January 7, 2023

Barefoot Dreamers

Never laugh at a kid’s dreams.

Jose Reyes, for Mid-America Union Conference Outlook

We were a group of children. And we didn’t have anything to our names. Our parents didn’t have anything. We played soccer shoeless in a cow pasture with a ball we had made ourselves from old rags. After the game we would sit down on the hard ground and talk. Talk about our dreams, the only thing we had.

Like old men sitting around a dominoes table, we would sit in a circle and share our dreams. Sometimes we would laugh at each other, but never at our dreams. They were sacred.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“A doctor, so I can give injections …”

“I want to have a house. A house of my own, and it will have four rooms. Then I will buy a lot of land so I can have some cattle. I will milk my cows and make cheese. I will sell the cheese …” Chilo sighed deep and long as he said those words.  

Chilo was one of the poorest kids around the circle. His parents lived as squatters in a shack by the side of the road. Chilo was also my best friend. He was very short and kind of stocky. His stomach was unusually large due to malnutrition and the multitude of parasites that lived in it.      

Eventually we became men and stopped going to the cattle pasture to play. With the passing of time, life took us all in different directions. Often, I would think of the soccer games in the cow pasture and the group of shoeless dreamers.

Past Becomes Present  

Eventually I had the opportunity to return home to El Salvador as a missionary. One of the first things I did was go to the place where I grew up. I wanted to show it to my wife and children. I searched for my old friends, but there were not very many left. Like me, most of them, including Chilo, had migrated in search of their dreams. However, we still saw many shoeless children with big stomachs, and I thought about my friend Chilo. 

I visited the old country village several times during my years of service in El Salvador, every time hoping to find some information on the whereabouts of my childhood buddies, but I found none. Somebody told me that Chilo had returned, but nobody knew exactly where he lived. I kept hoping.

One day I received a call from a man who identified himself as Chilo Melgar. Indeed, he had returned! He was now living in El Salvador, he told me. He was married and had two beautiful daughters. He proceeded to invite me to come visit him. I was very excited to find my old buddy after more than two decades. As I approached the house, Chilo came out to welcome me.

“Welcome to my house,” he said as he opened a large gate to let me in. 

We reminisced about the old days. We talked about the soccer games in the cow pasture and about the years since we said goodbye. Then Chilo took me for a walk.  He wanted to show me his property — all 20 acres of pastureland. As the sun was setting, we stood by a long fence as a line of cattle filed into their stalls for the night. We looked at each other and smiled.

The Power of Dreams

In life I have learned many things, but there is one thing that surpasses all others. Never laugh at a kid’s dreams. Dreams are real. Encourage your kids to dream. Never think their dreams are too silly or unreachable. Today’s successes are yesterday’s dreams. The second most important lesson I have learned is: never label a child a failure regardless of the present circumstances. You never know the amazing things the Lord will do with a kid. 

I love the word of the Lord in Deuteronomy 28:13. “The Lord will make you the head, not the tail.… You will always be at the top, never at the bottom” (NIV). Then, through Jeremiah He tells me: “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ ” (29:11, NIV). I love the God I serve. A God who, before I was even born, had already made plans for my success. 

After God was done making Adam and Eve, He said, “This is very good” (see Genesis 1:31). You see, God does not make junk. He made you very special. He made every child very special. Let’s look at them the way God does. As something very special, full of potential and headed for success. God planned for them to be successful.

I strongly believe that the only reason some children don’t succeed in life is that somewhere along the way, we adults failed them. We robbed them of their dreams. We crushed their aspirations. We shortened their ladder. I would invite you to look at your children today and see in them what God sees, and as you lead them along the road to success, think of God’s words: “For I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you.”

The original version of this commentary was posted on the Mid-America Union Conference Outlook. Joel Reyes is principal at Intermountain Adventist Academy in Grand Junction, Colorado, United States.

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