Homeless to Hopeful: Kiara Abascal Lives by God’s Surprises

By Anna Ganser

Homeless in San José, Costa Rica, Kiara Abascal’s family was struggling to make ends meet. Abascal’s dad could not find a steady job as a pastor, so her two older siblings, seven and five, took on responsibilities such as getting groceries for the family and taking care of three-year-old Abascal.

For three years, the Abascal family supported their father as he fruitlessly looked for a job. The family lived on a beach in a small shack made into a home by palm tree bark, woven together to make a roof.

Unable to be enrolled in the public school system because they did not have a home address, Abascal’s mom home-schooled the three children old enough to learn while taking care of her newborn son, Nathan.

In November 2005, Nathan became very sick. The family couldn’t gather the means to bring him to the hospital, so they tried their best to nurse him back to health on their own. But Nathan didn’t make it.

Their mother became depressed, and it was up to Abascal’s older sister, now nine, to care for the family. The family pulled together, but Abascal felt separated from God. It was hard to believe that a sovereign God could let an innocent child from a hardworking family die, seemingly for no reason. Abascal remembers going through the motions of daily life and not truly having a relationship with Christ.

A Shark Attack and a Miraculous Wave

After a few years of living in Costa Rica, Abascal’s father found a job in Whangarei, New Zealand, and the Abascal family, now with seven children, picked up and moved to the new place of hope. Her parents lead a branch of a ministry called “Te Ora Hou” that organized a daycare program for young, single moms who worked during the day.

Nearly every day, Abascal and her older brother, Miguel, would kayak out to a pod of dolphins that they had befriended. After gaining the animals’ trust, the siblings were able to swim with the dolphins and enjoy each other’s company.

One morning, the two noticed that the dolphins were nowhere to be seen. Confused and somewhat unsettled, they kayaked out further.

Suddenly, they spotted an ominous ten-foot-long shadow in the water. That shadow, a shark of likely 900 pounds or more, circled their kayak. Fearing the worst, Miguel frantically searched for the Nokia phone they had brought so they could tell their parents goodbye. The shark seemed poised to attack.

As the shark circled the kayak three times, Abascal called her mom and told her that she loved her. On the third time around, the shark popped the boat and sent Abascal and her brother flying into the water, toward shore.

“No matter what, don’t stop swimming!” Miguel yelled as they landed in the water and scrambled to get away from the vicious animal. Abascal swam with all of her might until she felt the clamp of the shark’s jaw around her waist, reaching down to her shins. She screamed.

But, just in time, Miguel kneed the shark upside the jaw, allowing Abascal to narrowly escape. Stunned, the shark turned around and began to swim back at Abascal. Just as all was about to be lost, a wave came crashing into the otherwise calm shore and sent the two siblings tumbling onto the sandy beach of Whangarei.

“Like Jonah, [the wave] just threw us to the land … God literally made a wave to throw us to shore,” Abascal recounted as she told me this story. “It was the most insane experience. God is so real. Even if it doesn’t seem like He’s always there.”

Faithful, but Hopeless

After this life-changing experience, Abascal never saw the world the same again. It shook her view on her religion and on God’s faithfulness. She became strong in her faith and was able to lead ministries and small groups for Maori girls her own age.

She worked for a couple years in this stage of her life and later moved to California when her siblings went to college in the states.

Abascal had never experienced U.S. culture. She joined the American public school system for her freshman year of high school, where she was introduced to water polo. By the end of the year, she was spending over five hours a day at the pool, and among many hours of homework and family chores, Abascal didn’t find much time for sleep. She took many AP classes, helped her siblings with homework, was bullied at school and eventually drove herself into a state of over-exhaustion and hopelessness.

One day, Abascal decided that she couldn’t take it anymore. She attempted to overdose on pills she found in the family’s medicine cabinet. Feeling hopeless, Abascal was then faced by adversity from her father in particular, who, instead of supporting her and trying to help, accused her of being selfish for trying to take her own life.

From that moment on, Abascal reports that her younger sister, Tabitha, was a huge part of keeping her stable. Born in the early part of her senior year, Tabitha became like a daughter to Abascal. She has a very strong connection with Tabitha, and played a large part in raising her.

Abascal’s most fond memories from high school involved her precious little sister. “Every day when I would get home she would run up to me and she’d give me a big hug and she’d say ‘how was your day, Kawa?’ she literally kept me going my senior year,” Abascal said. When describing her relationship with Tabitha, Abascal’s eyes lit up and a bright smile flooded her face. “I’ve never loved anything as much as I love her. She’s just an amazing little human.”

For the next year, Abascal was home-schooled again. She returned to public school for junior year to graduation. By her senior year of high school, she began to believe she saw a future for herself again, and had hope for a happier life in the Lord.

Following a Dream

“As soon as I graduate, I want to go to the mission field. I don’t want to waste a single day,” she concluded. Abascal recalls that since a young age, she has wanted to start an orphanage and care for young children.

In order to get an education so she can pursue this dream of starting an orphanage, she applied to colleges in the U.S. She got accepted prestigious schools such as Harvard, Princeton and Stanford. On a whim, Abascal decided to apply to Wheaton College in Illinois. She didn’t have a huge interest in going to Wheaton, but decided to keep her options open.

On her visit to Wheaton, Abascal kept an open mind. She still had her sights on Harvard, but walked onto campus and listened to what others had to say. She was introduced to her host, Bailey Brohard, and got settled in for the night.

As Brohard and Abascal were talking, Brohard got to talking about a program at Wheaton called “Human Needs & Global Resources” (HNGR). The thought of this program lit a spark in Abascal. She knew, despite the fact that other schools may be more impressive than Wheaton, that it was the place for her.

Telling her parents about declining acceptance Harvard wasn’t a walk in the park. Her parents begged her to reconsider, but Abascal knew where the Lord wanted her to be. Wheaton was where she was meant to be, and that was enough for her.

There’s a saying, “Let your misery be your ministry.” Abascal embodied this statement by faithfully serving while living in a palm bark hut, a vicious shark attack, crippling depression and severe hopelessness. She carries along everything that she has experienced, whether those things are positive or negative. She said this means God has always been, and will always be, with her.

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