So here’s what happened between Irving Park Baptist and the children from the home down the street (Part 1 was last week’s blog). That summer, the church decided to hold Vacation Bible School. They had not held vbs for a few years because the last time they tried not many children attended. But this was a new year, with a new music leader (the pony-tailed guitar player) and the vbs was planned to take place at a time when it wouldn’t be in competition with the other neighborhood churches’ programs. The kids from the home were invited, too.
The response from the neighborhood was unexpectedly high; something like 50 kids registered for the 2-week program that summer. Many of them were preschoolers, but there were children in all age ranges, including the oldest group, ages 10-12. About a dozen or so children from the home participated, and they were mostly in the oldest group.What a blessing it was for the church to be the place where children from these two diverse cultural groups could meet and share activities together. What a blessing it was to see the kids from the home help out with the little ones when needed. And they all had fun.
The older kids were taught by my husband Bill, and they decided to make a boat and do a dramatic production of Jesus calling Peter to walk on the water in the storm. The favorite line in that production was when one of the kids extemporaneously said, while the boat was rocking and the wind blowing, “We’re all going to die!” All of us enjoyed it thoroughly, especially the little ones. The parents from the neighborhood reported that their children liked our vbs more than the others that year.
Bill and I, along with the music director, led worship and bible study once a month at the home. There were other churches doing this as well, and we got to meet them and work with them. Our church began to take part in an annual Thanksgiving meal sponsored by the churches that worked with the home. The kids were always so happy to have us there with them.
Sometime later, it might have been the following year, I’m not sure of the timeframe now, the home made a rule that only one group at a time would be allowed to participate in outside activities. The groups were divided by age and sex, and we had to choose which group would come for our Saturday activities. We chose, I think to the surprise of the leaders at the home, the older boys, mainly because we thought they would be the least likely to be chosen by some of the others who invited the children over. That was a difficult decision, one I’d rather not have had to make. But we got to know the boys even better after that, learning some of their gifts and talents, such as playing the drums, writing poetry and dancing. We were able to hear their stories and see how they were doing in school. They offered to help out around the church–doing such things as helping to decorate for Christmas and helping to set up for a meal for the homeless, for whom they also made Christmas cards.
One Sunday, much to our surprise, the boys showed up for Sunday morning worship. I was especially pleased to see how the church members, including the elders, embraced these children, and how the kids seemed to enjoy being there. The boys were brought to worship regularly by their counselors, and often some of the them would come up for prayer at the end of the service. The most often repeated prayer requests were, of course, for their families and for them to be able to return home. Sometimes the girls would also come to church with their counselors. On Easter, all of them came. What a blessing that was for our church!
The church received the blessings these children brought because they didn’t run away from the culture shock they experienced that first time they met. The members, young and old, opened their hearts and embraced these children, and God blessed their efforts with more love to all involved. Leaving that church was difficult for me, although I do believe it was God’s plan for me to go. Leaving those children was a part of what made it so very hard. The children and counselors attended the going away dinner the church held for me, and they also showed up the day we left, just to say good-bye.
About two years later, when the church found out I was coming to Chicago for a meeting, they invited me to speak at the morning worship service. Bill and I were so very pleased that the boys and their counselors from the home were there. And they stuck around for the reception the church held for Bill and me, too. The relationship between the church and the home, including the children, the counselors and other leaders, is still strong.
I feel so blessed to have served as Pastor to this group of faithful followers of Christ, who have made, and still are making, such a difference in the lives of these children. Isn’t that what church is supposed to be about?