The room was crowded, barely enough space to walk without stepping on a hand, a foot, a leg. It was hot during the day, cold at night. Sleeping was difficult. And if not for the exhaustion, impossible. A trickle was the only source of water, a hole the only bathroom. It didn’t matter though. The room was only for sleeping. If you were lucky.
Every morning before daylight the men would come. Sometimes they brought bread, sometimes coffee, but never enough. As the 20 plus kids loaded into the truck, they were reminded of their duties for they day. Juggle, perform, beg. How much they collected determined how much they were fed. And the level of punishment they received. Some were given paint for their faces, others tools to perform their tricks. Still others were given reminders that they didn’t collect enough the day before. As if they needed reminders of the bruises and empty stomaches.
By the end of the day they were burned by the sun. Their feet and legs ached from the 14 hour shift. There heads hurt from the fumes and dehydration. Their hearts fearful for the consequences of a slow day or relieved because of the generous giver. Yet some were hopeful for a visit from mom, or dad. Even though these visits were rare. Most were hardened by this life, but many still cried when the men came. Working the corner, the intersection, or the crowd was better than when the men came. The drivers and the walkers gave out of the goodness in their hearts. The men gave out of the darkness of theirs.
Age didn’t matter. If you could walk, you could work. If you could walk, you could perform. If you could walk, you could beg. In fact, 3 and 4 years were ideal ages to begin. They are cute, they are small, they are pitiful, they are golden. The older ones have to learn a trick. People pay to watch a trick. But they pay more for the heart-breakers. The people were blind. They didn’t know that the children were working for someone else. They thought the children were working to survive. And in reality they were. Just not as it appeared.
It is from this way of life that our two siblings came. One girl, one boy. She is 9, he is 4. We don’t know how long they were exploited, nor the extent of their abuse. But we do know this is all they remember. We know they were visited at times by their mother, but we don’t know how they came to be in this situation. We don’t know how deep the scars run. But we know that she responded to the Holy Spirit in a recent church service here at Shadow. Hers were the first tears to flow that service. Her response to the Spirit was the first time in her life.
They still rise early in the morning. Chores are to be done before school. They still work all day. In class instead of on the street. They still work in the afternoons. On homework and chores, instead of corners and intersections. They are still delivered to, and picked up at their destination everyday. But by Mom and Dad, not strangers. Yes, they still share space with many other kids. But with brothers and sisters in a home, instead of some room with other child-workers. Their bellies are full, their childhood restored. But most importantly their hearts are filled with love. For the very first time.