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A Rock Reminding Me To Step In

When I know my close friends or family are traveling, I will sometimes ask them to bring back a rock for me. I have a grey one from Mars Hill where Paul preached, a tiny black one from where William Wallace died, a whole jar full of them…but there is one in particular that has had a long lasting impact on me.

It is a rather heavy, beige pumice stone that fits perfectly in my hand. I have used it almost every day for the last 17 years. My brother bought it for me while on a mission trip to Zambia in 2001. He was coming out of a market from buying some food, and came upon a crowd of little boys lined up on the side of the street trying to sell rocks to tourists. They were orphaned, their parents most likely dead from the AIDS epidemic. This particular boy was around 6 years old. Selling rocks. To survive.

Every day I hold this rock in my hand as a constant reminder of this little boy. I’ve thought about him a great deal over the last 17 years. What has happened to him? I will never know. But I know that I see his face every time I go in Haiti. He is the homeless little boy sleeping in the shade of our car when I go to downtown Cap Haitien. He is the boy standing outside the restaurant as I come out hoping I saved him something. He is the boy selling himself on the street to an older man for a meal. Disease. Crime. Prostitution. Death. Easily forgotten. I don’t know for sure, but I know this is likely his story, a story so common it is seldom told.

The other day, something about this little boy occurred to me that never had before. He is no longer a little boy. He is the same age as the 17 young people that first came to Emmaus House 5 years ago. He is 23 now. If he is still alive. I wish I didn’t insert that caveat.

According to the UN, orphans who have “aged out” worldwide end up on the streets at such a high percentage that boys live on average 26 years and girls will likely die by age 24. It is just a fact. I wish when I thought of him my mind could dream of how he overcame the obstacles of being an orphan in an impoverished country. But that is not where my mind goes even a little bit. It hurts my heart if I really allow myself to think about him because I have seen what becomes of the vast majority of these young people if nobody steps into their life.

However, to survive in this work, I have to believe there is hope. I have to believe something can be done. So, although I will never know what became of this young man, I have decided to rewrite his story in my head.

What if somebody actually DID step into his life? The stories of our Emmaus youth, whose could have been what I imagine for him, have been rewritten because so many stepped in for them. His could have been too. At 6 years old, while this boy was in Africa selling rocks on the street to survive, most of our youth were living within the relatively safe walls of Cap Haitien Children’s Home because somebody chose to step in for them. Many of them were just beginning their education, playing with marbles, making kites, learning to braid hair. Life in an orphanage was far from perfect, but they ate every day, they were given a shower every day, and they were never hardened by the fear of sleeping on the streets.

I will now choose to see this young man who sold my brother this rock on the streets 17 years ago in the hopeful lives I see in our Emmaus youth. Maybe he is attending university, like Mackendy and Rosemond. Maybe he gave his life to Christ, found a job and is about to go out on his own successfully, like Andy. Maybe he is working hard in a trade school and will graduate soon, like Philius. I will never know, but I do know that there is hope and that our youth are not forgotten because somebody has been willing to step into their lives to keep them from this fate. Maybe that somebody was or is you.

So next time you hold a rock in your hand, I encourage you to join me in thinking about the youth at Emmaus House and the hope you can give them. If we all did this, gave hope to someone with each stone we held, what a HUGE difference we could make in this world for children and youth in need.

- Tanya Pirtle

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