New York City is a melting pot of needy people.
Homeless on the streets. Transplants from other countries who bring with them the traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. Driven young professionals who have disregarded the faith of their fathers as primitive and ignorant.
It was to this flashing bustling metropolis of human frailty that my church sent a missions team, myself included, to minister to the future of the city — the children of Forest Hills, a neighborhood of Queens.
I questioned the significance of spending a week with the so-called “least of these” when there are so many needy people in New York. On Monday when I sat cross-legged with 14 squirming, chatty three year old and opened my Bible to teach a lesson, I wondered if they would hear or understand a single word.
But that week I learned that where I thought my abilities lay wasn’t what mattered. God has the power to change lives and His strength works through and beyond my weakness. I prayed 1 Thes 5:24 “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” When I spoke, I prayed that God would reach fertile soul in young hearts. I was not expecting that my own heart would be among them.
It was overwhelming to me that for many of these children, this would be the only week all year long that they were in a church and be read the Word of God. And it was equally overwhelming to see how God’s truth was taking root in their hearts.
There was the Chinese mother who stayed in the classroom because her son couldn’t communicate in English. She would say the verse and he would repeat after her. Together, they were learning to treasure God’s Word.
There was the little boy adopted just two months before. The only thing that kept him from crying was to be held tightly in someone’s arms. Simply love and attention drove away the tears and brought joy to his eyes.
I learned so much from these children. In Matthew 18:1-5, Jesus uses children to teach His disciples. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me”
The children taught me how to respond to the grace and love of my Father God. Accepting, joyful, willing. With awe and wonder.
By the end of the week I heard God’s Word coming out of them:
My most “troublesome”, rambunctious and feisty child had a spill on the playground. As I rushed him wailing through the halls to the first-aid kit, I asked if he remembered the verse we had learned that day. Still crying, he looked right in my eyes and said perfectly, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”
A child told the other six-year olds that “Praying is easy – it’s just talking to God.” We found out that just the day before he had been afraid to pray until a teacher told him that praying “is just talking to God”.
A three year old recited the entire 23rd Psalm. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”
And my favorite was when a little guy in my class would recite 1 John 4:9 “God showed us His love by sending His Son,” and then shout at the top of his lungs “JESUS!”
The Gospel. Coming from their lips.
We may never again see these children we grew to love. But that doesn’t mean the work of grace in their lives is over. When we walked through the crowded streets of Manhattan one night, I imagined my little children one day walking those same streets, bearing the light of the gospel to their city and speaking words of life.
I know that God is faithful and He can do it.