Josanna sat on the sidewalk on the edge of the Passage to Hell. That was the name they gave to the Independence Square area in Recife, Brazil, where the girls could hustle a little money by selling their bodies to the tourists and cruisers—and their souls into the bargain. “It’s the fastest way to get to hell,” they would joke without laughing.
An eleven-year-old runaway from a broken home, raped when she was younger, Josanna nursed the bruises from a fresh beating by a passing policeman who had objected to her speaking out of turn.
As Ana Vasconcelos sat down beside the girl, who was drawing in the dirt, she saw that the picture taking shape in the dust was a house. But no ordinary home. This one was all crooked, distorted, out of shape.
“Why is it broken?” Ana asked.
“Because that’s how I am,” came the reply.
A moment’s silence as the former lawyer and the girl sat together and contemplated the sketch in front of them. Then a question to the woman.
“Why can’t we be born twice?”
Ana was surprised, confused, she recalled later. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“I don’t like this life,” Josanna replied. “I would like to have another one . . .” She told how she had even tried to kill herself to start over again, but failed in the attempt. The people at the hospital had patched her up and told her not to be silly, that you couldn’t be born again.
It would be hard to find a more profound picture of the desperate search of street children around the world than in this moving first encounter Ana was to have with a homeless young girl, or one that speaks more powerfully to the Christian heart.
The successful lawyer’s response was to throw her considerable talents and energies into the founding of The Passage House—a home and haven in which girls could be helped to reroute their lives, turning their backs on the Passage to Hell and instead, said Ana, “build a passageway to heaven.”
While for Ana the heaven she had in mind was more man-made than God-governed—where street girls could come to terms with and take charge of their lives through their own determination and some professional help—there have been others to whom it is a literal place and a laudable goal.
Inspired by their faith—anchored in the hope that comes with being born twice—some Christians have gone to the cities in search of the many Josannas (and Josephs) looking for a way to restore their broken lives.
But not enough of them. According to urban missions expert Dr. Timothy Monsma, it is past time that the missions world saw that truly working towards the fulfilling of the Great Commission will involve recognizing street children as an “unreached people group” like those defined by language or ethnicity.
“From the point of view of those who work in cities, it is a mistake to neglect prominent social groupings while concentrating only on ethnic groups,” he said. “If street children are a prominent unreached people group in cities, here is a group with millions of souls that has not yet been seriously addressed with the gospel.”