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Pastor José Padilla sat on a rock one hot, dusty August afternoon, praying for hours for his community in the rugged Mexican desert. Already, on the few dirt streets in Kilometro 29, a squatter village of seven cardboard shanties on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, there were too many niños de la calle—street children living with drugs, alcohol, and abuse in place of loving parents and food. His heart heavy, Padilla asked God what could be done.

God showed him.

With rugged mountains towering to his left and a seemingly endless desert to his right, Padilla gazed at the scene in front of him and received a vision.

"The vision was that God was interested in helping the children of a destroyed place," said Padilla, who 13 years ago saw images before him of pale yellow school buildings, a wedge-shaped church with lofted ceilings, and children praising God. He whispered the words Dios es maravilloso—"God is marvelous"—and asked God how these images would come to be. "This is when God told me I was going to make a school."

A former street child himself, Padilla had no money, no training, and practically no education. But after fasting and praying for 15 days, he put into motion the one thing he did have—faith. Out of his vision came Gabriela Mistral.

Gabriela Mistral opened its doors in September 1992, meeting in a pallet-and-cardboard shack the size of a small garage with two of the pastor's daughters as teachers. Excited, they prepared tables and papers for 50 people on the first day of registration. Only four came.

"People said, 'You guys are crazy. This is not a school, just a cardboard house,' " said Padilla. Some thought a Christian school would just teach songs, while others accused them before the ...

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December 2005

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