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I have a tale to tell.  It’s sad but true.  It’s about a boy I’ll call “Run Away Lou”.  Not his real name, I need to tell you. His namehappy new year has been changed to protect the guilty, which Lou definitely is, although he is is not the only culpable figure in this story of woe.

It should be a happy story, full of joy and fun.  Good times and laughter.  Lots of sun, sand and surf.  That’s the way it all began.  During Christmas break most of the kids at the home for needy children where my wife and I are on staff, have some family member that they go to stay with.  But, there are always about a dozen charges that have no place to go.  Spending a week at the mission without the other kids there can be a depressing experience, so the staff members that stay behind usually do something special for the “left behinds”.  My compassionate wife, Anita, felt God’s love strings pulling at her heart way back in August, prompting her to begin planning a beach vacation for the ones with no place to go, including Run Away Lou.  She talked to some people and found a house we could rent for five days in the seaside city of Huatulco, Mexico.

The day for departure finally came, Christmas day, as a matter of fact.  We loaded the pickup with food, beach umbrellas and chairs, backpacks and blankets.  Some kids climbed into the pickup cab, while others filled the van, and away we went, into the sunrise.

The first couple of days were like any beach vacation you could imagine.  All the kids having the time of their lives. Splashing, swimming and even snorkeling in the warm surf.  Even Run Away Lou seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.  I have a photo of him playing in the water, and a video of him helping to cover my daughter Sally with sand.  Both record him with a winning smile having a great time.

But something clicked in his troubled 12 year old head early Sunday morning.  After awhile, no matter how good things seem to be going in his life, something seems to click, to turn pleasant thoughts into bad thoughts, and Lou gets the urge to Run Away.  And unfortunately he skedaddles  with other people’s money or things in his pocket.

He was discovered missing about 5am Sunday morning.  Also missing was the wallet from a staff member, his wife’s hearing apparatus and glasses, and my wife’s cell phone.  After a quick search, the wallet, now devoid of cash, was discovered in the pickup.  Later the hearing apparatus and glasses were found behind the toilet.  So, it could have been worse, but our boy, Run Away Lou was no where to be seen that day.

Roughly the same event occurred at the mission several months before. Again, something clicked in the boy.  Who knows what it was.  Maybe thoughts of a mother who abandoned him, or a father he never knew.  Maybe something as simple as a disciplinary matter he had to endure, or a chore he never wanted to do again.  Perhaps the enticing idea of a life on the lamb with a wad of cash in his pocket.  Whatever it was that made him snap, he left his room in the middle of the night, made his way to the visitors center, stole into the room of a sleeping volunteer from the States, rifled through his personal belongings, found a lot of pesos, and made his way into the night.  And while he seems fearless in his actions, he isn’t so bright once he makes his get away.  He walked a few hundred yards down the highway to a little motel and checked himself to catch 40 winks.

Again, him and the money were noticed missing in the early morn, and the search was on.  Within an hour he was spotted exiting the motel by a staff member.  The staff member was also spotted by Lou, and Lou made haste to make himself disappear.  He was found by a governmental social service agency a couple months later and taken to an uncle.  The uncle was none to excited to receive him, since Run Away Lou had absconded with the uncle’s pesos and possessions on more than one occasion.  So there he lived until the kind and merciful folks at the home for needy children decided to give him one more chance, knowing that his chances at any kind of future would be better at the mission than with an uncle who begrudgingly took him in.  We truly loved him and wanted him to be happy, as difficult as he could be.  After all, we are a home for NEEDY children, and Lou definitely fit that description.

Naturally he was kept on a short leash after his return.  He was shown lots of love, some of it Tough Love, but he seemed to accept it all as the natural course of things.  I think he knew that he had made a big mistake and was grateful for a second chance. After awhile the leash grew longer.  He was given more freedom and more responsibilities and to all appearances was doing well.  He often hugged our administrator who made the decision to bring him back.  She’s a  Chicago woman and was both appreciative  of his affection and also somewhat skeptical of his intentions.  I don’t know if being from Chicago has anything to do with being skeptical, but she was right to be wary.  She was also in Huatulco with some friends when everything went down.

She was probably awakened from a peaceful sleep at five in the morning  when she was alerted to Run Away Lou’s  latest escapade.  The adults left the house to try and track down our little Run Away Lou.  I drove the van with Anita and another staff member.  One other staff member was in the truck.  We all had an idea that Lou would want to get out of Dodge as soon as possible.  I don’t know why we thought that.  I guess that’s just the way adults think.  Any way, it gave us something to do.  We went to the bus terminals and van transportation services that take people to Oaxaca city.  We even went to taxis.  I had a picture of him on my Kindle, and another lady had his picture on her phone.  Anita showed his face to a group of taxi drivers, and incredibly, or blessedly, one driver remembered giving the kid a drive to a nearby hotel.  He took us to the hotel, but no luck.  The clerk at the hotel said yes, this boy did try to get a room about three in the morning, but was denied.  I’m not sure why.  The clerk said the boy then sat on the curb and played with a cell phone.

Well, after some more searching and reports to the local a authorities  police, and even a radio station, we gave up and took the rest of the kids back to the beach, albeit with heavy hearts.

That evening we were treated to a wonderful dinner out on the town, thanks to the generosity of a couple of Canadian churches who have a special place on their collective hearts for the children of Casa Hogar Oaxaca.  We went back to the house with full stomachs and concerned hearts and many of us fell into a fitful sleep, Run Away Lou still on our minds and in our prayers.

Evidently we were also on the mind of Run Away Lou.  Or at least our money and our possessions.  At about the same time that he had left the house the night before, he returned to the premises, to the scene of the crime.  In the dead of night he opened the big metal gate at the entrance of the property and let himself in.

I thought I had heard some kind of sound outside, but dismissed any idea that Run Away Lou had come back.  “This is the last place he would go” I thought to myself.  I was wrong.  A few minutes later he was discovered trying to make himself invisible at the end of the bed in the room next door.  Evidently he had been going for the tablet of a staff member sleeping in the room.  The same staff member who he had robbed the night before.  He had the charger in his pocket, and had grabbed the tablet off a high shelf in the darkened room.  Somehow it slipped from his fingers and banged on the floor.  The staff member awoke, investigated the noise, and Lou crouching at the foot of the bed.  We had him back, and now had to figure out what to do with him.

Once again the administer of the mission was called.  She told us that since we had reported him to the police, that we should take him to the police station and seek their help.  We didn’t want Run Away Lou to run away, so under close scrutiny we put him in the van and hauled him off to the police.

They didn’t want anything to do with him.  The city of Huatulco had no facilities for juvenile delinquents.  Since we were legally responsible for him, he was our problem.  They suggested we return him to his uncle, or take him to the appropriate authorities in Oaxaca city.  We decided on the former course of action.  At 2:57 am he was put aboard a van service with two adult males from our group to keep an eye on him and taken to Oaxaca.  There he was met by his very disappointed house father from the mission and delivered to his uncle.

So there it is, the tragic tale of Run Away Lou.  He was guilty, once again, of stealing from those who loved him, cared for him, and wanted nothing but the best for him.  He had it all. He spurned it all.  He gave it all up for a mess of porridge as it were, like Esau in the Bible.  He gave up making sand castles on the seaside for making mudpies in the slums as C.S. Lewis once said.

I mentioned that Lou was guilty, but that others were also culpable in his demise.  How about an absent father?  What about the mother who abandoned him?  I have never faced what our young Run Away Lou has had to face.  I can not even begin to imagine the thoughts that fill his mind, that perhaps torment his thoughts.  I do know that we have dozens of children at the home for needy children who have lived through similar harsh circumstances in life and are now flourishing under the loving care and guidance of staff members at the mission.  Why sharing God’s love, mercy and Grace with Lou didn’t “take”, I have no idea.  We all hope and pray that someday, like the prodigal son, that Run Away Lou will “come to his senses” and that instead of always running away, that he will run into the arms of our loving heavenly Father.  I hope and pray that someday Run Away Lou will become Run To The Father Lou.

So why did I title this story Putting the HAPPY in 2015?  Because, in a sense, we are all Run Away Lou’ s.  We are in the care of a God who loves us and wants us to be happy, just as Lou was in the midst of a community of Faith who loved him and wanted him to be happy.  God has provided the perfect recipe for happiness.  It’s called the Bible.  We have a choice to make.  We can choose to follow and obey the commands of the Bible and live in right relationship with God, or follow the inclinations of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, and live in misery.  Lou made disastrous choices and is not happy.

This New Year, let’s run into the loving arms of the Father, abide in Christ, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and experience true happiness!

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