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VBS decision imparted hope to painful life in orphanage By Steve Achord


NEW ORLEANS (BP)–One of Jay Alvaro’s earliest childhood memories was a moment of utter desperation.
Sobbing and clinging tightly to the hem of his mother’s dress, Alvaro desperately tried to prevent his mother from walking away. When she walked out, Alvaro was left standing with only the piece of her dress he had held so tightly in his hand.
Feeling utterly abandoned, Alvaro, together with his brother and three sisters, found himself in an orphanage in Springhill, Tenn.
His mother and father were gone. Soon he was separated from his siblings and the only thought in his mind was, “What have I done to cause all of this?”
At age 4, Alvaro was alone, afraid and not sure what his future would be.
In 1962, in the midst of the civil rights movement, Pulaski, Tenn., was a difficult place for a single, white mother to try to raise five children, especially when family and friends looked on the youngsters as “not your typical, white, Anglo-Saxon children,” Alvaro said.
Alvaro and his brother and sisters more closely resembled their Hawaiian father in physical traits than their white, southern mother.
“My grandmother was ashamed. She had a daughter whose children were not your typical Caucasians,” Alvaro said.
“Prejudice runs the gamut,” he said. “It’s not always just a black-and-white issue.”
Alvaro’s mother found herself without a home, limited financial support and no one willing to help. Her only option at the time was to place her children in the orphanage.
The five years he spent in the orphanage were difficult times. Continuing to believe his actions as a child were the cause for his being placed in the orphanage, Alvaro made up his mind to be good no matter what, so that one day he would be good enough to be reunited with his mother.
At the age of 7, Alvaro experienced two life-changing events that forever changed his outlook on life.
During that summer, Alvaro attended Vacation Bible School in a local church near the orphanage. It was there he came to know the Lord as his Savior.
Making the decision to follow Christ would be the reason he was able to cope with what would happen to him a few months later.
That fall, he moved into the same dormitory where his older brother, Ricky, lived. It was here he encountered an abusive dorm matron who belittled and ridiculed every child in the dorm. Her constant physical, verbal and mental abuse pushed Alvaro to write to foster parents, begging to be adopted or taken from the orphanage.
Later Alvaro found out all of his letters were confiscated by the woman before they were mailed from the orphanage. After the beating he received, he limited his pleas for help to prayer.
Alvaro remembers one instance when a child his age accidentally wet the bed. The next day, the dorm matron made the child strip in front of the other children and wear a diaper the rest of the day. These and other scars made a lasting impression on Alvaro.
“I asked God, ‘Why am I going through all of this?'” Alvaro said. “But God was saying, ‘I’m here.’ That’s the only thing that helped me make it through.”
At the age of 9, Alvaro and his brother and sisters were able to return home. Their mother eventually married a man who provided for the children and showed them love. Although the stepfather had only a sixth-grade education, he worked hard, never went unemployed and showed Alvaro values he has carried with him into his own role as a father.
“What he lacked in formal academic education, he made up for in common sense and work ethic,” Alvaro said.
With a reunited family and a move to Ponchatoula, La., Alvaro began to settle into a normal family routine, graduated from high school and set his sights on college with the help of an ROTC scholarship.
As Alvaro was growing in Christ and trying to live a life pleasing to Christ, his brother, Ricky, was moving in the opposite direction.
Ricky decided to rebel. It began with anger, bitterness and resentment, grew into running away and using drugs, and escalated into petty crimes, Alvaro said. Ultimately, he ended up serving a three-year sentence in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for theft.
Alvaro attributes the difference between himself and his brother to his prayer for salvation during the Vacation Bible School class.
“I got saved and he did not,” Alvaro said. “There was a heightened consciousness in me. It was the Holy Spirit.”
Alvaro is saddened by the circumstances that have affected his brother’s life. Over the years he has witnessed to all of his family, but he is not really sure where each stands in their commitment to Christ.
“We have to accept the consequences of our choices,” he said. “We can choose God or the world. Satan’s lies lead to destruction.”
Alvaro’s own life is not without pain or bad choices, he said. Recovering from a difficult childhood, together with its feelings of abandonment and other struggles in life, were not easy issues for Alvaro to resolve. However, with the help of a loving wife, a dependence on the Lord for strength and guidance from Scripture, Alvaro has put many of the issues behind him.
Becoming a father, as much as anything, has helped Alvaro come to grips with his past, he said.
“As a father, I have learned to really appreciate the love of a father and son, just as it is with God and his children,” Alvaro said.
“When our children do things they shouldn’t do, we as parents are disappointed. In the same way, our actions hurt our heavenly Father.”
Once, Alvaro was away from his family for an extended period and during this time he said he became painfully aware of how much it must have hurt his mother to leave her children at the orphanage.
“A mother’s love is much deeper and that is how God feels for a lost person. It hurts God. God is burdened for that person,” he said.
Today, Alvaro and his wife, Gina, and their two sons, John Jay and Christopher, live on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Alvaro is a student in the doctor of philosophy degree program, specializing in psychology and counseling.
His life experiences are helping him in his role as a Christian counselor. Every day he tries to help people have stronger marriages and be better parents.
“God has us here for a reason and I want to serve him and magnify him,” he said. “When I have a good day, I say, ‘Thank you, Lord, for letting me ride along with you.’
“I like playing in the game, but I always remember, God is the star.”
With that thought, Alvaro once again goes back to the time when he was 7 and someone told him about Jesus. That was the day he began playing on God’s team.
“Someone cared enough to be my Vacation Bible School teacher and tell me about Jesus,” he said. “Just like the Ray Boltz song, I would like to say, ‘Thank you.'”