It is the end of the summer and summer programs here at Neighborhood Ministries, and we are filled with reflections. We don’t often do this, but this year we put our reflections – our God Encounters – into a booklet.
Each summer has a theme, this year’s theme was seeing God at work — naming it and making it a kind of game, like playing an I Spy game.
We told each other, that we would find Him in the goodness – I spy something good – I spy God!
A God-hunt, in simple words, is being attentive to how God is revealing to us that He is here, that He is helping us, that He is loving us and He is providing.
It is intentional work, this God-hunt idea; what would it look like for each of us to notice God at work, noticing God doing good things, receiving His good acts as gifts of kindness, mercy and love for us?
We challenged ourselves to name these gifts. How did we spy out God this summer? It is incredible to look back at the faithfulness of God. Here is just one encounter, the story I wrote for the book:
When Anger Turned to Joy
A teacher witnesses the transformation of a 6th Grade girl
It was the first day of Kids Club and she walked into my classroom. I’d like to say she was lost, disconnected, maybe withdrawn, but what I felt from her wasn’t those … it was anger.
She sat at a table with a small group of girls, maybe she knew one or two; though she didn’t know the leader who was new this year. She sat with her back turned away from all of them, and really as best she could, she sat with her back turned away from us all.
I tried to imagine her, to create some kind of empathy with me and her, right then. What was she feeling, what did she want to communicate, with her back turned and her heart walled up, a hard shell of protection, no one allowed in and no ability to break out?
I studied her … paying attention to any little movement or change in her self-protection. As the days went on, I watched her crawl out, so involuntarily … as if she couldn’t help it.
And so it began, she started to join in, to be with us. She memorized a bible verse, she answered a question, she participated in an activity that required a bit of vulnerability. She listened to the daily stories. I could feel it, I could see her body listening, and by the second week, I could feel her heart trying to believe.
But it was so subtle, like a time you were waiting for a small breeze, a little air movement in the suffocating stifling heat, the puff of air so small and brief that it barely moved a dry twig over your foot. I prayed; let her feel loved, wanted and forgiven. This child had seen darkness.
And so it began, she started to join in, to be with us. She memorized a bible verse, she answered a question, she participated in an activity that required a bit of vulnerability.
I know her. I’ve known this family since I first met her grandmother, when she was barely older than this child is now. Maybe her nana was 18, when she and I became friends.
I know the addictions, deaths, violence, prison, losses, poverty, instabilities but also the surprising breakthroughs that one of them would have. There could be great hope at times for a new beginning. This is a family we have invested in over 35 years. So, yes, I know this child.
It was the last class day of Kids Club, day 9, when the small group leaders sit somewhere safe on the property, a time to talk privately about God with each other. To get them ready for that time, I tell one final story in class.
It is the one about Jesus’ resurrection. His sorrowful friends had gone back to the tomb to finish his burial preparations and found the tomb empty. Some glowing figures – most likely angels – showed up for these frightened women. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead – he is not here, he is risen”.
A message of hope for someone who thinks that darkness wins, who believes that all the bad things in life are deserved and impossible to overcome. I like this question, it stops me in my tracks every time. I hear, why are you looking “there”, hope, life, love, all of it — they are not “there” in the dead places. Jesus, says, “why are you looking for the living among the dead, I’m not hanging around death, I’m here, with you, bringing forth life! Find me!” Oh … a God-hunt!
The small groups began shuffling around all their prizes, food, t-shirts and last day class celebration offerings, moving together toward their safe spot of talking and listening.
She split off from her group, to come talk to me. “Can I be baptized tomorrow?”, she asked. Her affect was unchanged, still that same expression of sadness mixed with emotional exhaustion; but like that small movement of wind, she had a hint of life, like her soul was waking up. “Of course, let’s work on your story, your testimony we call it, tomorrow at our park water day”.
It’s day 10 now, and there are countless kids and team members at the park, with water slides and food and blow-up games and a day looking to be a lot of fun.
She found me, waited for me … “let’s meet up over there, under that tree in an hour, and I will help you write your story”. That park table under the tree became a sacred location that day … she was the first to sit with paper and pen and begin to describe what it meant for her to identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, with the love of God who had named her as His own.
The story she picked for her baptism from the bible stories we told at Kids Club was the one where the thief on the cross, next to Jesus, asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Somehow, she knew that Jesus saw her, that He welcomed her, that He named her as his own at this moment. He remembered her!
“Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, do you believe that He died for you and rose again, have you trusted in Him to be your Savior?”
Here’s the funny thing … maybe not funny, beautiful really … that table became the location for others wanting to be baptized. Kids found out that that was the place to ask the final KC day question: “Can I be baptized?” Lots of them came, I needed help with this, there were too many for just me.
The little pool set up for baptisms at the park was right in the middle of families, backpacks, towels, shoes and food. It got crowded, children in layers standing around the pool, the sound system set up for testimonies, Pastor Jimy in the pool ready to kneel down for each dunking.
“Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, do you believe that He died for you and rose again, have you trusted in Him to be your Savior?” … “based on your good testimony of faith, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. Down under the water backwards, nose plugged, up again, a little shake, a hug, a holy moment.
For my girl, up she came out of the water, and I saw light in her face, and a real smile, a lit-up smile that described what she was experiencing. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead … she is not here, she is risen” … I could hear those words in my astonished heart.
My sweet girl was changed. I looked at her til she turned toward her brother who lifted her out of the pool wanting a little of what she had.
God bless you on your own God hunt. May you find Him right where you need Him to be.
Thank you for every gift you made which allowed for this summer’s God Encounters. Hundreds of kids and families found us, found Jesus, and found hope this summer. Your investment in this work changes lives.
Will you help us finish paying this summer’s expenses?