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All of the boys admitted to our custody here at LAMA House have suffered absolute neglect; not given food, left to beg, left to sleep naked in a field, not given a name, no birth certificate. Some were abandoned at the hospital or outside a grocery store, taken to another town and left at a bus stop, left outside a cemetery, sold, sometimes to a syndicate or pimp. All have been seriously abused or exploited – beaten up, tortured. Most of them have been sexually exploited.

Our purpose at LAMA House – the heart of all we try to do – is to help them understand how much God loves them. In the busy stress of nurturing and correcting them it is vital that we remember why we are here, representatives for God’s love. But there are often times when despite our efforts boys continue through life oppressed by feeling not good enough no matter what they do.

God never wants His children to live like that. He tells us in Romans 8:1, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” To be condemned means you have been found guilty and you must be punished. Often the boys feel God is punishing them. But if they have received Jesus Christ as Saviour, they are “in Christ Jesus” and are not found guilty anymore. This is why Jesus gave His life – so we could be reconciled to God. Romans 5:10 (Phillips) “If, while we were his enemies, Christ reconciled us to God by dying for us, surely now that we are reconciled we may be perfectly certain of our salvation through his living in us.” Reconciled means to be friends, as we once were. This is the wonder of the Easter story!

This overwhelming feeling of disapproval is often rooted in early childhood experiences. God intended that parents would represent Him to their children. A child’s first understanding of God comes from their example. If a father or mother is abusive or neglectful the child will feel that no matter how good he tries to be, he can never be good enough. When he hears about God, he sees Him in the same way—as a disapproving authority figure whom he can never please.

Another source for this feeling of disapproval is their bad behaviour, which is usually a response to someone else’s sin. Sometimes they think the reason their parents did not want them around was because they were so bad. They repeatedly heard angry words like, “Anak ka ng demonyo!” “You are a child of a demon!” For some, the guilt is very heavy or bad things they did or what was done to them is very heavy, and even though they repeatedly confess it to the Lord, they don’t feel forgiven. Satan lies to them, “Do you really think God’s going to forgive you again?” That is what they hear and believe. They need to constantly be reminded of Gods promise to His children in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Patterns of bad behaviour have developed and are hard to change believing they can be forgiven is difficult for them. Living like this is damaging and it sabotages any progress. When we tell them God loves them, they don’t feel it because they see themselves as unworthy. As a result, they are never quite sure about their relationship with God. Their lives are guided more by a fear of displeasing Him. Sometimes, they just give up and decide not to try anymore. We have to be very careful how we discipline them for wrong-doing, making sure we don’t re-enforce this negative message but at the same time correcting bad attitudes. Even Positive Discipline techniques may not work unless we keep in mind the distorted image of a father that confused their minds. Their father/mother rewarded them for what was very wrong or punished them for no reason.

So I asked the boys one evening in devotion time to draw a picture of what they imagined God to look like. I wanted to find out before teaching them about a Heavenly Father. They thought about it for a while, I didn’t rush them and they didn’t compare notes. After 30 minutes or so I asked if they were done – a few were still struggling to put pencil to paper. They handed me their sketches. As I looked at each my heart leapt - every picture except 2 showed God with a big smile on His face! One picture was angry. And one – drawn by John who had been rescued from extreme neglect very recently – was a sad face.

They were all-ears as I explained that God did not want to punish them, He is a loving Father, a happy father, He is pleased with them – here is nothing He wants more than to be friends with them, no matter what!

This Easter, the very wonderful thing is – the boys at LAMA House in the Philippines understand that!

By Lesley Gomez (Author)