Memories came flooding back as I reached into the last box and pulled a moth eaten red beanie with the words “Joy Club” embroidered in faded yellow thread across the front. I grabbed my ice tea and sat down on the garage floor, swept back in time as I fondly caressed the long forgotten treasure.
“All you have to do is memorize this verse, honey.” I think Mrs. Angel was worried for me. She knew I was having a hard time. I was the only one that hadn’t earned a beanie yet.
“For God so loved the world…repeat after me”…and so it went for a few more minutes, while the others played.
I repeated the verse silently, as I twirled in the swing at the far end of the yard, afraid if I joined the others, I would forget it again.
“Time to go everyone” Mr. Angel called, looking my direction. His smile seemed to light up the whole backyard.
I decided to give it one last try, tugging on Mrs. Angel’s skirt.
“Can I say it now? I don’t want to forget again.” Mrs. Angel had a red beanie in her hand. She smiled and nodded as she knelt down to listen. I said it all, not missing a single word.
“What verse is it, honey?”
“John 3: 16!” I was excited as she placed the little red beanie on my head. I skipped all the way home, feeling as though I’d won the most precious prize in the whole world.
The only thing that broke the boredom of summer was the Thursday afternoon parties in Mike’s back yard. Mr. and Mrs. Angel were always ready to sing, play games and laugh with us. I memorized every line of Psalms Twenty Three with Mrs. Angels’ help that summer while the others played kick ball.
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil…”
When at last I could say it all, she gave me a little black bible. I couldn’t read it, but I slept with it under my pillow. She wrote my name inside and signed it ‘Remember Psalm 23 with love, From: Mr. and Mrs. Angel.’ Forty years later, it is still in the drawer next to my bed—a reminder of the summer the Angels came to our street to help Mike’s friends learn the real meaning of Joy.
One Thursday, Mike’s mom called to say there would be no party that afternoon. Mike was very sick and she wanted all of his friends to remember to pray for him that night. Several days later, Mrs. Angel came to our door, and my mother invited her inside.
“I have something to tell you” she took a deep breath and for a moment a mist seemed to rise in her eyes. “Remember how we talked about Jesus, and that one day he would come and take us to heaven?”
“Oh yes, I love that story.” I was anxious to hear it again.
“Well, today Mike went with Jesus to live in Heaven. We won’t see him anymore, but Jesus will see him everyday and He’ll be waiting for you there.”
Tears were streaming down my mother’s face. Mrs. Angel reached over and hugged me.
“We won’t be having any more parties, honey. We are missionaries, and we came to help all of you learn about Mike’s new home. Now that he’s moved there, our mission here is finished. But Mr. Angel and I will always remember you in our prayers and God will always be with you. Mike wanted to make sure he would see you all again someday.” She had the kindest, deepest eyes I had ever seen. They sparkled when she spoke of Heaven and I couldn’t wait to see it for myself.
“Mommy why are you crying” I asked as Mrs. Angel walked down the driveway.
“I’m sad for Mike."
“He’s in Heaven, playing with Jesus, mommy. Don’t be sad.” I handed her my little red beanie. “See? He’s going to have parties with the Angels all the time now.”
We have long since grown up and moved away but The Joy Club lives on in all of us. A part of me longs for those Thursday afternoons that await me. I can’t wait to see Mike’s back yard, to wear that red beanie again. We will laugh, and play with the Angels just as we did that summer of 1964.
Authors note: This is a true story, and I am eternally grateful to the backyard missionaries that came to lead a gaggle of children through the valley of the shadow of death safely into the gates of the Kingdom at the request of our friend, who ensured our salvation before he left us at the age of nine.
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