As a youth, Michael Cordoza was a gang member surrounded by violence and drugs; today, he's a Project Director who speaks on behalf of those youth.
The first time Michael Cordoza felt like he belonged he was 12. At this tender age, the lonely adolescent left home, joined a gang, and became one of the 17,000 throwaway kids scavenging a living in Nicaragua's capital city. On the mean streets of Managua, Michael found a new "family."
"I was part of a 'brotherhood,'" Michael says. "The older street kids looked out for us younger ones."
Nicaragua's Destitute Children
Like many Nicaraguan children born into deep poverty, Michael's early years were marred by abandonment, broken relationships and violence.
His father left before Michael could read. His eight older brothers were no comfort most were drug addicts or gang members. His community was no help either. Michael grew up in Barrio Campo Bruce, a shantytown in northeast Managua.
Most families in this overcrowded barrio of 25,000 live in shacks with dirt floors and walls and roofs made of rusted tin. Substance abuse, street gangs and family violence are rampant in Barrio Campo Bruce. Street vending is the main occupation, which pays just over a dollar a day.
Roots of Alienation
With all this against him, Michael had yet another burden to bear being shunned by his mother.
"My relationship with my mom was distant and cold," says Michael. "I always felt like she didn't care for me. When I was just 2 years old, she put me in foster care. I lived in a lot of homes before my grandmother took me in to live with her."
Michael's feelings of rejection and low self-esteem drove him to the streets. But those same needs are what propelled him to a new life in Christ.
A New Home
When Michael was 13 and already a drug user, his older brother, Gerald, got locked up for armed robbery. Gerald was given a chance to live in a Christian half-way house. "The Life House," founded by a missionary from the United States, helped to rehabilitate Managua's alienated youth.
Gerald refused the opportunity. But he asked the staff to contact his younger brother, Michael.
When Pastor Marvin Castillo and his wife, Claudia, whose church administers The Life House, visited Michael, they told him he would receive shelter and meals as well as the opportunity to get an education. Michael accepted.
This began the long process of Michael's spiritual and emotional regeneration.
"At the Life House I began to receive what my own family couldn't give me love, affection, spiritual guidance and respect," he says. "But it was the love and care of Pastor Castillo and his wife that took me out of that world. They have been like my parents, and they didn't give up on me!"
A Young Timothy
Michael, now 20, has finished his high school education and is in his first year of law school. He is also a Bible teacher and shares God's Word with many in his community. He continues to be discipled by his spiritual father, Pastor Castillo.
A year ago, Michael was asked to become the Director of the Compassion-assisted project his church administers, the El Pasotcito Student Center (NI-133). Humbled by the request, the young man recalls he drew courage from reading the apostle Paul's word to young Timothy: "God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7).
As a project director, Michael has channeled the misery of his childhood into life lessons for struggling Compassion-assisted youth.
"I can testify that the Word of God is faithful," he says. "Everything I ever dreamed of as a child has come true. I now work with children who are in the same situation I was. Because I have been there, I understand them perfectly."
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