By Lauren Hollon Sturdy
Meeting Bernardo*, you’d never guess what he’s been through.
He’s a skinny 16-year-old, at least a head taller than any of the other kids at the Pan de Vida (Bread of Life) foster group home outside Mexico City.
He’s outgoing for a teenage boy, proudly showing new visitors the screen printing machine that he and the other older kids have learned to use. Carefully and methodically, he drags ink across the screen, transferring it to a design on the T-shirt beneath. He’s a perfectionist, he says. He always tries to be the best.
Watching him interact with the other kids, he’s kind of like a big brother. He helps the little ones play games. He isn’t “too cool” to do karaoke or play Wii with them. He has a sense of humor and is good at drawing the shy kids out of their shells. He always wants to help others.
Juan Carlos Millán, Buckner Mexico director, said that when Bernardo was just 5 years old, his mother drove him to a government orphanage, took him out of the car, told him to wait for her and drove away. He stood there alone on the sidewalk for eight hours.
Eventually, the orphanage staff came outside to ask what he was doing.
“I’m waiting for my mom,” he told them.
He was just 5 – a kindergartener, left to fend for himself on a street corner in Mexico City.
It’s been 11 years since then. His mother is now dying from her drug addiction. That’s why she left him at the orphanage that day – addiction left her incapable of taking care of him. He had no father. At least, no one knew where he was.
Over the years, he bounced back and forth between living in government children’s homes and living with his grandmother, who is also in poor health and not well suited to care for an abandoned child.
Several of his other family members, including his two older brothers, have fallen into drugs and addiction over the years. One of Bernardo’s cousins was even killed in drug-related violence while he and Bernardo were both living at their grandmother’s home.
Horrified by this tragedy and afraid for his own safety, Bernardo asked his grandmother to take him back to a government children’s home for good. He came into Pan de Vida’s care two and a half years ago, because state children’s homes don’t normally accept teens.
Today, Bernardo is a different kid from the one who came to Buckner Mexico in 2009. He says he used to be angry and restless, but he accepted Christ at Buckner and he has changed. He’s also had a chance to live in a family environment, to see excellent, caring adult role models and to discover his passion for music.
He practices for three or four hours every day, even without a bass guitar in his hands. The bass guitar he learned on belongs to his church, so most days he practices empty handed, fretting the air.
Bernardo uses music to connect with the other kids at Pan de Vida. Through his encouragement, two other boys, Francisco and Eliseo, have also gotten involved with the church band.
For all he’s been through, Bernardo has a sweet and gentle spirit, according to Juan Carlos Millán, Buckner Mexico director.
“You can see the hand of Bernardo in the lives of the other kids,” Millán said. “He is always looking after them and helping them.”
Bernardo says hopes to go to a professional music school someday. His dream is to be in a band.
He says that when he’s playing music, he feels a lot of emotions. But mostly, he feels thankful to God.
*name has been changed