We collapsed into our beach chairs.
After a long week of serving in the hot Dominican sun, we were thankful for the break.
Anna and I turned down the offer to go snorkeling with one of the mission teams who had come in just so we could rest for the morning.
We started chit-chatting about all sorts of things. But less than five minutes into the conversation, I looked over and saw a familiar face standing on the shore, looking out over the crystal clear water.
“I think I’ve seen him on the streets, Anna.”
But we weren’t exactly sure. And we were sure we couldn’t speak his language.
But Anna called him over anyways.
“¡Venga!” she said, with a smile on her face.
His reaction questioned our motives, but he agreed anyways.
His face told his story: one of pain, hunger and thirst, and yearning for love, but we didn’t ask about that, at the moment.
With our broken Spanish, we worked together to ask his name and age.
“Richardson,” he replied. He was thirteen. It was hard for us to understand through his thick accent, so he wrote out his name with a stick in the sand.
“Richardson!” we exclaimed, happy to understand his name.
We wrote out our names for him to understand.
As we continued to talk to him, we learned that he lived in a local village with his family.
Because we had seen him on the streets, we knew that he was the one who provided for his family.
This is common for many children. Their parents are distant in their lives, abusive, or altogether non-existent. The kids are forced to work on the streets to provide for themselves and their siblings. Used for sex, abuse, pornography, or whatever other evils the human mind can think up, these kids do whatever it takes to earn enough money to keep from starving. They lose their childhood so young, forced to grow up into a world where evil pulls them back down and stomps them over.
Oh what a desire we have for these kids to be set free. To live full and simply be kids. To know our Savior and His unconditional love, something that is unheard of in their culture.
In Spanish, we asked if he was hungry. He replied yes, so we decided to walk over to the hotel that the team was staying at and pay for the buffet breakfast so we could both eat with Richardson.
I ran ahead and went up to the front desk to pay. I came back with ticket in hand to find Anna and Richardson sitting outside the gate.
“They won’t let us in. They know he is a street boy.”
Furious, I panicked a little.
“Okay, then. We will just go get plates of food and eat outside the gate,” I replied, fists clenched.
“Let’s just ask again,” Anna said and walked back up to the employees. I prayed quickly, still angry at the injustice of this whole situation.
The price has been paid. Why won’t they just let him in? What does it matter to them at this point?
[Looking back, I wonder on this. This is how Jesus feels. He paid the price for each of us, yet we, like the employees, look at each other with contempt and condemnation, as if it is ours to judge. What does it even matter to the rest of us? Shouldn’t we be celebrating?]
A tense conversation took place, but finally resulted in an agreement that he could enter if he was with us. We laughed and jumped in excitement and in relief.
“C’mon,” we told Richardson in Spanish, but he was hesitant. His eyes shot back and forth, from Anna and me to the employees. He knew what he was to them and he was afraid.
“C’mon!” we said again. We did our best to explain to him in Spanish that he could come in and eat.
He took one more look at them, then walked slowly toward us. Bursting with excitement, Anna and I ushered him over to the huge buffet of food.
His jaw dropped.
Table after table after table in a long row, full of breakfast food. A variety of breads and jams, juices, and fresh fruits. There were multiple kinds of meat and eggs, followed by casseroles and more hot food.
Richardson picked up a pair of tongs to get bread, but he just walked up and down the tables. I laughed and took the tongs from his hand and put them back, then pulled him back to the beginning of the buffet. We explained that he could have as much as he wanted, to which he looked at us in disbelief. He filled up a plate of food as Anna and I did too, then we sat together at a small table.
We laughed and ate and smiled at him. He taught us words in Spanish and we taught him words in English, altogether laughing at each others’ pronunciation through thick accents.
We asked him about his family, but his answer was always different or vague. Much to our relief, we learned that he attended school. We asked him his favorite color, food and talked in broken Spanish of everything else that makes up a conversation with a young mind. And we laughed so much.
We finished breakfast, then took a few napkins of food and tucked it in my backpack to save for him to eat later or take back to his family.
Richardson wanted to swim and the cool water sounded good, so we walked back down to the beach and got in the water. We played for a while in the water and sand. Richardson found a type of nut that had fallen off of a tree into the sand, so he called us over and we watched as he crushed the nut between a rock and old cement stairs. He peeled back the shell and gave it to us to eat. We ate the almond-like nuts he handed us and with pride he smiled up at us. I guess he was thankful to give us something in return.
I had an idea to go to the hotel gift store and buy him goggles so he could see underwater when he swam, something I was sure he had never done. I went and returned with goggles and three frozen Snickers bars. His face lit up with the sight of the goggles and we quickly adjusted them to his head so he could get back into the water.
I think it was in this moment that Richardson was no longer just a street boy. He became a brother.
Soon the team that was snorkeling came back and a few of the teenagers came over and started playing with Richardson. The boys had chicken fights and Anna and I were overjoyed as we saw our brother be a boy.
I looked up, laughing, overflowing with joy. I watched Richardson sit on one of the guys shoulders and raise his arms and pump his fists on his chests with every chicken fight victory.
Oh, our hearts were full.
I look back on this time as one of the best days of my life. In giving love, I felt purpose. I felt loved. In giving material things and time, my eyes moved from earth to heaven. In giving joy, I was given joy.
I connected with Richardson that day, and in my mind, he is still a little brother. I don’t think that there is a day that goes by that I do not think about him-that I do not wish I could be with him and embrace him in my arms.
I thank God for this. He compelled us to connect that day. And I will never forget the joy that resulted from obedience. The joy that came from stopping.
May we always connect by stopping.
Oh Richardson. Friend. Brother:
I hope you are hearing the Truth of the Gospel-and that you know it in your heart. I hope you always carry that smile on your face. I hope that the daily pain and suffering would not steal your joy, as I know it so often does. I hope you know that you are loved and chosen and that you have purpose. I love you, brother. I cannot wait until I will laugh with you again.