It was a real privilege to be at church this morning at Horton and Wraysbury. We had two special guests, Roger and Isha Hulford, who head up Operation Restoration in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. This is an outreach to the street kids of the city - thousands of young people end up living on the streets there, with no social security to provide for them. Most of them are deeply scarred by abuse, rejection and the other horrific experiences that drove them there. In order to survive they resort to all sorts of hard stuff - glue sniffing, drugs, prostitution, criminality...
Until Operation Restoration comes along! They have teams operating on the streets (and under the streets, under bridges and in culverts and drainage sewers where they can hide from the authorities and the public) who offer basic medical and dental care.
But it is with those kids who choose to come into Operation Restoration's residential homes that the real turnaround happens. They get their childhood back, a chance to just be themselves, play and have fun. They learn to work together for the good of all. They learn trades that will lead to jobs in the future. They are given an education - some have graduated from university and one has even gone to a seminary and is training to be a church pastor. Young people who had no hope are turned into the leaders of tomorrow.
Most of all, they learn that they are loved. This work is deeply underpinned by Christian values: Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John chapter 10 verse 10). Roger and Isha make no bones about it: it is the power of Christ that transforms broken lives, He is an expert in it. It is made plain to the children who join them that they will be entering a Christian community.
Many people had a difficult journey to get to church today, through those terrible Wraysbury floods that have been making national news. But I think we all agreed that it was well worth it, to meet such amazing people as Roger and Isha and to find out about such an amazing work. We felt both privileged and humbled: we all go through hard times but compared to what some of these kids have been through, we hardly know we're born.
So I promised to put a link to Operation Restoration's website, so that people who were there could find out more and people who couldn't make it wouldn't miss out - and here it is:
Here too is a picture of Roger and Isha. I've included our youngest son Ben, on left, and his friend Kathryn, on right, because they both did a gap year in Santa Cruz with Operation Restoration and they were so keen to see their friends again.
I think everyone who meets Roger and Isha has got to be impressed - though they would hate me to say so because they are such humble people. They have done such amazing things for God and have risen to daunting challenges with incredible faith. Yet they will tell you that their sacrifices have been modest compared with the joy of seeing young lives transformed. They spoke of the heartache that comes with unconditional love: inevitably not all the kids make it because the pull of the streets is so strong... They told us that everything came through the grace and love of God. And they reminded us that we are all called by God to whatever it is that He has for us and challenged us to re-ignite our passion for Him.
Thank you Roger and Isha for inspiring us today. Roger ans Isha were here, partly because they are Londoners and need to get home to see friends and family: but also to try and raise awareness and raise funds to keep Operation Restoration going. If anyone would like to support this wonderful, life-transforming work in the longer term, please see their website which will give you information how you can do so. Just go back to the link above.
Colin x x