“Hola. My name is Miguel, and I’m not a believer.”
Hearing these words, I start to sweat. Miguel and I have spent the last twenty-four hours hopscotching from Tegucigalpa to Panama to São Paulo and finally, to Curitiba, Brazil. Tomorrow, he’s supposed to start six months of intense Bible classes and missions training on a Youth with a Mission base far from home. His journey will not be an easy one.
We have taken his new roommates to lunch, and although our conversation is a messy mix of Portuguese and Spanish, they clearly understand his meaning.
“If you don’t believe, then why are you here?” one of them asks.
“Well, I’ve always wanted to come to Brazil and learn Portuguese,” Miguel nonchalantly responds. Sighing, I think to myself, “Oh Miguel, the next six months are really going to be long.”
In reality, though, Miguel’s declaration isn’t shocking. When we first met on the streets in 2010, he was twelve years old and already huffing glue and using the fumes to cloud out a lifetime of pain. And after he had lived for only three months at the Micah House, the home we run for street kids in Tegucigalpa, his mom passed away from cancer that had been diagnosed just weeks before her death. What does a kid do with so much loss?
Becca Bell, my colleague, was Miguel’s hero during that time. She stayed by his side during his mom’s funeral and in the months ahead as Miguel came to terms with overwhelming grief as well as rid his young body and brain of dependency on yellow glue. Surrounded by love, Miguel began to blossom, and we celebrated when he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and was baptized in October 2010.
One of the foundational truths of the Micah Project, though, is that our boys’ healing journeys rarely travel forward in a straight line. Often, when the boys become young adults, they have to re-process all of the trauma and loss they experienced in their childhoods, this time from a more mature perspective. During Miguel’s senior year in high school, dark clouds gathered over his life once again. In January, one of our younger boys, Jefferson, whom Miguel dearly loved, was shot and killed—he was only fourteen. The intense grief of losing Jefferson ripped open the still-healing scars of his mom’s death and drove Miguel back into depression, despair, and doubt. He fell into such a low place that we worried about whether he would ever be able to emerge on the other side.
Amazingly, Miguel pushed through his last year of high school, and with lots of encouragement from Becca, signed up for the six months in Brazil. Three weeks into his Youth with a Mission classes, however, I got a call.
“Michael, you have to buy me a ticket to come home. This just isn’t for me. I don’t belong here.”
“Miguel, you need to hang on. It’s always tough in a new place, especially one with a different language.”
Two weeks later, I received a very different message: “Michael, it’s amazing to see all that God is doing here! He is truly changing lives!” For the first time in a long time, Miguel is allowing God into some of the most damaged areas of his heart. And, as he opens up those broken spaces, he doesn’t encounter criticism or judgment; what he finds is love.
A week later, Miguel writes: “Michael, I’ve been able to forgive so many of the hurts from my past while I’ve been here. God is so faithful.”
And a couple of weeks after that: “Michael, I’m seeing the power of prayer like I’ve never experienced it before. Wow! God’s love for me is SO amazing!”
What we thought was impossible, our Father was doing before our eyes. Where despair had reigned, peace now resided; confident joy quietly replaced deep sadness.
Near the end of his time in Brazil, Miguel wrote Becca and invited her to his graduation ceremony. Most of the Youth with a Mission students would have family present, and Miguel wanted Becca to be there. What better person to celebrate what God had done in his life than the one who had loved him unconditionally in his hardest moments! But this wouldn’t be easy since Becca was on an overseas trip with her family and would only return home, which was now in Atlanta, hours before she needed to leave for São Paulo. But thanks to a dear friend who gave her a free United Airlines standby ticket to São Paulo, Becca was determined to attend Miguel’s graduation!
That wasn’t going to be such an easy journey, however . . .
Bleary-eyed after an overnight flight with their two squirmy preschoolers, Becca quickly re-packs her suitcase and heads back to the airport. The problem when you fly standby, however, is that there must be an available seat on the plane. Becca’s flight to São Paulo is full.
She texts Miguel and me the bad news. Miguel responds: “Don’t worry about your trip! I have been praying and the Lord has told me that you will be here for my graduation! I’ll see you soon!”
Though I’m in Honduras and Becca is in the Atlanta airport, we send him the same message: “Miguel, there aren’t any seats on the plane. Can’t get there on time.”
Miguel writes again: “You don’t have to worry! My friends here at Youth with a Mission and I have prayed, and God has said that you will be here for my graduation!”
Becca runs across the airport to the Delta terminal to see if she can buy a seat to Houston or Chicago and fly standby with United from there. But the flight to Chicago is canceled and the one to Houston is full. Desperately searching online while standing at the gate, Becca sees that Delta has a direct flight leaving Atlanta for São Paulo in less than an hour with plenty of open seats, but an economy fare for the one-way flight is currently $3800. She mentions this flight to the gate agent, while admitting that as much as she wants to attend this graduation, that price was way out of her budget.
I text Miguel: “We love you. We’re so proud of you. But Becca can’t get a flight and won’t be there.”
He writes back: “I know you’re worried, but you don’t have to be. God has told me that she will be here!” Reading his text, I wonder what this disappointment will do to his newly renewed faith.
As Becca turns to leave, the Delta gate agent says, “Ma’am, hold on for just a second.” She starts typing on her computer terminal.
Finally, she looks up. “You know, they give us airline employees several buddy passes every year, and I never use them all. So write down your information for me here, and I’ll give you one of my passes for the flight to São Paulo. You need to hurry though; the flight is already boarding.”
Shocked beyond words, Becca grabs her carry-on, sprints down the terminal and is one of the last passengers to board the Delta flight to São Paulo. She is even more surprised when she is ushered to a first-class seat, a fancy one that has its own little booth and folds into a bed. Although there was no humanly possible way to get there, Becca is on her way to Brazil. And she will be well-rested when she arrives!
When Miguel calls me with the news, I am standing outside a restaurant in Tegucigalpa where I have just finished dinner with friends. “Michael, Becca is on a flight to São Paulo! Someone gave her another free ticket!” I start to weep. God has done the impossible. Why did I ever think otherwise?
Becca arrives at Miguel’s graduation an hour before the ceremony begins. It is a joyful, Spirit-filled celebration of God’s incredible faithfulness to his children. And Becca is there to cheer on Miguel and to celebrate the man he has become.
As I started to write this piece, I told Miguel that I was going to tell the story about Becca’s miraculous flight to Brazil. He is back in Honduras now and investing time in our younger boys before he starts college in January. This is what he wrote to me: “Becca’s story reminds me that, as human beings, our way of living our lives and our view of God are just too small. He loves doing the impossible in our eyes.”
Though I have been a missionary for twenty years, sometimes I still forget that “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Thanks, Miguel, for reminding me! Miguel’s Heavenly Father transformed a broken, lost, addicted street kid into a man of deep, abiding faith. He even used an anonymous Delta employee in Atlanta to show Miguel that with God, all things really are possible.