When do you stop looking for, helping and serving a lost sheep that just wants to go its own way?
That is something we have had to evaluate in our ministry lately.
The majority of our ministry takes place in orphanages working with the troubled, broken lives of the children who have been placed there by the Guatemalan government for their safety, protection, or because of the loss of their parents.
Besides caring for orphans, orphanages serve as foster homes, taking in many children for temporary/indefinite periods of time.
While many of the children come from very humble backgrounds, we try not to think of them as “poor” children. Broken children? Yes. Hurt children? Definitely. Lost children? Very much so, but poor? Not so much, in truth they have been blessed to be brought to a wonderful Christian home, that, while not able to fill the role of a family for them, provides them with food, shelter, education, and caregivers who love and care for them day in and day out. But, most importantly, they learn of the God who loves them and cares for them and can be a very real part of their lives.
That said, such broken children do not always respond in the way that we think they should. While our service to them on a daily basis demonstrates our love and concern, the brokenness they feel, and the life choices that young people make as they grow into adulthood, sometimes leads them to make poor choices and they need help.
We have found ourselves with several sheep over the past year. Girls from an orphanage we have worked with years.
About six months ago, C. (19) asked me for help finding her a job and place to stay while she finished beauty school, she was anxious to step out on her own, have her own money and do her own thing.
I was able to find her a position working in a school where we serve. While she did well initially, at some point the quality of her work dropped off, she neglected her duties, leading to the loss of her job and a place to stay.
Throughout the process, we kept tabs on her, checked on her weekly and maintained contact with her employer. Still, it was not enough.
When we talked to her about losing her job, she was honest about her failings. She apologized to us and to her previous employer. She was open to us pointing out where she had erred and was responsive to our guidance. Through the process she grew, and, through connections at church, landed a job in a beauty salon where she has been for the last 6 months.
We are proud of her, she failed at her first opportunity, but we were there for her, and she was able to learn from her mistake and fail forward.
The second girl, J. (18), had struggled during her last year in the home. Changes in administration and house parents had been difficult for her. She had problems with authority, and at the end of the day, just wanted to do her own thing. We had known her since she first came into the home, 5 years ago, and knew that despite her struggles, she had a good heart and, when confronted with scripture, her faith in God and respect for his word had an impact on her.
While most of the homes we work with are flexible in their time frame for transitioning kids out of the home as they become adults, every now and then there is someone whose problems are disruptive enough that they are encouraged to leave as soon as they are of age.
This was the case with J. Thankfully, a friend of the orphanage offered to give her a place to stay as long as she stayed in school and kept a job. We helped transition her out, got her a job, and she did reasonably well keeping it for a month. After that she struggled to find work and despite the security of a good place to stay, made the decision to move out.
One of the hardest things when you’re trying to help someone is seeing them reject the good opportunities placed before them in favor of doing what they want. As the old adage says “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”
Sure enough, her plans didn’t quite unfold as she expected, she ended up without a place to stay, without work and even though we took her into our home, ungrateful.
We spent long hours talking to her, praying with her and trying to work her through the hardness in her heart, her frustration at her life not working out, and the anger at those who have been trying to help her.
She left our house in a huff one Saturday and a part of me was like “good riddance”, if she didn’t want the help we were trying to give her then she was on her own.
Once she left, I started to pray for her. After pouring out my heart to God for her and committing her life to Him, I felt unsure as to what my further obligation was to someone who was rejecting my help.
Unsure, that is, until I remembered the story of the lost sheep. Jesus tells us in Luke 15: 4-7
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
The clarity I had upon reflecting upon that story was profound and convicting.
When do we stop looking for the lost sheep that has gone astray? I’ll tell you when, it’s when Christ stops looking for us.
But aren’t we different from that difficult rebellious sheep that so obviously rejects its shepherds help and runs off to do its own thing? Not according to Isaiah 53: 6-8 which says:
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;”
My job, no matter how bothered or offended I was at my help being rejected, was to reach out to J. , the lost sheep that was still within my care. She had no one else; she had no other family; and she had no other shepherd that would go looking for her.
Reflecting on those truths, I picked up my phone and called her to check on her. Thankfully God had been working in her heart. She came back to us the following day and poured out her heart in tears regarding the anger and frustration she felt at things not working out and she apologized for taking it out on us.
While previously she had rejected much of the guidance we offered her, she was now ready to receive and do it. She ended up spending three weeks with us. We spent less time preaching to her, she didn’t need any more sermons, and more times loving her. She just needed someone to give her a place to stay, make her feel loved and cared for, and demonstrate that all the talk about caring for her was backed up by actions.
It was amazing to see her blossom during her time in our care. She followed through on the advice we had previously given her, learned how to better find a job, and was able to move in with a family who could care for her while she finished her last year of schooling and English language study.
This isn’t the end or the beginning of a story, just one of the parts in the middle where we worked with a lost broken sheep to care and provide for her until she was ready to go on her way.