HERO. noun. “A person who is…admired for courage.”
“I thought you were cussing at me,” 8-year-old Daryn* explained to me. “That’s how my grandpa always says it. I didn’t know He was a real person.”
My heart broke. It was day three of VBS and this was Daryn’s first week joining us. His comments were about Jesus. Daryn had never heard that Jesus Christ was a real person–that He was God Himself who loved Daryn. He had only ever heard “Jesus Christ” used as a swear word.
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12-year-old Freddie* showed up to Kids Church one day. “Is there anything I can help you with Sister Vanessa? Can I help with the snack?”
You wouldn’t know it, but Freddie spent the week prior in juvy. He had a knack for getting into physical fights and had even gotten into one in my classroom. Most adults considered him disrespectful and frankly, he didn’t care much for them either.
But I had taught Freddie on and off since he was eight years old and I knew beneath that troubled exterior there was a young man full of potential. His father being in prison and his worn-out single mom who was doing the best she could left him to his own devices a lot of the time. Of course, I had to get on to him at times but I made it my point to show him as much love and support as possible. Freddie was always respectful to me. He loved to help and was remarkable at teaching the younger kids in class.
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A small, 11-year-old girl clutched the Bible her Sunday School Teacher, Bro. Jason, gave her last year when she memorized the list of Bible verses he passed out. She had just been rescued from the home she lived in that was filled with abuse. She glanced into the side-view mirror of the truck she was riding in, fearful that her physically abusive caretaker would come after her and hurt her and the others in the vehicle.
At night, after days filled with police, CPS and counselor interrogations she hugged that Bible til she fell asleep. It was the only thing she owned except for the clothes on her back.
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It’s hard to not get attached to the kids in your ministry. For a long time I have called every child that I work with “my kid”. “I’m buying a special snack for my kids. I’m planning a surprise party for my kids. One of my kids has a violin recital tonight.” I’ve always called them my kids. The hard part is that you don’t always get to keep your kids though. Their families move. Sometimes we have to move. Sometimes they choose to go to different churches.
I don’t know where Daryn is today. Not too long after that summer his grandfather passed away and he had to move. He could no longer come to our church because the neighbors who brought him didn’t know where they had moved him to.
Several years ago I moved out of state and started attending my [now] husband’s church. Before I moved I hadn’t seen Freddie in a while, so I didn’t get to keep in touch.
The little girl? That was 11-year-old me.
I have so many more stories but I want to focus on one part of these kids–their inner super hero. You see, Daryn came from a rough childhood and had no idea there even was a God until his neighbor, who belonged to our church, brought him. He had some rough edges. He slipped up and cussed in front of the kids. He did normal boy-distracting things. But by the time he left our class he was well liked. He was creative and imaginative. He loved to help. He wanted to know about this man Jesus Christ. He loved discovering that there was someone who loved him for exactly who he was. Daryn was resilient. His past could have left him angry and withdrawn, but he moved past his circumstances and found love in God. He was a hero to me.
Freddie also had a tough background and he let it show most of the time. But when he would come to kids church a whole new side of him showed up. He had an inner helper and teacher that came out. Every class he came to he was the first to volunteer to help and the first to say “thank you”. He would help the younger kids with crafts, activities and games. Freddie was a super hero. Statistics would like to throw him under the bus and say that because he had a father in prison and a single mom that he could end up messed up too. But he looked past that and saw what God wanted him to be. I don’t know where Freddie is today but I know that back in the classroom, his inner super hero was showing.
That little girl’s inner super hero came out because of the people who invested in me. Throughout my childhood I attended several different churches and had three Sunday School teachers who I feel God used to make me who I am today. Sis. Elisabeth taught me about God and helped me feel loved–something I wasn’t feeling anywhere else. Even 20 years later she has mentioned that back then she wished she could have adopted me.
Then there was Sis. Susan. My mother had to leave my life at this period of time for her own safety, and Sis. Susan was the closest thing I had to mom-figure. She would take me shopping, would always love on me at church, and would pray with me anytime I went to the altar. She was there when I got the Holy Ghost and her husband, along with my pastor, baptized me.
Finally, there was Bro. Jason. He gave me that little blue Bible that at one point became the only possession I owned. It was the one thing I would never leave without. In my darkest moments it was my connection to God. It reminded me that I wasn’t alone. Even though my husband gave me my much wanted Thompson Chain Bible for Christmas a couple years ago and I use it frequently, I still carry that little blue Bible with me to every service. And I use it now to teach kids church.
These teachers, who were heroes to me, helped bring out the hero in myself that I never knew was there.
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What about the kids in your ministry? Each of them is a super hero in their own way as well, but it might take some work to help them see it (and for you to see it). Do you have kids with rough edges? Are they viewed as annoyances or as opportunities from God to help these kids see that they’re loved despite their shortcomings? Do you have the kids from broken homes that might appear to have it together but after Sunday go home to a place with abuse, frequent moves because of the foster system, or to the loss of a loved one? Do you have “lifers” in your class–kids from healthy families who attend church together and don’t have rough backgrounds? Sometimes they can get lost in the crowd too because they’re seen as needing less attention.
Let’s make it our goal to find the super hero in each child in our church and pray for them that God will use their strengths to show them that they’re loved, to help them live for Him, and to be used for His kingdom.
*Names changed to protect privacy.