I stood up from the pew in the small village and the spot where I had been sitting was immediately filled with little Haitian bodies. The two little boys who had been sitting on my right and my left had spread their legs wide, taking up as much room as possible on the bench that was packed full of kids. I made eye contact with Ornery Boy (who didn’t have enough patience to teach me how to say his name) and he gave me a reassuring head nod telling me with his eyes “Go ahead and don’t worry, I’ll save your seat.” I chuckled. A few moments later I caught him defending my seat, digging his elbow into the invader’s side. I gave him my best ‘Cut it out’ glare to no avail. After he gave another big shove, I motioned for him to come to me. His smile widened with pride, he popped out of his seat and bounded over to me. Without a second thought I spoke to him in English. “I know you’re saving my seat, but you’re not being very nice. You know how you are supposed to act, right? I don’t want to tell you again. You’re a good boy so be sure to act like it.” I’m sure he didn’t understand a word I spoke, but he said “Oui” in all the right places and even mumbled what I’m sure was an “I’m sorry” as he trudged back to his seat. He plopped down, gave the child beside him a warning look, then shimmied over leaving just enough room for me.
Ten-year-old Ornery Boy lives in Fonfrede, a village in the south of Haiti, and was one of 150+ kids who came trickling into the church for VBS. They listened intently, sang loudly and played excitedly, but the really good stuff, the stuff that sticks with you in the deepest place in your heart, happened under the radar in the midst of all the other things. It started when we walked to the yard to play our first game. A little girl timidly touched my arm. She giggled and soon got up the courage to take hold of my hand. Before I knew it there was one on each side and a third child grabbing onto my wrist. Each time I sat down, children would scurry to get into the seat beside me. If I clapped my hands and placed them back in my lap, it was only seconds before the children beside me picked up my hands and put them in their lap, closing my fingers over their own. When given the opportunity, they climbed on my like a human jungle gym. They examined every inch of my exposed skin; they questioned my dark freckles, they pinched my skin to see it change colors, and they even jiggled the skin under my arm. They squeezed my face, pulled my ears, and hugged me with all of their might. They didn’t want an instant to pass where I didn’t acknowledge them. We played clapping games, made funny faces and laughed and laughed. It was wonderful. The only thing we offered one another was ourselves; we accepted whole-heartedly.
As children gathered around me full of curiosity, pushing to be able to sit on my lap, grabbing to take hold of my arm and even using the tops of my feet as a seat, I found myself thinking about the conversation Jesus had with the disciples about the children. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” I can’t help but think that those children must have done to Jesus like they did to me. They must have called his name, grabbed for his hand, and wanted nothing more than to spend the day in his lap. I’ll bet they poked and prodded. I’ll bet they asked him a million questions in an attempt to make sense of him. I’ll bet they craved to know and be known by him. And, just like me, he loved every minute of it.
Lord, thank you for inviting me to discover you. Thank you for offering yourself to me and encouraging me to ask questions, challenge, and explore. Thank you for holding me in your arms, even when I’m hot and sweaty and messy. Amen.