Dozens of abandoned Bolivian youth are working their way out of the harsh streets of Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
With Christmas approaching, they have set up a symbol of hope right where they work - in the middle of traffic.
Tree of Hope
During the final weeks of the year, the street kids who work at an intersection in Santa Cruz intersection have carefully tended their own Christmas tree.
"This tree for us means that we are wishing love and peace to all these people, and hope that they won't mistrust us," team leader Victor Cortez explained. "They say we're trouble-makers, drug addicts. With this tree, every time we're showing that they're wrong, that we aren't that kind."
Brother Francisco Mayo, a missionary, has invested his life in helping street kids.
"It's had a positive effect on the people of Santa Cruz, it's stirred a lot of people, making them think about this season," Francisco said of the tree. "Many have come to them, bringing them gifts, and it's brought a positive change, of hope for the future for these kids."
Every week he calls the children together to sing and pray, receive encouragement from Bible passages, and enjoy a free meal.
Over the years Francisco has helped many kids get stable jobs. He's helped others return to their studies. One is even in his third year of law school.
A Heart of Compassion
Just how do Francisco and his helpers turn street kids into success stories? His wife Beatriz began feeling compassion for them nine years ago.
"The city of Santa Cruz was experiencing a serious problem because there were more and more children on the streets, in the canals, sniffing glue," Beatriz said.
"So we missionaries, with the love of the Lord, and myself, a mother of 10 children, when I went out to the street and would see them, my heart would break," she said. "So the Lord motivated us to do something for them."
Since that time these Bolivian missionaries have been giving the kids something to eat, listening to their stories, and finding ways to improve their lives.
"They are like our father and mother," Cortez said. "We've always been with them and they've always supported us. Every year they've given us some love, since we haven't had the love of our own father and mother."
The persistent care and love shown by Francisco and his helpers have changed the way the kids think. Now they have dreams and ambitions.
"When I grow up I want to be a house designer…an architect," said Maria Isabel Gandarilla.
Another child, Leonardo said, "I just ask God to bless us in this work we do, cleaning windshields with honesty and integrity."
Perhaps their Christmas tree lacked lights and fancy ornaments, but to the abandoned kids that put it there, the tree is a symbol of hope and of better days ahead.
*Originally aired December 23, 2009.