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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Vallejo

It's Time for a Room Search

Isaiah 1:16-17, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

I was 18 years old when I started as a freshman at Texas A&M University. Loved College Station and the whole college experience. Those years were formative and my walk with the Lord grew in exponential ways. My time, my money, my independence, my decisions were truly something I owned, and I am so grateful for all the Lord taught me during that time.

My freshman year I also began working in an emergency shelter for abused children. Our facility would welcome children removed from a home in crisis, and who had no other place to go. The children stayed with us until another placement was found. Our kids were traumatized, scared, sad and many times angry. My eyes were opened to the realities of the world we live in. Our shelter offered an amazing place for children, we cared for them, fed them, clothed them, took them to school, and helped with their homework. My coworkers were wonderful human beings and I truly loved working there.

When I was first hired, our shelter had a policy – they did not hire males. The director of our facility was a man, but he felt it was too dangerous to hire men to work with the young children we had come through our shelter. Having worked in social work for many years, he was concerned with the potential predatory male, and our director wanted no chance of young children in our shelter being preyed upon by someone he hired to care for them. So, no men.

My second year at the shelter our director moved on to a different place of employment and a new director arrived. This director was female, and she saw the fact our all-female staff had to deal with big strong teenage boys who were often angry and aggressive. We needed to hire men to help. So, a change in policy happened and we hired men to work alongside our female staff members. All of us were grateful.

I’ll never forget the first guy hired. We will call him Cal. I worked alongside Cal for a few months until I moved to different time slots when my class schedule changed. Our staff had meetings together, get-togethers and “team bonding”. We had fun – we were friends.

One day I was finishing up my shift and one of my responsibilities was to conduct room searches before the kids arrived back from school. We look for contraband, drugs, tobacco, alcohol, or anything else dangerous or harmful. As I am looking though the room belonging to one of our girls, we will call her Shelly, I came across a box of letters. I open the box, look through it and see the writing on some of the letters I’m reading. I recognize the writing but cannot remember from where. I read the contents of a couple of the letters and my heart starts pounding in my chest. I feel like I’m going to throw up.

The letters describe a connection between Shelly and the writer. He alludes to a physical relationship and says not to worry because he will take care of any child they have. He writes how he loves her and will make sure she is okay. There are many letters in the box, all similar in style with words of love and adoration and describing his need for her. Shelly is 14.

As I am reading the messages, I cannot move past the thought that I have seen this writing before. I stare at one letter for a long time, the one assuring Shelly of the writer’s care of her if she is pregnant. Then it hits me. I have most definitely seen this handwriting before.

At this point I’m sweating, and my hands are shaking.

I take the box of letters and run downstairs to our office. My shift partner is writing in clients’ case files as I run into the room and pull open file cabinets. She looks up at me, startled, and tries to ask me what’s wrong. I still remember the look on her face. I can’t answer her.

I find the file I need and yank it out of the cabinet. After opening the case file, I place a letter next to it – the file contains client case notes written by a current staff member. Notes written in the same handwriting as the letters in the box. The handwriting is Cal’s.

I sit down in a chair, stunned. My partner asks again what is wrong, and this time I find the words. “I found letters in Shelly’s room. They’re bad, and they’re from Cal.” She just stares at me not comprehending what I’m saying. I don’t blame her; I could barely comprehend it myself. Getting up, I hand her the letters and the file so she can read everything for herself.

We call our director who is at a meeting off site. She says she is heading straight to the shelter house, but in the meantime, Cal is due to show up for his shift in 10 minutes. The kids, including Shelly, have arrived back at our facility from school. Cal cannot come inside the house, and we must tell him to leave before he has an opportunity to step inside of our facility.

Shelly knows what is happening as soon as I go outside to talk to Cal. She is angry, not at Cal, but at the rest of us telling him he cannot come inside. We are sending away someone she has strong feelings for. Someone who was supposed to protect and care for her, but instead turned that care into something predatory, selfish, and utterly perverse.

But Shelly didn’t see it that way. Another person she cares for is leaving her and her heart is getting stomped on… again. After Cal left, Shelly went and sat on the railroad tracks a short distance from our shelter. We sat there for a while, and she cried and yelled. It was awful. Shelly’s heart was breaking and there was no way she was going to believe me if I told her Cal’s relationship with her was not love. So, she railed against the world and me and the other shelter staff. Eventually, Shelly went inside with the other kids, ate dinner, and went to bed. She moved like a zombie the rest of the night.

As far as our staff went, we all felt incredibly sad, horrified and horrendously guilty. How on earth did this happen? We were friends and yet we did not know Cal at all. As it turns out, Shelly was not the only girl he hurt. Cal did go to jail, eventually. Justice moves slow but it does move.

I have not shared this story with very many people. The feelings of sadness, grief, anger, and guilt come up every time I think about it. Shelly trusted us to care for her. She was already in crisis, living at our shelter to escape a horrible situation of abuse, and then her vulnerability is preyed upon by a person meant to protect her. How do we fight that kind of darkness? It feels overwhelming.

And yet, we are all called to seek justice. To protect the weak and vulnerable, to value children and tenderly care for those who cannot care for themselves. It is easy to give up. To decide the fight is too hard and it is someone else’s job. Or to ignore it and hope it at least doesn't come close to the people we love.

While we are not all the same and not every person works in the justice fields, we truly do, every one of us, have a responsibility to be available when needed. Our children need us. Our communities need us. They need us to be vigilant and take time out of our busy lives to pay attention.

Knowing the awfulness that exists in the world cuts deep on an emotional level. But God gives us the capacity to manage a lot of emotion as we serve others and protect the most vulnerable among us. How do we let the pain of situations motivate us to do good, instead of push us underground away from people?

Our podcast today is with the Catfish Cops, two officers who spend their time working to catch people who prey on children through Apps and other methods online. This is our final podcast focusing on Human Trafficking awareness month and it is full of important information you will not want to miss. It’s a hard topic, but these police officers believe strongly in their mission. They also have their own podcast called Catfish Cops and you can check them out here.

Galatians 3:11, "Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, 'because the righteous will live by faith.'"

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1 Comment

Nancy Mock
Nancy Mock
Jan 26, 2022

So very sad on many levels.

Thanks for sharing!

Nancy Mock

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