Just beyond the gates of the Hope Center in Costa Rica is an environment of violence and danger. This is mainly due to the prevalence of drug addiction. The drug addiction has led to the formation of numerous gangs who mark off territories and inflict violence—often on the family members of rival gang members. They understand that the best way to hurt one another is to hurt the family of the person targeted. In a recent story of this kind of violence we learned how one child viewed the Hope Center inside her 6 year-old world.

It was a regular school day and 6-year-old Michelle was attending her classes. Her mom was due to pick her up in a few short hours but suddenly she received notification from her teacher that the school was being evacuated. The school administration had received news that two of the children inside the school were targets of a prominent gang in the area and the gang had plans to come inside the school to kill the children. The administration decided the best course of action was to evacuate the school to prevent other children from being injured because they didn’t have an effective way of preventing this gang from entering the school. Parents were notified that they had 15 minutes to come and pick up their children. Unfortunately for Michelle, her mom worked over an hour away as a cleaning lady and had no way of picking her up in the sufficient amount of time. Her mom also had no way of communicating with Michelle because she was still too young to have a cell phone. Confusion and fear from the staff, parents and other children were taking over.

As the evacuation took effect, chaos was everywhere as parents were scrambling to find their children and get them to a safe place. Michelle found herself on the street and unsure of how to get home. She was told by her classmates that she needed to find a safe place to go and although we don’t understand why another parent wouldn’t help Michelle, we do know that in those minutes she decided to walk 800 meters all by herself to the Hope Center. When she arrived, she walked into the center and went straight to our staff and told them that she needed to call her mom. During that time, we had several moms and children coming into the center for the same reason: they were seeking a safe place. Once we realized Michelle had arrived without her mom, we asked her to tell us what happened and this 6-year-old girl with fear but also a sense of certainty told us that she knew that she would be safe in the Hope Center and her mom wouldn’t worry about her if she knew she was here.

This story reminds us that although violence, abuse, darkness, hunger and poverty are just outside the Hope Center, inside is very different. Each and every day, we continue to work hard to create a place of True Hope for this needy community, a place that shows love and brings hope to their desperation. Through this story we are encouraged that Michelle and many other children and women believe this is what the center is for them. May God enable us to continue to bring hope, love, faith and beauty to their lives.