The Lost Sheep
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:5-7 NIV)
It was 1996 and my husband and I were working at an orphanage in Florida. This is where we met him. The authorities dropped him off one day after he had stolen a car and run away from home. He was caught because he had a hard time reaching the gas pedal and seeing through the windshield at the same time.
His name was Michael, a cute little eight-year-old Guatemalan boy with big brown eyes that would melt your heart. “Home” was a small shack where he lived with his father, stepmother and stepbrother. His father was a migrant worker who had come to the States on a Visa to pick sugarcane.
During his first few weeks at the orphanage, it seemed like Michael ran away at least once a day. Each time, we would go out and find him and bring him back. We would reassure him of our love, the love of His Heavenly Father, and reiterate the concept of family we spoke of so often to the children at the orphanage. Over time, we watched as Michael began to learn to trust and relax in that love.
One day, our immediate family packed up to go to the beach. It was our day off. Michael came running toward the van, yelling, “Stop, stop!”
We pulled over and asked what he needed.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Our family is going away for the day,” we told him. “It is our day off.”
“Aren’t I part of the family?” he asked.
We opened the van door and made arrangements for Michael to spend the day with us; after all, we were family.
Michael loved to look nice, especially when we went to church on Sunday. One Sunday, he met me at the bathroom door with his comb in his hand and a frustrated look on his face. I grabbed the gel and ran some through his hair, added a few touches with the comb and let him use some aftershave lotion to complete the picture. He walked away with a huge smile on his face.
The next Sunday, I was met at the bathroom door by five little boys, Michael leading the pack. Thus began a new Sunday ritual.
After being at the orphanage for many months, the State realized that Michael was not a U.S. citizen. They tracked down his father and told him that he would either have to take custody of Michael or pay for him to be at the orphanage. Michael was returned to his father and eventually to Guatemala.
Eight years later, my husband and I went on a missions trip to Guatemala. We had no idea where Michael lived, except someone had once seen him interviewed by a U.S. news station doing a piece about children who lived on the streets of Guatemala. Michael had told the reporter how he once lived at a wonderful children’s ranch in Florida. He begged to return there, a haven for a boy who had been discarded by those he trusted most.
We asked some missionaries who worked with street kids in Guatemala if they had heard of Michael. They put the word out on the streets but we knew the chances of finding him were slim to none. We prayed and asked God for a miracle.
The missionaries contacted us a few days later. They explained that one of the street kids named Steven thought he might know Michael. The missionaries drove us to a place called “The Terminal” to pick up Steven. There were people everywhere. Young boys slept on the streets, holding rags of paint solvent to their noses as they slept. They were filthy and ragged.
When we finally located Steven from among the masses, he was high on solvents and probably had not bathed in months. The smell was so overpowering I felt sick to my stomach.
As we made our way back to the van, we were surrounded by children. They stared, and some tried to touch us in inappropriate places. We hurried back to the van and shut the doors. Children were clinging to the sides of the van and pounding on the windows. The missionary told them to get down and we headed toward another part of Guatemala with Steven giving us directions as we drove.
My mind raced as we followed the directions of a boy who was so stoned he barely knew who he was, much less able to help us locate one child out of hundreds of homeless boys. For all we knew, this whole thing could be a set-up. Each step was a leap of faith, trusting in our Heavenly Father to protect, lead and guide us.
The place where Steven took us was Concordia Park, one of the worst areas in Guatemala. It is a park full of prostitutes, witches and transvestites. There was a sense of evil in the air like I had never experienced before.
As we walked into the park, Steven took off, leading the missionary couple on ahead. My husband caught sight of a boy sitting by a tree. He sensed the Holy Spirit telling him this was Michael. We both stared at the boy. We started toward him and he rose and started walking to us.
He was out of it, high on solvents. He could barely tell us his name. He was staring at us so hard; I could tell he was searching deep within his memory for a distant time and place. As he located that memory, he began to cry.
“I want to go back,” he cried. He was 16 years old now and still so small.
Michael had always loved to be clean and look nice; now he was filthy. We took him to McDonalds and bought him some food. He began to tell us things he remembered about being at the orphanage. There was no doubt in our mind that this was Michael. He remembered the other boys at the orphanage, how the horse had died, going to church, eating cornflakes, and reading the Bible each day.
We took Michael to the embassy to see if we could help him. Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do. At that point, Michael hardened his heart. We had located a faith based organization that offered to take Michael in, but he refused and demanded to be taken back to the park.
My husband felt led to go back the next day and take Michael some provisions. Michael accepted the care package, but barely acknowledged my husband.
I believe this was not the end of the story, even though that is the only portion I have knowledge of. God loves each and every one of us. He is the great shepherd who leaves the 99 to seek out the 1.
Perhaps you read this story looking for that miraculous “BAM” ending and were left disappointed when it didn’t come.
The story of the man trapped on a roof comes to mind. The man cried out to God to rescue him. The man received offers of help from those passing by in both a helicopter and a boat. And yet, the man refused, continuing to call out to God, “God, why don’t you rescue me?” God responded, “I did. I sent you both a helicopter and a boat, but you refused my provision.”
God sent Michael the lifeboat, even though it may not have looked the way Michael wanted it to. It was Michael’s choice to accept it or reject it.
Maybe you are that vessel that God sent to show His love to His sheep, and yet the story did not unfold the way you thought it should and you have been struggling with that. Or, it could be that you are the man trapped on the roof crying out to God to rescue you and have failed to see His provision…whatever the case may be, don’t give up. See this chapter in your life as the beginning and not the end. Approach each day with the anticipation and hope of what God desires to fill the pages of your life with.
Heavenly Father, I lift up Michael to You, wherever he is. He would be 35 years old now. I know You brought him into our lives for a purpose. I pray that he found that purpose and was able to walk in it. There are so many out there that need You. Help us to be a light to the lost and not to give up on them even when things don’t turn out the way we think they should. Amen.