By Patrick Atkinson
This letter is to say thanks… and you know why.
When I left working in the battlefields of Central America to work United Nations human trafficking issues in Southeast
Asia, I wrote everyone I knew and asked for their prayers. “Whatever’s ahead is going to be big,” I said.
“I’m scared,” is what I meant.
During these past 38 years of working in the darkest shadows of society, I have been frightened more times than you can imagine. Sometimes the reasons are obvious, like when a bullet struck my car window, or when a bomb shattered my hotel window at night.
Illness brings us a special fear since it affects us on very intimate levels. The time my weight dropped from 160 lbs. down to 107, it took every ounce of energy I had just to breathe. “Take one more,” I would whisper while lying alone.
In specific moments like these we know why we are afraid. Most of the time though, it’s because there is something out there that we just don’t know.
At 12, Jordan was one of the smartest boys I have ever known. He certainly had the quickest sense of humor and, with his smile and natural ability, could have been an actor anywhere in the world. Instead he wanted to be a doctor and help the poor.
When he was 14, Jordan was at the top his class. “I’ll make it,” he said to me. “Don’t worry.”
But I did worry because I knew how scared he was. You see, Jordan was running from a past where he had never known his father and where his mother still worked the streets. He hid under the bed when some men hurt his sisters, and still had scars from when those same men found him hiding.
Two days after he turned 15, Jordan ran away for some silly reason and traded school (and everything else) for dark and dirty alleyways and even dirtier, darker rooms. He was smart enough, though, to call me and to stay in touch.
I often looked for Jordan and when we met, it was like old times as we talked and laughed and I tried like the devil (or worked hard against him) to get that boy back.
God finally gave me the chance one night in December when Jordan became angry, drugged, and dangerous. He was sick and infected, and in this altered state, chose the wrong street gang and picked the wrong fight.
I later found Jordan sitting on the ledge of a 180-foot high bridge with swollen and bloodied eyes. He saw nothing ahead. We ended up talking for hours.
That night I told Jordan some very simple truths—that he was loved and that people liked him. That he was sick and could get better. And, yes, he could even go back to school and start to hope… to dream… again.
Maybe it was the cold of the steel or the wind of the night, but Jordan eventually breathed deeply and said we should leave that bridge.
Helen Keller once wrote that our struggles in life become our greatest blessings; that they make us patient and sensitive, and teach us that although the world is full of suffering, it is equally full of overcoming it.
When we believe we have a small chance of beating back something that shouldn’t be happening, that chance gives us hope. In this hope we find… we create… strength. With that strength we take one step forward and then another, and soon we are moving ahead.
For years I wondered what people meant when they chided me to count my blessings. What? I thought. Don’t they know about the violence and poverty, bloodshed, and threats we work with every day?
No, they don’t, because these dynamics of my international work are mine, not theirs. They have their own unique situations from which to learn. “Why is this happening? What can I do now, or learn from this?” In every situation laid before us we can choose to discover that which makes us stronger; in every moment learn what it is that will bless us and make us stronger forever.
Jordan went on to college, and in his second year moved home to live with his mother. The last time I saw him, for old time sake we walked the alleyways and backstreets that were once his, and we sat on his ledge. His road back wasn’t easy, but he made it.
His smile can still be seen a million miles away.
Bismarck native Patrick Atkinson is the founder of The GOD’S CHILD Project international charity that cares for and educates 13,700 people worldwide each day. He is considered one of the nation’s foremost experts in human trafficking and street gang violence, and is a published author with books in worldwide distribution.