We see them frequently, moving in small bands up and down the hill between downtown Stanwood and the high school. They’re not students, but they seem to like being near though not part of the school scene.

One recent June evening two of these teens knocked on our door. They wore knitted caps pulled low over their ears and carried nearly-empty backpacks. They were polite . . . and hungry. Though it was 9 P.M. and nearly dark, they asked if we had any work they could do. They needed $5 to buy food.

They’d evidently not been on the streets long. I wanted to pull them inside and sit them down for a good meal, then give them a place to stay. But warnings came flashing to mind. Instead, I told them we had no work but if they’d sit down on the porch, I’d make them a sandwich. I did that, and added some brownies. Wyatt and Chris thanked me profusely and set off down the road, but not until Wyatt told me where he was from and that he and his father didn’t get along. “But me and my mom are in touch every day,” he said. I asked where they’d spend the night. “I have a blanket,” he said. “We’ll be okay.”
We prayed for the boys that evening, but still I worried about them. The next day, we ran into them in the halls of the community center. They were still walking around looking for work. I asked if they’d stayed warm last night.

“It was cold,” Wyatt said, “but we had a dry place to sleep.” He was reluctant to tell me where, though he did share that he hopes to get his GED.

Our little farming community has a big population of homeless kids. Some sleep in the parks and in dumpsters behind the downtown businesses. Some make a practice of couch-surfing, staying with one friend, then another. Some are addicted to heroine.

Some of these boys and girls are runaways or throw-away kids. Their common denominator is that they feel abandoned. I read a piece by an anonymous foster parent who said “Too many parents, especially men, try to “fix” their children after they are teens, which only teaches them that they are not good enough, at a time in their lives when they need every ounce of self-confidence they can manage.” Perhaps this is what’s going on between Wyatt and his dad.

What can I do to help these lost, aimless kids? I’m not sure. At the very least, I need to understand the problem. I need to have compassion for them. I may never have the skills to deal with their problems myself, but I can support those who do. Youth for Christ has a presence in our town, both in the schools and at The Spot, where kids can go for fun, for help with homework, for relationship-building. Step Up is a YFC program which links community people as mentors to kids who have been neglected in the life skills department. Kids learn the value of work through programs like this and gain help in breaking the welfare cycle. I know there are other places and people who reach out. I need to learn more about what’s available.

I can also learn the names of some of the kids. Then I can pray for them by name, that they will come to know the love of their Heavenly Father who will never leave nor abandon them. If the door opens, I can befriend and mentor one of these young people. For them, the need is desperate.

Heaven Is for Real

In 2003, not-quite-four-year-old Colton Burpo nearly died from a misdiagnosed burst appendix. Even after emergency surgery, doctors didn’t expect him to live. . . but he did. Several months passed. One day his parents asked him if he remembered the hospital.

Yes, Colton remembered the hospital. “That’s where the angels sang to me,” he stated, matter-of-factly. Time seemed to stop for his parents as they took this in. More questions. More matter-of-fact answers. “Jesus had the angels sing to me because I was so scared. They made me feel better.”

“You mean Jesus was there?”

“Yeah. I was sitting in Jesus’ lap.”   

Colton went on to describe what his parents had been doing in separate parts of the hospital while he was under anesthesia during the surgery. . . things he had no way of knowing. Over the next year or so, Colton dropped many such bombshells, which his father wrote down in the simple words of his little boy, astonishing things that matched Scripture in the smallest detail; things that Colton could not have known unless he’d actually experienced them.

Colton also had met Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, and the angel Gabriel, who stands in God’s presence. He spent time with “Pop,” the great-grandfather who died thirty years before he was born. He recognized Pop as a young man in a photograph he’d never seen, and announced, “No one wears glasses in heaven,” because no one is old there. Most precious of all to his parents was his meeting with his sister, who was waiting for her parents to get to heaven to name her. She told him she died while still in Mommy’s tummy, and God adopted her. They had never told him about the miscarriage; they had never known the sex of the lost child. There were lots of kids in heaven, Colton told them, and Jesus wants people to know that he really, really loves the children.

Since I read Heaven Is for Real, what awaits us there has come to life for me. I, too, have a child without a name awaiting my arrival. My parents, young again, are there, along with dozens of friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other loved ones.

Colton said that the first one we’ll meet there is Jesus, the one who died so we can go to heaven. I can’t wait to see Him face-to-face.

For a look at the book, or more about the Burpo family, go to http://heavenisforreal.net.