A few weeks ago, I met a young girl who has had a hard life. I tried to help her. Here is what happened.
My friend, Diana, who is a member of our church, had to do some routine exams at a hospital in Porto Alegre. Diana doesn't have a supportive family (mother, sisters) so I decided to go and be with her at the hospital. She was going to the feminine hospital where they have a free clinic. As I sat in the waiting room, a young girl sat down beside me. She was skinny as a rail, had on a hooded jacket and ripped pants, and looked to be about 18. She asked me if I knew how long the wait was to be seen by a doctor. I told her that I didn't know.
One thing that bugs me about living in Brazil, is that the minute I open my mouth to speak people know that I'm not Brazilian. I speak Portuguese, of course, but my accent is so strong that I immediately give myself away even if my Portuguese is perfect. So, this girl noticed that I wasn't from here, and asked me where I was from. We talked a little bit about how I was from the US and that all of my family lived there. I was here with just my husband and kids. She told me that we were alike, because she was from another state in the north of Brazil, and was here all alone - no family. She had come here to work, she got pregnant, lost her job, and was now living on the streets. She was at the hospital because she had been spotting and needed to get checked out. Her name was Erica and she was 22 years old.
I knew of a place, the Emmanuel Society, here in Porto Alegre that takes in homeless people. I asked her if she had checked with them. She hadn't heard of them, but seemed interested. I told her I would call them, set up a time for her to visit and see if she could stay there. As Diana was doing her exams, I began to make phone calls to Leni and Auristela, from my house church, who began to help me try to find a place for this girl. We found out that the Emmanuel Society would only be able to talk with me after lunch. Since Diana was waiting for her exam results, and Erica had already seen a doctor, I decided to take both of them to my house for lunch. After lunch I would take Diana back to pick up her exams and see about a place for Erica.
We picked up the kids from school, stopped to pick up some extra lunch stuff, and headed home to eat. After lunch, while Erica took a shower and changed into some clothes that we gave her, I talked with Leni and Auristela. Each had been calling around trying to find a place for Erica to stay. Every place we called about was a dead end. The city has a program - but all of their houses are full. They have shelters - but you can only stay in them a limited time and Erica had already stayed there. They have a program where you can see a psychologist, social worker, etc, but then you are released again to the streets to find a shelter to stay for the night. The Emmanuel Society doesn't accept pregnant women anymore because they don't have a safe place for them to stay. Several shelters run by churches in the area were full.
I wanted to be able to find a place for Erica. I thought about letting her stay in our home. But some things were holding me back. As we visited with her as the afternoon went on, her story changed. She had told me that this was her first pregnancy - later she told me it wasn't - she had a daughter that she had handed over to the state a few years earlier. Every time we offered a suggestion to help her, she turned it down saying she had already tried this or that and it was no use. She argued with Leni on the phone and hung up on her - then told me that the connection was lost. By the end of the afternoon, she was very rebellious and would only agree to either staying at our house for the night, or going on a bus back to her home state where she had an aunt who could care for her. If she couldn't do either of these things, she wanted us to either take her to the downtown of Porto Alegre, or let her out on a highway where she would hitch a ride with a trucker.
Even though I was hesitant about her staying with us, I wasn't about to dump her off downtown, or much less on a highway. She had promised us that she didn't use drugs, and she didn't act like she was high, but she was extremely thin. I was worried about her and the health of her baby, even though at her doctor's exam earlier he had found no problems. After all options had been exhausted, I told her that she could stay with us for the night and then tomorrow morning we would go to the bus station to see about a ticket for her to go and be with her family in the other state. She asked me if we could see about the bus ticket tonight, then she could already be on her way. Most long bus trips run during the night so that everyone can just sleep on the bus. Erica was from a state really far away. Her bus trip would be almost 2 days.
So, we headed down to the bus station. We bought her a bus ticket, gave her some spending money, and waited with her until she got on the bus. She hugged us and thanked us, and then she was gone.
After she left, I was just plagued for a few days with doubts about what we had done. Should we have tried to keep her in our house for a few days? or longer? Was she using drugs? Was she really even pregnant? (I'm pretty sure she was, even though she was really thin.) Would her family accept her when she showed up at their house? Was putting her on the bus just the easy way out for me? Was she lying to me and just playing on my emotions? (with me, this would be very easy to do.)
I don't have the answers to these questions. I just know that on that day, I did the best that I could do. The only thing more that I could have done would have been to keep her with us. I am not afraid of poor people - or even homeless people. I am afraid of drugged out people. I'm sure that there are arguments to be made on both sides - I should have done more - I did too much, and should have done less. All I know is that it was a hard day. I was relying strongly on my instincts and praying for the Spirit to guide me.
Days like this are difficult. It is hard to know what is the right thing to do. Days like this make you feel helpless. The problem of "homeless people" is huge, and it is inter-related with drugs, teenage pregnancies, broken families - people who don't respect and obey God and put Him first and have really messed up their lives because of that. Many times I feel like I'm making very little difference. That I am chipping off little ice chips on a huge glacier. I have learned to have peace in knowing that God is in charge of the results. I can only do my part.
I will not forget Erica. I will pray for her and hope that maybe I helped her have an opportunity for a new start.