CHAPTER 1 The Red Light District Beams of light rose and fell as they cut through the oppressively humid night air. The police officers holding flashlights took only moments to reach the last street separating this community from the darkest of the tidal marshland. The officers began hopelessly casting shafts of light into the swamp formed by a dense and tangled network of mangrove trees. “We’ll never find him in there if he don’t want to be found,” one of them offered, just as the others were thinking. Then, as their prospects seemed irretrievably bleak, one officer quickly yelled for the others. As if on cue, all flashlights focused upon one spot not far into the tidal marsh. With all lights trained on their suspect, the police slowly advanced over the tenuous patches of firm ground. There, squatting under a bush and waiting for the inevitable, sat a pitiful figure. “Are you Chicho?” an officer asked the lone individual. He nodded in agreement.“Did you kill your father?” “Yes. I had planned on killing him for a long time,” the young man calmly admitted. None of the officers doubted that the quick search had netted their suspect. Witnesses outside during the late night hours had seen him fleeing his home. The police, never far away from this troubled community, had arrived in minutes. Even the locals, aghast at such a crime, willingly pointed police in the right direction. The twenty-year-old suspect, named Narciso and nicknamed Chicho, had fallen prey to crystal meth. This insidious drug, which can addict a user after only one try, had become his master and he its slave. Though he had attended a drug rehab facility almost a year earlier, he had never freed himself from its clutches. Chicho had been just another victim, and his father was the next. Upon entering his home in the early hours of the morning, high on meth, Chicho grabbed a kitchen knife, walked into his parents’ bedroom, where both parents lay sleeping, and thrust the knife into his father’s belly. Chicho quickly ran out the door and into the street. His father followed, clutching his belly, blood streaming out onto the sidewalk. “Son, come back. I forgive you!” he called as he collapsed onto the concrete. Before the ambulance came, he died on the sidewalk in front of his house, his dying words to his eldest son having just left his lips. Perhaps those words his father uttered caused Chicho to reflect upon what he had just done. He fled to the marsh, but he never entered the swamp to lose himself in its muddy darkness. Instead, he squatted between two bushes on the edge of the swamp, easily visible to searching police, who cautiously approached while shining their flashlights on him. As if to make sure the man wasn’t someone else, an officer asked, “Did you kill your father?” Yes, he had killed his father. That fact was now irreversible. Years of abuse had boiled to the surface when Chicho fell under the influence of drugs. My wife Elena and I had known Chicho for a year or so. We had come to this community, the red light district of Mazatlan, Mexico through no great plan of our own. Yet here we were in Madero (the actual name of the red light district), a dangerous neighborhood by reputation which clung to the dirty tidal pools along this Pacific port city. We had been working with the youth in Madero for about two years when Chicho murdered his father. We knew that drugs, prostitution, and crime pervaded this community, yet the thought of leaving became increasingly difficult to consider. We were addicted as well, not of course to a chemical substance, but to the love that we had for these kids. Unfortunately Chicho had never been a very consistent member of our youth ministry. He talked little and showed even less emotion. When he began attending the church youth group, he had just left a drug rehab facility. We had started this group about a year prior to reach kids just like Chicho. However, within several months of attending our group, he had resumed his drug use. He came to the group only a few more times, always high and verbally abusive to others. We were returning to Mexico from the States when we heard the news of the murder. We missed the father’s funeral by a day. We would continue to work in this community or colonia of Madero for years to come, leaving each summer to earn money in Chicago and returning each fall to the kids we loved. We had little idea of what God had in store for us, and even less of what ministering to others in a colonia gripped by the sex trade, drugs, and violence truly meant. Even less did we understand that this part of Mexico was the narco, or drug trafficking, capital of Mexico. Many of our kids grew up immersed in this environment. Few had fathers at home, and most had family members involved in the lifestyle of the red light district. We had no five-year plan to achieve. We simply believed that the Lord had a task for us to accomplish in Madero. In the process, He allowed us to reach many young ones struggling with a wounded heart: the heart of an orphan. These lost ones, or throwaways as they so often felt themselves to be, in turn blessed us. The Lord used them to teach us about the orphan heart inside each of us and how our heavenly Father wants to replace it with His own. We left Mexico changed, not so much by a place, but by loving those who were looking for love. And in doing so, we learned that the greatest goal we could achieve for our lives was simply to love others.