The girl in the back row had her fingers in her ears. Fifty kids wiggled and waited for the missionary story, so they could slip down the big water slide. I might not have noticed the new girl, but her scrawny elbows stuck straight out, and she had her fingers in her ears.
I had never seen her at summer day camp before. Most of the kids knew each other from school or church. They squished together in clusters – forming cliques and excluding others – like the girl in the back row – the one with her fingers in her ears and the scowl on her face.
Her bangs were too long. Occasionally, she tossed them out of her eyes – until someone spoke to her. One of the leaders sat next to her. She scooted to the other end of the pew and hid behind her curtain of hair.
Her eyes met mine as I opened my missionary book, and I smiled at her. Her eyelids narrowed, and she pretended to be interested in something outside. I tried to focus on the story I was telling, but I continued to watch the girl in the back row.
“Since there are new kids here today, can anyone tell me where we left little Tifam?”
Fingers wiggled like a bed of sea anemone. I chose one. “There was an earthquake. Tifam’s mother hurt her foot, and they had to go the mission house.”
I showed the page of Tifam and her mother at the mission house. The girl in the back row stood to see the picture better, with her fingers still in her ears. I sent up a quick prayer. Lord, give me the words to reach into the heart of this girl.
“Tifam was frightened. What would her Papa say? He was the witch doctor. He might put a curse on them.”
The girl’s elbows sagged. Soon her hands dropped to her side.
“Tifam clutched the magic charm around her neck. The spirits would keep her safe. Where was her mother’s charm? …”
Now she was sitting on the edge of the pew. I caught her eye, and she slumped backwards and ducked behind her hair again.
“The missionary opened her book. Tifam didn’t want to listen. She covered her ears and whispered, ‘Lies! Lies! Lies!’ Tifam could still hear the missionary’s words. ‘God loves you. He loved you so much that He died for you.’ The missionary read, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Tifam had never heard of a God that loved her.”
I turned the page, and the girl leaned forward to see the picture again.
“Tifam’s mother said, ‘I’ve stolen and lied and hated others. Why would this God love me?’ The missionary said, ‘God loves you and wants to forgive you.’ “
I looked at the rows of faces. “We have all sinned – every one of us – me, too. We have disobeyed our parents. We have told lies. We have gotten angry. We have stolen things. All of those are sins, and God hates sin. He is holy and can’t let any sin in heaven…. But he loves us and wants us to be in heaven with Him.”
I saw her rest her forehead on her arm. Lord, speak through me.
“God wants us to go to heaven, so he sent His Son, Jesus, to earth. Many people did not like Him. Some arrested Him and beat Him. They nailed Him on a cross to die.”
I paused, and there was silence. The girl in the back looked up for a second. Her eyes were wide and sad.
“Jesus wanted to die, because He loved us. The punishment for sin is death. He wanted to die for all our sins, so we could go to heaven. He died for my sins, and He died for your sins.” I pointed to myself, to a few of the children, and to the girl in the back row. She looked at me. There were tears.
“God can forgive your sins, too. Bow your heads. Pray with me. ‘Lord, I’m sorry for my sins…”
As the director announced the team points, I walked past the girl in the back row. She looked up with tears still in her eyes and smiled.
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