'Let the Children Come to Me'
By Kathy O'Brien, Pastoral Associate
St. Jude Mission, Waldron, Ark.
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them." (Mt 10:13-16)
Summer Bible school at St. Jude mission in Waldron, Ark., is an experience of evangelization at its best. Over 100 children came each day of the weeklong event to experience the Kingdom of God present in their midst.
They were Hispanic children, poor whites, Vietnamese, Methodist neighbors, a few children from the now aging Anglo Catholic population of Waldron. The children ranged in age from 3 to 18. The older ones pitched in to help and smiled in ways seldom seen at the joy of serving the little ones. No one was "bored."
Yes, there was much fun and games and totally happy faces coming to the church and wanting to come back, inviting others, enjoying food, fun, fire trucks with water, fireworks, etc. They knew they were being loved and respected.
Several asked what they were learning. My response each time was that they were learning that church was a place where they were loved, respected, cared for, kept safe, and welcomed as children of God—no matter what their families were like.
Each of the 20 young people from Jesus the Good Shepherd Church in Maryland who staffed the Bible school, as well as their sponsors poured out their love and attention on the kids with piggy back rides, personal help with crafts, holding the little ones and putting a bandage on the little scrapes that happen whenever kids play. (This isn't the first time the Maryland parish had helped Father Neil Pezzulo and Glenmary. Volunteers have been coming from Maryland to Glenmary Arkansas missions for summer Bible school programs since 2004.) They fed the children food and some ate as though they had not eaten in days. And most importantly, the Maryland youth fed the children love. In the hundreds of pictures taken by those who wanted to record the event, all—helpers and children—are seen beaming with smiles and joy.
Father Neil, the pastor of the Waldron and Danville missions, was the gatherer. The scenes of the week are the scenes I imagine Jesus had with the little children—he played with them and blessed them—probably little real teaching went on but there was lots of love.
Once the kids are gathered together, then nurturing can take place. I expect the parish will have the good problem of trying to handle more kids in the religious education program in September. We almost doubled our class attendance last year after the Bible school.
During the year parents have asked me what the religious education teachers are doing that their kids want to come. They obviously cannot imagine religious education being so attractive. We do allow some time before the class and after for fun but there is a good hour of class with teachers who care for the kids and want to share the faith with them. They themselves study and get training to do the best they can. Still it is hard to get the children to go home—from the Bible school and from the religious education classes! One little one attending Bible school cried and cried when I took her home because she did not want to leave and did not want to say goodbye to her friend from Maryland.