Jazmin Criollo (right) hopes the message of Christ's love will help save the hundreds of street children living on the streets of Bogotá®¿
Every Sunday morning, 18-year-old Jazmin Criollo takes the bus to downtown Bogotá® As the bus rumbles deep into the city's core, grim scenes flash by the dusty windows. Young girls selling their bodies. Toddlers left alone in moldy cardboard boxes. Little boys playing with needles.
But when the bus squeals to a stop, Jazmin is the first one off. She walks straight to a group of street children huddled next to a bag of rotting garbage. She kneels in a brown puddle. "Jesus loves you," she says, looking into their dirty faces. "And I do too."
A Different Future
Jazmin is drawn back to these street children week after week because, in them, she sees what her life could have been like. As a child growing up southeast of Bogotá¬ she was no stranger to hunger and violence. Her father worked odd jobs to support his wife and children, but the U.S.$6 a day he brought home was never enough. Jazmin didn't attend school, and she had no dreams. What point was there in dreaming when the future held nothing but poverty?
When Jazmin was 8, she was enrolled in the LosLibertadores Student Center(CO-227), and for the first time, she dared to imagine a different future. With the project workers' encouragement, she began teaching Sunday school classes, where she discovered her love for children. Jazmin felt especially called to serve children in poverty street children who needed rescuing as badly as she had. And that is what led her to downtown Bogotá®¼/p>
Only By God's Grace
Working with the street children of Bogotá ³eemed natural to Jazmin and her friends at the student center. They had all seen the conditions children lived in deep in the city and they all knew that it was only by God's grace that their lives were any different. So Jazmin and other youths from the student center began heading downtown each week to invite children to church.
What began as a few children in one small classroom swelled to more than 100 children each week. Now, Jazmin is in her element as she gathers her class together each Sunday. She carefully passes out crackers and fruit, knowing that for many in her class, this is the only meal they will receive for the day. After a Bible study and game, she listens to the earnest prayer requests of her students. Their lives are hard to fathom. The things they must do to earn money make her sick to her stomach. But she will not give up on them because there were dozens of people who never gave up on her.
Bringing Hope to the Hopeless
"I began working in this ministry four years ago because I grew up looking at how my Compassion project was helping children like me, and it made me want to help children too," says Jazmin. "I have been affected by seeing these children living on the streets and paying the consequences of their parents' mistakes. I think it is terrible to see how drugs destroy the lives of a lot of our country's youth. I want to see children smiling, I want them to know that Jesus died for them."
Jazmin is now a social work major in Compassion's Leadership Development Program. She spends her weekdays in classes learning about rescuing children and her weekends are spent actually rescuing them.
"Working with these children is really hard & they think that fighting is the only way to get what they want," says Jazmin. "I just have to show them that love is the only solution."