Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Our lost sheep--finding Enrique, February 2013

February, 2013.

Nujerling Vargas Santana, my beautiful Dominican friend, was graduating form Universidad del Este in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. This was to be no ordinary graduation.

Nujerling had grown up in abject poverty. She entered Compassion International's child sponsorship program at a young age. She graduated from its program and earned a spot in Compassion's Leadership Development Program, which is designed for the best and the brightest of the children that pass through Compassion. She was to be graduating with high honors as a medical doctor!

I decided that I wanted to be with her on this amazing occasion. She is a shining example of how God can redeem a life from the desperation of poverty.

With the prospect of a few days in the DR ahead of me, I called my good friend Candie who had recently sponsored a Dominican child in the community of San Pedro. God worked it out for her to join me on this adventure. We would meet up with Megan Sprague from Maine, another of my beautiful friends who was living in San Pedro at the time teaching English at a private school for poor Haitian and Dominican children.

In the back of my mind, I remembered Enrique. Nujerling had his address. Was there a chance we could find him?

This trip marked an amazing departure from all the last trips. I was going to drive. This seems like a no-brainer unless you have visited the DR. Traffic is ridiculous--laws are a suggestion, as are lanes, red lights, and stop signs. It is maddening chaos. You have to keep an eye on pedestrians, potholes, speed bumps, stray dogs, weaving motorcycles, buses, sugar cane trucks, the assorted street vendors, and other cars all at the same time. However, I weighed the cost. If I was ever to be free to truly explore the DR, I needed a car.

I took the plunge.

After arriving in the country, we had a tight schedule. We arrived on Wednesday night and would be leaving Saturday afternoon. All day Friday would be spent on graduation preparations. Saturday we had made plans to visit the beach with a group of my dear Dominican friends.

We had one day to do the impossible: track down Enrique. I was reminded of the parable in Luke 15:

"Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he 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."

Enrique was my lost sheep. I had many other sponsored children at the time--all precious to me--and yet the one that was lost had been weighing heavy on my heart. I couldn't just let him go.

It was a daunting task. We woke up Thursday morning to a beautiful day--clear blue skies, fried eggs, and chinola juice. Over breakfast, we learned the sad truth about Dominican "addresses". Really, there are no house numbers...and in the Bateys, where Enrique lives, the street names are iffy. It was looking disheartening.

Still, as we drove down the road towards in what we hoped was the general direction of Batey Consuelo, it was hard to lose hope. There was nothing but blue sky and the lush green of the sugar cane fields--paired with the delightful company of good friends.

We hit Consuelo about 9 am. Our first stop was at a small daycare where we knew Enrique had once been registered as a charity case. It was closed. Strike one.

Not sure what else to do, we approached a group of moto-taxi drivers. These people depend on knowing all the rabbit trails of these communities in order to make a living. Nujerling showed them the address and a photo of Enrique. Miraculously, one of the drivers seemed to have an idea where the address might be.

We followed the moto-taxi through Consuelo proper--typical crowded streets, kids in uniforms walking to school. At the edge of town you hit dirt roads. The skeleton of a sugar cane factory haunts the landscape. What once had drawn thousands of Haitian immigrants with the promise of a future now stands like a tombstone in front of the real Consuelo--a sprawling slum--in marked contrast to the busy streets we had just passed through. We took a turn, ever careful to follow the taxi-driver's turns.

The streets teemed with children, half-naked, not in school. As in other communities in the DR, almost everyone was outside of the house, sitting in chairs, sweeping out the little shanties, walking in search of a day's wages. Narrower now, we took a sharp left on the rocky street and wound further back into the Batey. Finally the taxi driver stopped at a four-way "intersection, worn down by foot-traffic and bony cows.

And out of the green shack shone the brightest smile I have ever seen.

It was Enrique.

I basically threw money at the waiting taxi driver in payment for his service. All I wanted was a hug from the boy who might not even remember me.

But he did. As I squeezed his tiny figure close, I praised God for the miracle of the angel on the motorcycle who had led us to this place. I praised God that Enrique was alive.

He was still tiny. The reality of his situation was difficult to bear. I imagined him laying in this house for two weeks, starving to death, being discovered by neighbors and rushed to Musa hospital only a few months before.

My friend Megan remembers that morning as a miracle. She always says that when Enrique woke up that morning, he had no idea that his life was about to change. He had no idea that people were looking for him, praying for him.

But when we showed up at his door, things did change. They changed in my heart. This child lives in Hell. His home is a miry pit--flies, sewage, and dirty water that they must use for drinking, bathing and cooking. His bed was filthy. At 12, we learned he had never been to school. He had hungry eyes.

I gave him the few gifts I had brought to him: notebooks, markers, clothing, a kickball--and photos. He kept pouring over the photos of us together at Musa hospital.

We chatted with the mother for a few minutes. Our next step was clear--this family needed food. There had been no breakfast for Enrique--and there was no food at all in the house.

His mother took him behind the house and began to clean him up in a shallow pan full of muddy water. He kept looking at us as his mother scrubbed his tiny limbs with a rag. He came back wearing the bright yellow shirt I had brought him--inside out. Enrique never seems to wear clothes correctly. The buttons are always button wronged, something is always backwards or inside out. But he was smiling as we corrected his mistake.

He was beaming as he climbed into the backseat of the car with his mother, made possible by Megan's sacrifice of crawling into the trunk to make room. We bought Enrique a roll and some chocolate milk at the corner store before heading out for groceries.

The smile never left his face. It is a precious treasure in my heart to remember him in the store--distinctly foreign to him--choosing vegetables, juice, and a pair of new shoes. We learned that the only reason he was not in school was because they could not afford the uniform or supplies. We chose a blue shirt and khaki pants in a child's size 6 for this 12 year old.

When we returned to the home, we didn't stay for long. There were plenty of hugs. I promised Enrique I would see him again.

Four girls with full hearts left Consuelo that day. We had seen God work a miracle. I was back in contact with this little boy and we were already thinking ahead to how I could send money for food on a consistent basis. That Saturday, we returned with many more groceries and a prepaid cell phone for the mom so that Nujerling could keep in touch with her.

Since that time, we have kept in contact with Enrique by sending food through Nujerling. We have purchased vitamins, ointments, and other medications to help with his various conditions. When I returned in May with a team, we spent several days with Enrique--and he was better. Those days are a story for another time.

The first day in Consuelo will forever serve to remind me of how God weaves the lives of many people together to accomplish His purpose--forever a reminder that God has a plan in mind for this little boy. And in a way, it will always remind me that it is incredibly worthwhile to go out after the one, just as Christ sought us out and carried us home to His Father.

"Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he 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."


  1. I'm so glad that God worked out the miracle so that you could reconnect with Enrique!! What a beautiful story. I look forward to hearing how this last trip went.

  2. your stories of Enrique bring tears to my eyes. This little boy will be in my prayers. Bless you & I hope you see him again soon.