Saturday, October 12th. It was a day that I had been anticipating for several weeks. A team of amazing folks from our home church, Heartland Worship Center, was winding up their week in Cazale with us at Real Hope for Haiti. The team had spent the week doing lots of great things - physical therapists seeing patients, nurses assisting the Haitian nurses, helping hands put to work in the pharmacy, everyone loving on and entertaining kids in the ICU and Rescue Center, Bible story time in the afternoon with the older ICU kids, and lots of other meaningful tasks. It was a great week, and such a treat for our family to get to hang out with friends from our hometown. Plus they brought us chocolate . . . need I say more? I think not.
The plan for Saturday was to have two mini backyard Bible school events, the first scheduled for the morning, the second in the afternoon. Forty kids had been invited to the morning event, and forty different kids were invited to the afternoon event. I blogged about handing out the invitations here. These kids were primarily from the area around our home. These kids were our neighbors.
Ready to get the morning started, this group of buddies were all smiles. For over a year I had watched these boys play soccer, admired their skills (tree climbing, mango catching, kite making, clay sculpting, river jumping, hoop rolling), and had silly banter with them on almost a daily basis. That Saturday, they were my guests. And they were so proud. My heart was overflowing. As they were saying my name ("Alex-son"), I gave out fist-bumps, was taking their pictures and admiring how spiffy they were dressed up for the day. Well, right after snapping this photo, God spoke simply to my heart, "These are my people." I could have dropped to my knees and bawled. These are my people!
The event began with a few songs and then a story. From Creation to the Cross, the kids were in awe for the ten-minute story that was filled with amazing love and truth about God and our Savior. I've never heard so much Biblical truth packed into ten minutes, and in a way that was so exciting and understandable. Shanna told the story while Khara held an over-sized book of illustrations. Our phenomenal translator, Roobens, smoothly delivered Shanna's words into Creole.
Some of these kids were hearing this story for the first time. Some were familiar from spending many Sunday mornings with their families in church. But all of them were captivated. It was awesomely intense!
After the story, the kids were split into two groups. While one group was playing games, the other was making crafts.
The kids could make a lion or a lamb mask. The lion mask was a big hit.
The bigger kids played balloon volleyball, but the littles enjoyed a gentler game of pass the balloon.
When the littles grew bored with the balloons (or the balloons popped), we moved on to sidewalk chalk art.
Bubbles were a big hit with the littles, too.
Once the games and crafts wrapped up, the kids gathered together again to hear about salvation. Just before Pastor Bryan gave the message, we found out that Roobens helps with a children's program on a weekly basis there in Cazale at the Baptist church. So in a beautifully orchestrated way that only God could have arranged, Bryan was able to recommend to the kids to follow up with their future questions about Jesus at any local church; and if they went to the Baptist church on any Saturday, they would find our friend Roobens, ready to help them. So cool to have that connection laid out for us, for them.
Afterwards, we wrapped it up with balloon animals and small goodie bags to take home.
Afternoon rolled around, and we did it all again. This group really enjoyed the singing. Kathy S. did a great job getting some clapping going!
It was a bonus to have a few moms join us for the afternoon session. They listened closely as the story was told, and they really seemed to enjoy watching their children have fun during the activities.
Some of the kids from the ICU were able to join in the fun. Perhaps not everyone listened to the story closely . . .because she was too busy being silly with Mallory (our homeschool teacher). Haha!
After story time, it was off to the activities. These girls were enthralled with their artwork as Ann helped them figure out what that chalk could do.
Activity time was again followed with the talk about Salvation, then onto more fun with balloon animals as Jessica, Cindy, Debbie, and Kathy R. handed out salvation bracelets, candy, and lots of hugs. Jesse was snapping photos left and right as the kids were showing off and having fun.
Bryan and Ann worked diligently to meet every balloon request. Roobens even got in on the balloon action! The crowd was amazed and couldn't get enough of the twisting and squeaking of those magical balloons.
Many of the kids wore their nicest clothes, and some girls were sporting their biggest hairbows. It's always a treat to get your picture taken when you're feeling fancy and having fun! Promptly after getting your photo taken, you look at the screen on the camera and begin giggling hysterically. It's an unwritten rule, obviously.
As things were winding down, I spotted this scene:
Our friend on the left, just hanging out with Brennon. We've loved on this boy a lot. We've been annoyed with this boy a lot. But that Saturday, he was there . . .just hanging out and hearing about a love that is greater than anything he could imagine. This boy that would try to scam us one day and genuinely help us the next. This boy that we've hugged and helped . . .and also lectured and downright fussed at. This boy somehow managed to come up with an invitation (because he was nowhere around when we were handing them out) and showed up at the afternoon session. And the Word was sewn deep into his heart, where one day he may choose to let it grow.
And there was this scene:
It was so precious to me to get to watch this sibling group - all five of them - have fun and be loved on that afternoon. These kids are so meek and humble. They have been through so much hard stuff in their short lives. All dressed up, I saw so many smiles out of them that day. For a few hours, these kids got to be kids....no worries, no responsibilities, no hard realities to deal with. For a few hours, all they had to do was hear about how special they are and how much they are loved, and have some good ol' fun. (By the way, Brennon and I printed up a photo of the five kids - without me photo-bombing - and gave it to their momma. She was sooooo proud. So very proud of her beautiful babies.)
And a special note about this guy:
This is Steevenson. He was the charmer of the week to the Heartland team. This silly little guy loved to get in the middle of anything and everything. He had a way of sliding right in to any conversation and ending up happily on someone's lap. And somehow he knew when a camera was out, because the kid managed to appear in almost every photo taken by the team members. By the end of the week, it became the running joke about Steevenson, the photo-bomber. He was greatly loved and adored by the team, and much laughter was shared with this special little guy. Sadly, less than two weeks after the team headed home, Stevenson took a turn for the worse with his infection. The boy that had just been toddling around, getting in on all the action, is now home in Heaven. The news broke the heart of each team member, and more deeply drove home some hard, beautiful truths that God was speaking to many of them. Without hesitation, every person on that team would tell you that if nothing else during the week was accomplished, their trip was all worth it to just bring some joy to Steevenson during his last days of walking on this earth.
There are so many details of the day that I wasn't able to capture . . .the crazy balloon volleyball games played with Olympic enthusiasm, the lightening-fast ladies handing out pillowcase dresses and shorts to the kids before they left, the sound of about 40 kids singing "My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty. . ." in English and Creole, the older gentlemen that happened through the area and joined in on the singing, the giggles - oh my, the giggles.
Of the 80 invitations that were handed out, all but about six kids showed up that Saturday. Add to that around a dozen or so unexpected guests, and it can be agreed upon that the turnout was fantastic. Space was limited, but utilized to the max. Somehow it worked. Every last detail. Unreal.
After the last sweep of a broom and the last bench slid back into place, I just couldn't help but to shake my head in amazement. A silly grin on my face and a fluttery feeling in my heart, I knew that Saturday was a God thing. I knew that all of my family's time in Haiti had culminated on that day. Sixteen months of living in Cazale and building relationships had manifested into a beautiful day of over 90 kids and a handful of adults hearing the Gospel in a fresh and personal way. That Saturday, just days away from my family and I heading back home to the U.S., I was given a reassurance that our work there was done.
That was one epic Saturday.