Street Kids in Mexico

 By Kenneth D. MacHarg, LAM News Service

Morelia, Mexico (LAMNS)--"If you don't have some place to channel them, you lose them back to the streets." Missionary Sue Leak walks through the low bushes growing on a half-acre lot outside of Morelia, Mexico where she is building the Victory Center, a facility for homeless girls who live on the streets. "You lose them to drugs and prostitution and the addiction of relationships that aren't good for them, she says."

Sue, a missionary with the Miami-based Latin America Mission, ministers to children on the streets of this city of one million people two hours west of Mexico City. Every day she sees the pain of children who have been sold by their parents into sexual slavery or have been abused by a family member. For many, the pain of living is just too difficult to bear.

"We have some parents who need their children to earn the living for them, "she reflects. "People just don't give as well to an adult begging as to a child. We have found five and six year olds who are just all alone, living in the park."

Sue, a native of Muskegon, Michigan, says that many just run away to escape abuse or pain. "One little boy we found in the park was definitely physically and sexually abused. He didn't want to give his name. One day he just picked a name off a list and started using it. He has never said anything about his past, he has never talked about his mother or father."

"Latin America is known to be family oriented," Sue comments. "That may have been true ten or 15 years ago. Today they live together, but they don't seem to be connected, they don't seem to have that relationship that will hold them together. I think that alcoholism and drug addiction have been a strong influence as well in the breakdown of the family."

Sue also points to a lack of spiritual conviction in Mexico. "When someone really has a relationship with the Lord, they fight for what is right. When you don't have a relationship with the Lord, you only fight for your own rights and don't care about anyone else."

To meet the needs of homeless girls, Sue is constructing the 600-square meter, two-story building that will house up to 30 children, taking them off of the streets and putting them into a warm, caring home in which to grow and come to love the Lord.

"The government has asked us why we are constructing such a large building for so few children," Sue says. "If you put a bunch of street kids in a small space, they beat each other to a pulp. You give them a little space and they do so much better."

Children who have suffered so much that they choose living on the streets over staying in an abusive situation have special needs and are difficult to reach. "Most street kids I know are very wealthy...they're good thieves, "Sue observes. "They just don't know how to manage money. They will buy 30 ice cream cones in one day."

"They don't really need the physical side of things, they want someone to care and to be committed to them. They want someone to take the time to say you're worth it." Sue says that most of the street children she works with have no dreams for the future, they only are able to live for the present.

In addition, they have very little self-esteem. "A lot of kids don't believe that you can love them just for who they are and they can't love themselves. They don't see themselves as worthy of having something good happen in their lives," Sue observes.

By establishing a home outside of the city, Sue believes that the children will be far enough away from the life on the streets that they can be rehabilitated and returned to a productive life. "We have found that the way to work with kids is to figure out how long they have been on the streets. A kid who has been there for six months is a different kid than one that's been there for two years. You deal with them in a different way."

Sue says that some children will go through the rehabilitation and withdrawal time in just a month and others are still struggling after six months.

"The addiction that is hardest for the kids is mistaking sex for love," she observes. "They're involved in prostitution. They go through a feeling of being unloved and uncared for. Many have such a low self-esteem that they eventually go back to prostitution because it is the only place they feel valued."

While still constructing the Victory Center, Sue is looking beyond to other needs. "We have a dream of renting a place in the center of town where we would offer showers and food and Bible classes." A centrally located facility would give the ministry a base for more permanently moving children off of the street. "When we do street ministry we are on their turf. But when you rent a place and bring them on to your turf, you have the right to establish rules. That way you can see who is going to respond."

But first, Sue has to raise an additional $50,000 to finish off the girl's home. She has run out of the $40,000 she raised previously when an anonymous donor gave her $20,000 and challenged her to match it in one month. "It was the most exciting thing to see God show that he had opened the door, because no one could have raised $20,000 in that short of a time by themselves."

Other missionary workers are also needed. "I have been praying for a year for the Lord to bring an older couple to work on the administrative side," Sue says. "I love people, I love evangelism, and I do poorly in administration." The couple would be involved with bookkeeping, personnel and program organization.

Sue, who worked with the Lansing Street Ministry in Lansing, Michigan before moving to Mexico, finds deep fulfillment in working with street children and leading them to Jesus Christ. "I guess it's my personality. It's the way that the Lord has made me and I identify with street people. Scripture says we all knew sin and we all knew darkness and we all knew what separation from God was. We are all moving from darkness to light and every single one of us have been in darkness and we want to draw people to the light."

To contact The Latin America Mission: 1-800-275-8410