Feature

A Girl from Barcelona

Abandoned by her mother, Maria Jose was adopted by God

By and

When we were just beginning our missionary careers in Barcelona, Spain, we met a little girl named Marí­a José. Little did we know the impact this child would have on our lives and ministries.

We had just rented a meeting place to use as a ministry center, and a small group of people expressing spiritual interest had started to attend. At the same time we regularly visited a nearby park to share the gospel with anyone who would listen.

A woman and her child especially spoke to our hearts. Lucía* was an alcoholic and a prostitute. She and Marí­a José, her 10-year-old daughter, spent a lot of time in the parks, eating what they could find in the garbage can or what people gave to them. Oftentimes, they slept on the benches.

After we had cared for them in the park for a couple of months, Lucía asked if Marí­a José could come to our apartment to play with our children. Of course we said yes. We were pleased that Lucía dropped her daughter off as planned, but our surprise came later—when she didn’t come back to get her!

After several days, we realized that Lucía had no immediate plans to return for Marí­a José. Joel went to the police station to file a report to protect ourselves from the accusation of kidnapping. The response of the police was another surprise. They said we could just drop the child off, and they would “get rid of her for us“—send her off somewhere so we wouldn’t have to worry about her anymore. Joel profusely thanked the officers for their “help” and asked them to at least file the report. Meanwhile, we looked everywhere for Lucía, but she was nowhere to be found.

Since Marí­a José was bright and had a desire to learn, we enrolled her in school. About two months later, Lucía called. We let her know we weren’t pleased with her way of doing things but assured her that Marí­a José was fine. As the conversation continued, we asked if she would let us adopt the girl.

“No, you cannot have my daughter!” she angrily replied. “You just care for her and when I want to see her, I’ll come by your house.”

We found ourselves in a very interesting situation, to say the least! Months passed, Marí­a José turned 11, and life continued. Our children considered her their sister; we considered her our daughter. From time to time, phone call to phone call, visit to visit, we repeated to Lucía the same request to adopt Marí­a José. The answer was always negative.

As our time neared to return to the United States for home assignment, we wondered what to do with the “special addition” to our family. She obviously could not be taken out of the country . . . where could we leave her? Families at church and other coworkers were always willing to help but couldn’t take her for an extended time.

While we were dealing with this dilemma—but experiencing God’s perfect peace through it all—a friend told us about a Christian home for children not far from Barcelona. It’s the only evangelical facility of its kind in Spain. We immediately contacted the director, a godly woman with a deep love for children, evident in the beautiful home she had prepared for the youngsters in her care. In our hearts we knew this place was God’s provision for Marí­a José.

We continued to have difficulty with Lucía. Since she was an alcoholic, her phone calls, night or day, were not the most decent, and her visits to our home were not healthy for her daughter or for us. We decided to keep Marí­a José in the children’s home during the week and pick her up on Fridays so she could spend the weekend with us. We would then take her back to the home on Sunday night. She would stay in the same school and still attend our church. If her mother wanted to contact her, she could do it on the weekend.

But we soon came to another turning point. During one of Lucí­a’s visits, she said that she wanted her daughter back. Marí­a José was older now, and Lucía said she could use her on the street to earn money. We could imagine what would be in store for Marí­a José, but we had no way of stopping Lucía from taking her. She said she would be back the following weekend to get Marí­a José.

After Lucía left, we called the director of the home and explained that Marí­a José could no longer come to our house. We also asked Marí­a José if she wanted to go back to living on the street with her mother. “No!” she quickly responded. Marí­a José was comfortable with our family and loved by all of us. It was a whole new world compared with the first 10 years of her life.

Within a couple of days, Marí­a José was lovingly received into her permanent home at the center. We had peace in our hearts, knowing that she would be well taken care of both physically and spiritually. We were given permission to call or visit whenever we wanted. She was happy, and that brought joy to us as well.

However, the struggle with Lucía was not over. When she came to pick up her daughter, Joel met her on the street, knowing the encounter wasn’t going to be friendly. When Joel informed her that Marí­a José was not at our apartment, Lucía went into a rage. Joel slipped back into our building and took the elevator to our apartment; the doorman would not let Lucía into our building.

The battle continued, but Marí­a José was carefully protected from it. Our family suffered constant threats to our children from Lucía. We informed the school that nobody was to pick up our children, and they had to be accompanied wherever they went. Lucía then lashed out, letting everybody know we “stole” children. We remained calm through it all, and our ministry was not affected.

After a while, Lucía left us alone. The police had filed the report stating that she had abandoned her daughter with us, so she had nothing to stand on.

After our U.S. home assignment, we returned to Barcelona, but rented another apartment in a different neighborhood. In such a large city, Lucía couldn’t locate us.

We continued to visit Marí­a José, who was turning into a beautiful young lady and a solid Christian. She was doing very well at the university, which was a blessing considering that her education had been spotty until she moved in with us. We were proud of her hard work and thankful for God’s intervention in her life.

We moved to Madrid to continue our church-planting ministry. Marí­a José continued her studies while living and working at the children’s home. Then one day, we received a beautiful letter from the director of the home informing us of Marí­a José‘s decision to become a missionary!

Marí­a José went to Colombia, South America, to serve in a home for children. As part of her ministry, she went looking for children living in the parks—eating from garbage cans—and brought them into the home, feeding, clothing and loving them—and telling them about Jesus. She was doing for them what we had done for her! God had so clearly orchestrated every decision when He had placed her in our lives.

Several years ago we received a phone call. The voice sounded familiar but at the same time different, more mature. It was Marí­a José, now a grown woman. She couldn’t conceal the excitement in her voice. She had been trying to find us (we had moved from Madrid to Granada) to share with us her spiritual journey. After serving in Colombia, she had returned to Spain. God put an awesome man in her life who also wanted to serve Him, and together they’re doing that in Spain. Spaniards doing missionary work among their own people—that’s what it’s all about!

God turned Marí­a José, a little girl who had nothing going for her, into a beautiful woman with a tender heart and desire to serve Him. We recently had the opportunity to see her and meet her dear husband, Javiar, and her two handsome boys. What a special “family” reunion!

We’re so glad we didn’t do what the police recommended when Joel went to file the report of abandonment. Where would Marí­a José be today? When we remember what her mother had wanted, we’re grateful we took the risk of protecting Marí­a José. If we hadn’t done that, she could possibly be a prostitute or alcoholic, a lifestyle her mother continues to follow.

We praise God for His divine intervention in María José‘s life and thank Him for allowing us to be His instruments.

*Name changed

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