How do you teach a parenting course to young mums and dads who have never had a parent model to learn from, or if they have, it has not been a good one!?
This has been one of the challenges that I (Helen) have faced since starting up a parenting course in the MEFI drop-in centre a couple of weeks ago.
Ever since we arrived in Mexico 5 years ago, it has been something that I have felt God saying is really needed in the lives of the street-mums and dads, but the timing has never been right, until now as there have been so many other things going on in the drop-in centre. Also, I haven't been able to be involved in the drop-in centre since Charlie was born, and I have prayed and wrestled with the decision whether getting involved again would be a blessing to the team and the street kids, or whether it was just my heart tugging at me because I missed being there so much.
However, about a month ago God once again stirred up in me the desire to start up a parenting course and so I started investigating the possibility and whether it would work. The director of MEFI - Carmen, was really positive and said she had been praying for a course like this to happen as well.
I also invited my friend Katherine to lead the course with me and she felt as well that this was God's answer to some of her prayers. She has been amazing with the street kids, despite never having had contact with them before, and God is already revealing to her that she has gifts in teaching and leading.
But after looking at some of the material I had from well established parenting courses, it quickly dawned on me how foreign and irrelevant a lot of this material would be for these young people. Their family back-grounds and the definition of 'family life' they currently live with is a hundred miles from what most of us have experienced. Talking about having a meal round the table with your kids for example would be something they have only ever dreamt of doing, and many of them hardly ever see their kids as they have been banned by the court for the protection of the kids and their mother or grandparents or whoever is looking after them.
Most of them still live on the streets (although some of them have now left and are trying to start a new chapter of their lives), and just a couple of them actually live with their kids. But the course is also about preparing them for the future when they quite probably with have more kids, and when they will hopefully will be in a better situation to look after them.
So when I asked the young people at the drop-in centre if anyone was interested in doing the course I wasn't sure what the response would be, but there were a good number who were interested, and there was a great desire in many of them to learn all they could to enable them to be the very best father or mother they could be for their kids - whom they were praying they would be allowed to look after again.
So during the first session we looked at what image they had in their minds when the word 'father' was said. Of course, many had negative images, or some struggled to think of any image, but it was encouraging that many had some kind of positive example as well - from maybe a member of the extended family, or from outside the family. We then looked at God as Father and what a 'perfect Father' looks like, and how He desires to have that Father-son or Father-daughter relationship with each one of them.
Please pray for them, as I really believe that until they have really grasped the love that God as Father has for them and have received healing for their past experiences, then it will be really difficult for them to show their own children the kind of unconditional love that they too need.
Then in the second session we looked at what their experiences were as children and how that affected them growing up, and how that still affects them in their relationships with others and with their own children. Then the session this week is about spending quality time with their kids (however infrequent or short that time may be), and the importance of playing with them. The mentality of a lot of them is that they are only expected to be a disciplinarian figure and to bring their kids presents or money.
So this is definitely not a 'run of the mill' parenting course! But already God has blessed us through the young people that have come, and we can see God already working in their hearts. We actually had one lady (Elizabeth, 43) who came along last week, in addition to the young people, and she couldn't stop crying and thanking us for our words. She has two older kids who she feels like she has let down. However, she is just beginning to understand God's love as a father for herself, and we could see how this was beginning to heal some of the hurt she was feeling.
The other challenge of doing a course with street young people is that you can never predict who is going to turn up. So it could well be different young people every week! But we are trusting that whoever comes, and whenever they come that each one will take away with them something that will help them in their role of parent - whatever that may be, but most importantly that they will know they are loved by the one perfect Father and that they are his precious children. Please pray for Juan, Gloria, Edgar, Daniela, Agustín, Victor, Blanca, Rosendo, Jessica, Elisabeth, Juan Antonio, and Andrés.