It was one of our rougher apartment complexes. I had been warned the kids typically were loud, disrespectful and disobedient. It was my first week teaching them, and I was a little nervous. So far, I had only visited the property during other activities, but now I was suddenly responsible for this group of kids.
The kids trickled in slowly at first, which was fine because it gave my partner and me a chance to get them signed in before they started playing games. We always play games with the kids for an hour before cleaning up for a Bible study during the last 30 minutes.
A small handful of other kids already were there when a group of three arrived. I noticed them lingering on the side of the room timidly, as if they were waiting for permission to play the game few feet from them. I went over to meet them and invited them to be brave enough to open the worn out box of Sorry that was a small arm’s length away. They agreed to play and told me they were siblings. The oldest brother introduced them all: AJ, Carlos and Sophie.
A few rounds into the game, they were laughing, joking, smiling and following all the rules without a complaint. Feeling confident in their ability to both have fun and not kill one another, I decided my goal was accomplished and went to play with other kids whose ability to meet both those standards was less certain.
The room grew progressively more chaotic as additional children appeared in the doorway. My partner and I scurried around signing in kids, playing games and encouraging kindness. The three siblings remained in their corner, joyfully playing their game.
When the time came for Bible study, we picked up and prayed. Although most of the kids were a bit rowdy, I was amazed by how they tended to calm after we prayed. The three new kids were attentive during the lesson and answered questions when prompted. I was fascinated by how they hung on our words. Their eyes followed us intently as we walked around the room, blinking in awe at the Bible story. When they weren’t staring at us, they carefully and neatly colored the coloring sheets we gave them.
After the lesson, I made my way over to their table. I complimented their beautiful coloring sheets, and they smiled. There was a picture of a cross on their sheets, and AJ had a small wooden cross placed precisely over the picture. His sister, Sophie, told me,
“He keeps it in his pocket during the day and sleeps with it at night.”
A little bit later, we invited all the kids to summer camp. When I handed the new kids their permission slip forms, they all carefully read over the paper. I started rambling about how fun camp is and how much they did not want to miss it, but the three of them just looked shyly at each other without a word. Finally, AJ pointed at the “what to bring” section on the paper and said, “We don’t have any Bibles.”
I was a little heartbroken. I thought of all the many Bibles I had at home on my shelves gathering dust. These kids who were listened during the Bible story, who carried around tiny wooden crosses, and who were clearly so hungry to hear about God did not have Bibles.
I asked them if they wanted Bibles. They said yes, so I earnestly promised to get them each a Bible and assured them they should come to camp. My friend and I searched Mission Arlington from top to bottom for the perfect children’s Bibles and started carrying around the chosen ones in expectation of seeing AJ, Carlos, and Sophie.
They did not show up for camp, though. They also did not come to the next Bible study. I was crushed.
After two weeks of sitting idly in my supervisor’s car, I finally was able to give the Bibles to the three siblings. My team and I were at the apartment checking on a Vacation Bible School that a church group was running, and I saw them listening to the Bible story along with the other kids.
It had been a couple of weeks. So, by this point, I had created a great preconceived image of this beautiful moment of Bible presentation. At my home church, there is a ceremony where the pastor gives each 1st grader a Bible. It is kind of a big deal—like a graduation ceremony, except the graduates are all tiny and did not really accomplish anything. It gives everyone in the congregation—not just moms but everyone—the urge to cry, because it is the perfect combination of profound and adorable.
This Bible presentation was not quite like that. Instead, it was a bit of a chaotic and nonchalant hand-off. There was far too much happening around them for it to be a grand heart-touching event. Again, I was crushed.
AJ, Carlos, and Sophie attended my last day of teaching Bible study. The boys ran to play Uno. Sophie wanted something a little calmer, so she and I played Candy Land. I tried talking with her a little bit, but mainly I talked and she smiled shyly. Her brothers came over once they finished their game just in time to see Sophie beat me, which they were all pretty excited about.
As we cleaned up I asked if any of them had a chance to read their Bibles yet.
Sophie squealed and nodded her head emphatically.
I laughed and told her that was great, and then asked what they had learned.
They all looked to AJ expectantly, and I also assumed he would be the one to talk. AJ however looked at little Sophie.
“Tell her what we’ve been reading,” AJ said in a very big brother tone of voice as he nudged Sophie in encouragement.
Sophie turned to look at me with her typical shy smile, then suddenly exploded with excitement as she started telling me the creation story in impressive detail.
‘Did you know that…’
She spoke for a couple of minutes straight as she eagerly told me about what she had learned because she opened her Bible. She phrased almost every sentence as a question starting with “Did you know that…” as if it were a great discovery that she could not help but tell people about.
It was the perfect combination of profound and adorable. I came up with dreams of what it would be like to give someone their first Bible, only to realize how much I had missed the point. Sophie did not miss anything though. They were kids. They did not need a fancy ceremony. They needed Bibles.
We happened to be teaching on the creation story that day in Bible Study, but I think I learned more from Sophie than she learned from me. As someone who had heard the stories many times, I was so inspired to hear her excitement as she read the Bible for the first time. As I began the lesson I had a new sense of excitement for an old story. Her child-like faith and awe were a beautiful lesson to how incredible God is and how we should always experience the Bible with nothing less than childish excitement.
Laura Ellis, a student at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, served this summer with Go Now Missions at Mission Arlington.