Going the Distance – An Orphan’s Story

Based On a True Story

My name is Manuel and my story is very similar to those of many of the children who come through this amazing, hope-filled place.

My parents died six years ago, when I was only nine. Suddenly I was alone. Feelings of abandonment flooded my mind. Nobody in my community would take me in, or care for me. Sure they “watched out” for me, making sure I wasn’t sleeping in a ditch and giving me scraps of food. But they wouldn’t bring me into their homes. They kept me at arms length. Outside the doors of the hearts.

I was confused and scared and hopeless. Why wouldn’t anybody truly help me?

Instead, I was forced me to work. I was told, “If you want to eat, you must work!” So I began making charcoal and selling it on the streets. It was a filthy, backbreaking job. But I got the hang of it faster than I got used to the smell. I would get up early in the morning in order to search out the best spots to set up my buckets of charcoal. I walked the roads alone, standing on street corners trying to earn enough money for food. I walked in and around the other children selling fish, or bananas, or tomatoes. I watched as young boys led their blind fathers up and down the streets begging for money. The smell of poverty was as heavy as the mid-summer heat. I would return late in the evening, completely worn out, but with just enough money to receive a small meal, usually my only meal of the day.

School was no longer an option. Like so many children, the dream of an education was replaced by the harsh reality of daily, tiresome labor. Finally, I found a man in the local market who sold handmade woodcarvings and leather sandals. Antonio was his name. He let me sell my charcoal in his stall next to him. How thankful I was to have shade and a place to sit.

Occasionally a couple named John and Maria would come by the market. There was a deep kindness in their eyes. They were always so interested in me, in my life, and in how I’d gotten here. One day, about four years ago, John invited me to live at his orphanage. He said I would have my own bed, and regular, daily meals … and that I could go back to school again! He also said that this orphanage was a place to learn about a father who would never abandon me.

I was apprehensive at first. I had heard of the cruel treatment that often takes place in some of these “orphanages.” But Antonio said that the Melanie Center was different, that I could trust John and Maria. They said I could visit first, to see if I’d like to live there.

Being at the Melanie Center has been wonderful. I have friends, a place to play, and plenty of food. I have responsibilities and chores to do too, because I know that it is important to help and work for what I have been given. The best thing has been going back to school! I enjoy learning so much and I want an education as badly as I wanted breakfast and lunch during my days on the streets.

“Hope is a really good thing. I think it’s one of the best gifts that God gives. Hope is a star that guides us through the silent night. Hope is a baby born in a stable. Hope is a Father who never lets us go.”

I love living at the Melanie Center, but my story is also different from the stories of many of the children here. Older kids, like myself, often do not get adopted. Families want a toddler or an infant to love from an early age. I understand that, but it still hurts. Don’t they know that I need a caring home just as much?

In three years I will graduate from school and I’m not sure what will be next. My dream is to go to college. I want to be a doctor. John and brother Alex often talk to me about the importance of going to college and the opportunities that an education can provide. But of course, money is a problem. Alex tells me that college isn’t as expensive as it is in America, but still I can only ask, how will I pay for it? For now, I will focus on doing my best in school. John and Alex tell me to trust that God will provide.

I have learned a lot about God at the Melanie Center. I go to church now. John and Maria are both pastors. Brother Alex and his wife Melanie tell me stories from the Bible and I try to help them with their Portuguese. I am learning to build my hope in God. I am finding that hope isn’t believing that my life is going to work out as perfectly as I want, but instead it is believing that God is working through all things, no matter how my life turn out.

Hope is a really good thing. I think it’s one of the best gifts that God gives. Hope is a star that guides us through the silent night. Hope is a baby born in a stable. Hope is a Father who never lets us go.

Merry Christmas from Mozambique.