For her 40th birthday, Lucy McCann wanted nothing more than to take a vacation to her native homeland of Cartagena, Colombia with her husband Oliver. Amidst the historical charm that lures many tourists to the balmy South American port, the couple took notice of a young girl in the distance. Dark skinned, dirty and clad only in torn underwear, her demeanor was downtrodden and her haunting image one of despair. She was one of the “disposables,” as labeled by the natives there, isolated and imprisoned in a world of heinous atrocity. Not only due to her poverty but because at the tender age of 7 Renee was a sexual slave. Sold by her mother years before, she has no memory of a time that she wasn’t prostituted. Although Lucy and Oliver did not know her story then, God had a plan for Renee’s future and for children like her. “I can’t forget the children lurking in the corners and in the shadows,” Oliver confided to his wife when they were safely back home. From then on God placed a burden for these children in their hearts. Lucy, a social worker, was no stranger to helping children in the worst of circumstances. Yet this would be a bigger undertaking than she felt equipped for. “God pushed us way out of our comfort zone,” she said. Indeed, the challenges were great, but the calling assured. Together with Lucy’s childhood friend, Arlena Hoyos, they began expanding their Life “Dones de Misericordia” (Gifts of Mercy) five years ago and have witnessed God’s provision ever since.
Child sex tourism is increasing at an alarming rate around the world. The internet has facilitated this lurid business, connecting tourists to impoverished countries where children are easily exploited. While, Asian countries have long been prime destinations, Cartagena, Colombia has become an attraction in recent years. Police and government turn a blind eye to the problem, unwilling to inhibit the money that tourism brings to their economy. Visitors are readily propositioned by those serving the tourism trade. Tragically, some request children as young as three years old. “The life and purity of a child has little value there,” says Lucy. Perhaps nothing is more of an indicator of that spiritual darkness than a mother who would prostitute her own child. Although poverty is its driving force, isolation and ignorance binds and imprisons them. “We help them open their eyes to what they can fight for – hope for,” Lucy proclaims. At its core, the desire for the Life was to conduct outreach where most of these exploited children live. Every week a team visits Tierra Bomba, an island fifteen minutes offshore from Cartagena. During those visits, the children witness God’s love and compassion first hand; for many it’s the only kindness and hope they have ever known. As the Life grew, a generous benefactor contributed towards the land and a new building for their Christian school, “La Gloria.” For now, the existing school is a safe haven for 165 of these children, including little Renee who is now 11.
While waiting for the new school to be built Oliver, Lucy and Arlena meet the Life ‘s needs as best they can through donations and their own financial sacrifice. They hope to grow the school further, to build a community center, and for a local church to take root. Perhaps, one day, even see adoptions take place and expand their Life throughout Colombia. Last year the Life began teaming with local churches to better serve the needs of the children. Organizing groups to Cartagena every few months, Lucy’s passion and direction are clear. “God puts his army together one by one to fight for His cause,” she boldly declares.
As Lucy and Oliver continue to see God’s promise unveil before their eyes, their reward is evident in the eyes of one of their children, Johny age 8. From an exploited, “disposable” to one set free in Christ his face shines with brilliance and peace that surpasses all understanding. “The Lord erases everything that is very bad,” he beams, “and turns it into very good.” And what of little Renee “the dirty one,” “the outcast” according to the natives? One can’t help but think of her in light of the lyrics to the song “You are More” by the band Tenth Avenue North. She was: “the girl in the corner with a shame she can’t hide…crippled by the fear that she has fallen too far to love”. But God’s love spoke volumes to Lucy and Oliver on that fateful day. Their calling made clear to go out and do for the “least of these”, Matthew 25:40. To show them that they are not “the sum of past mistakes but have been set free … they have been remade”.
To learn more about Dones de Misericordia, please visit ddmisericordia.com