The Oak Life Journal
Mar | Apr 2022
From rebel to orphanage director
By Emmanuel Frutos • 7 min read
This is the true story of one orphanage director. His struggles, rebellion and encounters with God have become an inspiration to all the children he serves…
My name is Emmanuel Frutos. I am the director of Love in Action Children’s Home in Mexico. It’s a role I swore never to take, at an orphanage I just wanted to leave behind…funny how God works.
I was born December of 1990, the son of pastors/missionaries Raul and Anabel Frutos. I was raised alongside my two siblings in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
In 1999, we moved to Lake Chapala, Mexico to be full-time missionaries. I was eight, my brother five, and our sister was three. From living in America, we transitioned to living in Mexico.
This is where my life’s journey began.
I remember having to say good-bye to friends and family who had been with us our entire lives. We left everyone we knew for a place we had only visited once. My grandparents were living there in Mexico and had started a church, so our family’s calling was to help the ministry. My father went right to work starting a worship band, fixing the sound in the church and doing outreach ministry in the streets of Chapala. This really got our family involved with the community, and my parents began to see the greater needs in town.
In 2003, my mother opened a children’s home. She had been working in the community for a couple years and seen the need for a daycare. A lot of single mothers would lock their kids inside the house while they left to work for eight hours. We heard horrible stories of abuse. It was probably after the first week, when a mother never came back for her children, that she started the process to become an orphanage. She named it Love in Action.
This of course would be the start of a ministry born from the heart of Christ, but in faith. No resources or money, just faith.
My mother quickly became a full-time mom to 30+ kids. Not having the income to hire staff or caregivers, she would rotate days with our two aunts and people from the church who volunteered to stay nights. She would come home to be with us for a while before having to go back on shift and care for the children.
This went on for what seemed like years.
Being the oldest of my siblings, I had to take on new responsibilities to help mom while she was away caregiving other children. Little did she know, I had started to grow envious of her time and hated to see her leave. As a teenager who had no idea how to express himself, I turned to a life of mischief.
I remember turning 13 and thinking to myself, “I’m not going to live just hearing about what other people have experienced. I’m going to dive in and explore everything for myself.” With this mentality, I became a troubled teen—a person without a voice. My negative behavior was just a representation of my frustrations.
Consequently, I started hanging around the wrong crowd, staying out late, and becoming defiant to my parents and authority figures. It was finally my involvement with drugs that made my parents decide it was time for their son to try something new.
At the age of 15, my parents packed me up and sent me back to the United States to finish school. I was excited and scared to move…again. “Maybe this is where I will find my purpose,” I thought. One thing firmly set in the back of my mind though, was, “I will never be a part of that orphanage.”
God keeps working in mysterious ways.
The years passed and school finished. The summer of 2008 was one to remember. I was 18 years old, and living a double life—helping in church and getting high afterwards.
I was still wrestling with the frustrated emotions of how life had been. All the what-ifs kept flooding my mind, “What if we had stayed in the United States? What if we had never gone to Mexico?”
These thoughts kept me emotionally stuck and in a cycle of bad decisions.
At the end of 2008, I got pulled over for driving without a license, but was caught with a fairly large amount of marijuana instead. I was 18 years old and already behind bars.
At that point, I knew that everything I was doing was only hurting myself! No one was suffering those consequences but me. I knew my family was saddened to see me in that position, but they didn’t truly know what I had become.
I praise God now and understand that his protection was on my life. The situation could have been much worse. From that point, I had to learn to trust in God for myself. I had always been taught to trust God from my parents, but had never experienced it personally.
After two years in prison, I was given my freedom. I spent a couple months trying to get back on track with work, searching for a purpose. As I was praying with friends, I started to feel my heart long for Mexico. I remember calling my mother a couple weeks later and telling her what my heart felt. She said, “Listen to your heart, it’s God’s calling you back to Mexico.”
Three months later, right before my 22nd birthday, I booked a flight to visit friends and family in Mexico for the holidays. I arrived in early December, and remember thinking to myself, “I’m only here for a little while. I’ll be back in Indiana in no time!”
Little did I know, I was never coming back to America. The Lord had other plans.
After Christmas, my finances were running low. Guess what happened? A job opened up at the orphanage. They needed someone to work in the guard shack. It was a simple job, taking names and opening the main gate. Most importantly to me, though, I would not be working directly with the kids. That’s all I needed to hear! I took the job.
Without even realizing it, I started connecting with everyone around me.
Six months later, though, I needed something different. I had realized that “orphanage gate guard” was not really my strong suit.
As I was looking into flight prices one day to return home, the orphanage director of operations dropped into the office. She extended me an invitation to an upcoming childcare training. I looked her in the eye and said, “I’ve never worked with kids before! Why are you inviting me?” Her response was, “I thought the same thing too, Eman. But the Lord told me that you need to be here. So hopefully I’ll see you Saturday.”
My mind raced all night, debating if I should buy a flight, or stay and attend the training.
I decided to stay.
To this day, I’m grateful that I finally made the right choice.
The childcare training taught a model called Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI). TBRI was developed at Texas Christian University. It teaches caregivers how to work with children in alternative care who have attachment and behavioral issues.
For me, it was the missing puzzle piece. That training helped me put my life back on track. It taught me that we are able to change our ways, if we just give ourselves a chance. We can try again when we make a mistake—it’s called a “re-do.”
Enlightened by all the new information, I committed to stay, diving in head first to support this method of caregiving. TBRI had changed my whole outlook on life, and connected me to childcare. Somehow, I began to see myself in the children, and my heart broke for them. It was completely reshaping me.
In 2017, I decided to join Texas Christian University’s next TBRI Practitioner Training. Empowered with so many tools to work with our children, I immediately started to train everyone at the orphanage when I returned. This was what we needed to better connect with our kids…
Today, I am director of operations at that same orphanage.
For those of you who might be interested in TBRI, I encourage you to read The Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis. Hopefully it does for you what it did for me.
Please be encouraged, fellow caregiver, wherever you may be! This task is not an easy one, but the reward is so beautiful. Hearing your children, maybe now adults, saying, “Thank you, you’ve helped me become who I am,” is priceless.
So continue on with your journey, no matter how fast or easy-going you have lived. Maybe you need a “re-do” in some aspect of your life. It’s never too late to find your calling. And that’s coming from someone who swore never to be a part of a children’s home.
A quote from Dr. David Cross that I cherish dearly, says, “Victory is the light of compassionate action taken on behalf of those who are afraid, angry and hurting.”