Esau worked his way into the center of the crowded market near his home in Daraja Mbili. Skillfully, the 11-year-old slipped his hand into pockets and baskets, snatching bits of food and money. Esau used to feel a twinge of guilt when he stole from his neighbors, but poverty's desperation choked out any remorse. Still, Esau's life wasn't always this desolate.
Hope Slips Away
When he was 5, Esau's mother and father enrolled him at the Compassion-assisted Christ Church Student Center (TZ-302). Esau began attending school, and his parents believed their son would finally have a chance to make something of himself.
But just a few months after Esau began the program, his father was hit by a car and killed. Esau's mother was left to raise her son alone. The wilted vegetables she sold in the market brought in only a few pennies a day. Within a year she remarried, and she and Esau moved down the street into a one-room mud hut with her new husband and his two children.
Though everything at home was different, at the student center Esau could still play with his friends and write letters to his sponsors. But as Esau grew older, his family's financial situation worsened. His stepfather couldn't support the family of five on the U.S.$1 a day he earned. Esau would have to work.
At first, it was just a few days a month. But gradually, Esau's stepfather pulled him out of school more frequently, putting him to work as a day laborer selling heavy pieces of scrap metal.
Esau's grades slipped and he failed the first grade. He failed again in second grade. Soon work replaced school. Then work replaced his time at the student center.
Compassion workers tried to reason with Esau's stepfather, but the man said he needed the boy to work. By the time Esau turned 11, he had dropped out of school and Compassion's Child Sponsorship Program.
A Mother's Prayers
When Esau quit attending the student center, he felt he had lost all hope. He began hanging out with teenagers who loitered in the market, and soon he began stealing. Pickpocketing escalated to muggings, and Esau would often attack and rob his own peers.
While Esau descended into the darkness, his mother prayed for the light. She felt caught between her husband and her child. But she had seen the good Compassion had done in Esau's life, so she prayed for its return.
Those prayers seemed to rekindle something in Esau. The six years he had been enrolled in Compassion's program had been filled with Christ. Christ was in the letters his sponsors wrote, in the Bible stories he heard at the center, in the time and energy the center workers poured into his life. Seeds had been planted in Esau's life. And they were still growing.
One day as Esau was walking home, his pockets filled with money he had stolen from a young boy, he says he heard an audible voice.
"It was so vivid," says Esau. "I heard a voice telling me to take the money to the pastor and ask for forgiveness. I didn't know where the voice was coming from. But there was a church, and I knew I had to stop."
Esau brought the money inside and asked to meet with the pastor. He confessed he had stolen it and asked for forgiveness. Together with a Bible teacher from the church, Esau returned the money, begging the boy for forgiveness.
The Powerful Blood of Jesus
Esau began attending church again. Within a few months, he was readmitted to the Compassion student center. And when his mother and stepfather saw the miraculous change in their son, they, too, accepted Christ.
"I was so surprised when my son stopped stealing," says Esau's mother. "I have realized how powerful the blood of Jesus is."
Now 13, Esau is again registered in an elementary school. And every week he can be found at the student center, leading his peers in Bible studies.
"I want to be a pastor now, like the pastor who listened to me," says Esau. "I want to teach people not to abuse children. I want to show them how to treat a child like the Lord would treat them."