dad went to hit me with a big stick one day, and it happened when I put my hand up…. He didn’t take me to the hospital because he was angry.”
Contrary to what many people may think, our court room isn’t what you see in the movies. There isn’t seating for an audience, unless you count the four dusty chairs in the back for family overflow who rarely attend. No, typically it’s Cole and I representing our home, Judge Perfect, the PGN’s lawyer, and one or two family members of the child. This time, his father alone was in the court room with us. After introductions, the PGN’s lawyer started the hearing by presenting the case and results of their investigation, stating much of what Elias had told me above in our conversations. Then he began to question Elias’s father. “Is it true that you hit him with ropes, cables, and sticks?” “Elias told your neighbor that he had lost a machete, and was afraid that you were going to beat him if he didn’t find it… What happened?”
His father began by beating around the bush. He went on and on about that dang machete, “I don’t know what happened to that machete… I haven’t seen it for ages. It was just a small machete, not very big at all…blah blah blah.” And then proceeded to tell us that he had only ever hit him once, because Elias was being “really bad”. His father claimed Elias was stealing money from a teacher in the school repeatedly, so he punished him by beating him with a rope. He added that the teacher went to the leaders of the pueblo, and that they told him he needed to get his child under control… which I’m sure led to a mixture of shame and anger in this macho culture. He stated that his wife (Elias’ stepmother) never hit him and reiterated that it had only happened that one time… and that he was sorry for doing it.
He was sorry?! I sat rigidly listening to this man who so deeply hurt our Elias. I tried (and likely failed) to maintain a straight face while anger churned within me. How dare he make excuses for this inhumane treatment? You expect me to believe that all of these marks covering his body head to toe were from ONE event? Do YOU think this was a worthy punishment for stealing a few Quetzals (if that’s even what happened) when all you feed him are a few tortillas with chili sauce?!
Then it was our turn, and we strengthened the case against his father with our evidence. We recounted Elias’ testimony of recurring severe abuse and neglect; and brought the medical report from his first visit to the doctor. Then we were all asked to leave the room while the judge called Elias in to speak with him alone. Cole and I were so confident about how well it was going… we didn’t even hardly talk strategy. We briefly discussed what had happened so far, how obvious it was that his father was lying, and then chatted about other things going on in the home. I had never felt more confident about the outcome of a court case in the entirety my time serving with this ministry.
Fifteen minutes later we were back in the courtroom, and the PGN’s lawyer began addressing the father. He began by scolding him for using corporal punishment, and that there are many other ways to correct undesirable behavior. He continued by covering what most of us would consider the most basic elements of parenting, and really drawing it out. “A child needs his father’s love. You need to love him no matter what.” Okay, I thought, this is good advice… but holy cow this guy is overelaborating! Why this drawn out reprimand anyway? Cole scribbled a note and passed it to me, and suddenly the suspicion that had begun to prickle in the back of my mind grew into an overwhelming buzz. I read the note that said, “They are sending him back.”
My heart sank and my vision began to blur. I tried to listen as the judge began to speak, continuing the rebuke of this father’s abuse of his child that was nothing more than a slap on the wrist. My mind raced as I tried to think of what in the world went wrong, and how we could slow this train down. I wrote back to Cole, “…transition plan? Note Elias’ terror of going home to the judge. Not beneficial, re-traumatization.”
Just before the judge was about to make his ruling, Cole requested to speak. He spoke eloquently to the judge with compassion and conviction, but it quickly became clear that his mind was set. This was an isolated uneducated incident,” said the judge. Then, holding up a small booklet of the law regarding children rights, he added, “The boy has a right to grow up with his family.” The tears that had been threatening to fall began their steady decent down my cheeks, and I couldn’t sit there a minute longer. I got up, left the room, and found my way into the bathroom to collect myself. After a few minutes I opened the door to see Cole coming down the hallway with a grim expression. It was over. The judge had ordered an immediate change of guardianship back to his father. Now it was time to tell Elias.
I followed Cole to the children’s waiting room where Elias was contently watching a movie… and had no idea what had just happened. I stopped in the doorway as tears filled my eyes again. It’s not your turn anymore to be a mess. Pull it together. You need to be the comforter right now. As I was willing my eyes to dry, I heard a soft moan that steadily grew into a wail. He knows.
I tried and failed to pull myself together once more. Letting my tears flow freely now, I stepped into the room where Elias was still wailing. I watched him wander aimlessly around the room whilst moaning “por favor… Por favor no…” Cole got up to speak with his father and brother privately, and I stayed with Elias. He turned his tear-streaked face towards me and began pleading, “Please Alex, Please. They hit me. Don’t let them take me! I want to stay with you! Please don’t make me go!”
I thought my heart had already shattered, but somehow the left-over fragments continued to break into smaller pieces. I have never witnessed such anguish and fear in one little person before, let alone someone I loved with my whole heart. I wanted to comfort and hold him, but he ignored my calls for him to come to me and continued sobbing, begging me to let him stay. I closed the distance between us as I had that morning just hours before, but this time weeping with Elias. He resisted my efforts to hug me, so I knelt down on the floor and looked into his eyes. I saw the confusion and misplaced-betrayal swirling in his. I tried to explain that the judge made a very hard decision and we have to obey it, even though we don’t like it. Nothing I said was clicking for my grieving child, as he persistently begged for my help as if I had any power over this. I wish I did.
His older brother stepped into the room, and I looked at him for the first time. His appearance was clean, stylish even, a stark difference from their father. Elias took one look at his brother and threw his arms around me, burying his face in my neck. I hugged him back, but when I loosened my grip, he did not. His brother, ready to get a move on, started to peel him away from me whilst Elias squeezed tighter. “Please. Please Alex. Don’t let them take me. I want to stay with you and Papa Shane. Please, please let me stay.”
This sweet child who had completely captured my heart months ago, was literally being ripped out of my arms. Sorrow and pain are not new concepts to me, but this, this was a whole new level of agony full of foreign complexities and unforeseeable nuances I hadn’t tasted until this moment. There was no peaceful ending here for my precious Elias, as I wondered what kind of hell he was returning to… what kind of beating he would get for running away from home in the first place. I watched him grapple with what was happening, trying to comprehend the complexities of this system and the decision made for him. I saw the confusion and accusatory hurt in his eyes, and the growing belief that we were choosing to let him go. That we didn’t love him enough to keep him. Oh, my sweet Elias, if you only knew.
Alas, Alicia’s court case was scheduled to start immediately following Elias’s. Cole stayed behind, as I squished into a tuk-tuk (normally a 2-seater) with Elias, his father, and brother to go pack his things. His sobs had died down to a quiet hum as he sat on my lap. I held him tightly, knowing my time with him was growing shorter. When we arrived, he continued to cry, laying on his bed as I folded each tiny t-shirt and placed it in a suitcase. The tears continued to roll down my cheeks too, plopping down onto his clothes and toys as the suitcase filled.
During this time, the judge was waiting for Alicia’s uncle who he wanted to transfer guardianship to. He called a 45-minute recess in hopes that he would come, so Cole rushed home and we switched places. Cole drove Elias and his family to their house, so we would know where they live and could check on him later (genius). I rushed to the courthouse and waited for 30 minutes. Her uncle never arrived, and the judge postponed the court case. I was thankful for the deferment, as I didn’t know if I could hold it together through another hearing.
I don’t hardly know how to conclude this post. Usually I try to sum up my posts with a message of hope, redemption, or some way God is moving… but I’m struggling to produce any of these. I can’t conjure up a happy ending or hopeful message for this one. Instead of redemption, there seems to be further damage looming over Elias’s future. I also don’t see God moving in this. That doesn’t mean He isn’t, can’t, or won’t… but I just can’t wrap my head around how He fits into it. It’s one of those things that I can’t make the puzzle pieces fit in my head, but I choose to believe that they do. I choose to rest in the knowledge that my God is Sovereign… that He is good… that He is just that He loves Elias far more than I ever could. The only glimmer of hope I find, is in his name.
In Latin America, most everyone here has four names. Two first names, and two last names (one from mom and one from dad). Elias, meaning “My God is Jehovah”, is his second name (also common for many to go by their second name). His first name, however, is Israel, which means “Who prevails with God.” Israel was the name given to Jacob after he had wrestled with God for an entire night (see Genesis 32 for the full story). The nation of Israel then came from his lineage, and though feeble and small compared to the others… they were mighty conquerors because God was with them. They were a rebellious people, but when they humbled themselves and repented before the Lord, He rescued them out of His great love for them.
These names (coupled with the history behind them) hold great significance to his story.
His first name, Israel, has the history of a small but mighty nation, favored by God, and rescued out of oppression numerous times. Elias has the same persistent, tenacious spirit as Jacob. He looks small and weak from the outside, but his heart and personality are larger than life. He has been rescued out of oppression once, whose to say the Lord won’t do it again? His second name, Elias, points to the Sovereignty of the same loving God who holds his precious life in His hands. My prayer for Elias, is that even at his young age he would understand what he has learned about God in his short four months with us, and cling to him. My prayer is that he would cry out to God, and that God would rescue him as He did for His people.
I personally believe that the meaning of names carries great significance and can even be prophetic to one’s future. My name, Alexis, means “defender (or helper) of mankind”, and look where I landed! I know that God knew Israel Elias when he formed the foundations of the earth. He placed a fiery personality inside his tiny body when he formed him in his mother’s womb. I am confident that the life of Israel Elias has significant purpose, and that God is not done with my little man. Regardless of what has or will happen, I choose to find joy in my Savior. I will fervently seek the Sovereign One in all stages of the war waged on this ministry, and also in the aftermath of an ugly battle like Elias’s hearing. I will put my hope in Him who is worthy and will choose to believe that He can build something beautiful from the rubble of this mess.
FUNDS/TRANSITION HOME UPDATE:
This post was lengthy and burdensome, so I’ll try and keep this update light and quick. Fermina and I are adjusting to each other well. I enjoy sitting with her at breakfast before she sets off for school, and getting into deep biblical discussions (She is a DEEP thinker!). She’s fun and giggles easily, so when I spent 20 minutes trying to open a jar yesterday she had a hay day! I’m quite excited for what the future holds for us! Please be praying for her as she continues to transition into a totally different lifestyle. My home is much more quiet than Casa, and much less structured… which is hard to adjust to!
Financially, several of you have stepped forward to help out, and I’m so thankful for each of you! This year has been full of unexpected twists and turns already, but God is definitely moving in the children’s hearts and in our ministry!! With your support, you play a huge role in enabling us to be used by Him… so thank you!! I am still about $1,200 under budget, but thankfully I was provided with some generous end-of-year gifts that will help me get through the coming months. God always provides! Therefore, if you do not already support my ministry… there’s plenty of time to jump in! Go to the “GIVE” page, and all the information is there to get started. Additionally, do not hesitate to contact me (via social media or email: firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. Thank y’all so much! I couldn’t do this without your help– through finances AND prayer. This last month was tough… but I know many of you were lifting me up in prayer, and the Lord heard you! There were times I had peace that I couldn’t explain, and I think you all played a part in that. Thank you!
(P.S. Donations are of course tax deductible!)