Finding hope, even in grief
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Three weeks after WORLD featured civil rights leader John Perkins as our 2020 Daniel of the Year, I received an email from our 2019 pick: St. Louis native Michael Miller founded the Micah Project in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and the Christian ministry has offered a stable home to street boys for 20 years.
The subject line of Miller’s email stung: “Elvin’s death.”
Elvin Meraz was one of the boys I met during my 2019 visit to Micah Project. At age 15, Elvin was learning to read and write after spending years on the streets of Tegucigalpa, begging for food and addicted to yellow shoe glue.
It’s a common plight for scores of boys and teenagers forced or drawn into street life in a city plagued by gangs. After years on the streets, Elvin agreed to live at Micah House. He had kicked his addiction and was adjusting to a stable, healthy life.
In 2019, we spent a morning visiting the home where some of Elvin’s family still lives in the hills above downtown. Elvin carefully packed the van with a handful of gifts to share with other children—a soccer ball, candy, and a pair of shoes.
When we arrived at a two-room shack perched on a craggy hillside, Elvin asked if he could buy lunch for the group. He and a Micah House social worker disappeared down the hill and returned with plates of fried chicken and french fries. Elvin darted around, making sure everyone got something to eat.
Later that day, we stopped at McDonald’s, and Elvin looked more like a kid than a teenager trying to provide for his family. He grinned from ear to ear, laughed at silly jokes, and slurped down a Coke. “This was a good day,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a swift lockdown to Honduras. For six months, residents could leave their homes once every two weeks. Miller says most of the boys at Micah House adjusted, but the lockdown hit Elvin hard. He crumbled under the dramatic changes.
By April, Elvin sat in a corner knitting—a skill a staffer had taught him. He skipped meals. He started sneaking out. Eventually, he asked to return to his home in the hills. In August, Elvin’s mother told Miller a gang had kidnapped her son. A month later, she said police believed gang members murdered Elvin and buried his body in an unmarked grave. Someone from the neighborhood brought her Elvin’s clothes.
The loss wasn’t entirely surprising in a nation with one of the highest child homicide rates in the world, but it was heartbreaking for Elvin’s mother, for Miller, and for the boys at Micah House.
“One day we will be resurrected as Jesus was on the third day.”
At a memorial service in early December, Miller wore a thick, orange-and-blue scarf Elvin knitted for him. He read from 1 Corinthians 15 and told the group about the hope for those who put their faith in Christ: “One day we will be resurrected as Jesus was on the third day. … To a place where there will be no crying, nor pain, nor sickness, nor pandemics, nor gangs, nor violence, nor injustice.”
Elvin’s body may lie in an unmarked grave, but Elvin didn’t live an unmarked life. Miller and other ministry staff members, including warmhearted Hondurans, spent years loving and caring for Elvin and boys like him. Their grief is a measure of the joy Elvin brought them. And it’s a model for pursuing unsung, sacrificial service, whatever the outcome.
That’s a model we could follow at the grief-marked beginning of this new year. Amid our own scenes of gangs and violence, American Christians can lay aside any hope in a political rescue and put our faith wholly in a sure resurrection. We can serve others, and we can lean into Sundays as weekly Easter celebrations that propel us through difficult weeks and remind us the one outcome that matters most is most certain: Christ is risen indeed.
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