On the last day of Summer Adventure (our church’s version of Vacation Bible School), we kept the kids from running across the picnic tables one last time, sang “Pharaoh-Pharaoh” one last time, stumbled our way through the skits one last time, applied the last band-aid, dispensed the last hug, and waited with the last children for their rides to arrive. We thanked the custodian of the school we’d rented, closed the doors, turned out the lights, and loaded our Oriental Trading boxes and leftover t-shirts into the trunk of H’s car.
While H loaded the last box into his car, I stood on the sidewalk with Malinda, and we talked about things I can’t remember now because as we were talking, Joseph came walking down the sidewalk with two of his friends from the neighborhood. Joseph waved at me and I had to wait for my eyes to focus before I realized who he was. Joseph reminded me of Ralphie, without the glasses. Joseph had been at Summer Adventure all week, but I’d never seen the other two before.
“Hi!” he said as he approached with his friends.
“Who are your friends?” I asked.
The taller one said, “I’m Daniel,” and the other one said, “I’m Marcus.” They were cute in all the ways nine-year-old boys who’ve been playing outside in triple digit temperatures are cute. They were dusty and sweaty and rumpled and loud. When Daniel spoke he tugged at the hem of his t-shirt and Marcus flashed a million dollar smile. The three of them talked a mile a minute.
H came over to introduce himself to Daniel and Marcus. “A nice, strong grip, man,” I heard him say as he shook Marcus’ hand. Marcus was looking at his shoes, pumping his hand up and down. “Now look me in the eye,” H said to him, and Marcus looked him right in the eye with a grin, “That’s it, man!” H said.
One thing H cannot abide is a wimpy handshake. “Shake my hand like I mean something to you,” he’ll say to me, and I know someone has once again extended the tips of their three middle fingers to him and thought that would be sufficient. Or, sometimes he’ll look at me after shaking someone’s hand and say, “Like a dead fish.” A handshake says a lot about a person — a truth not lost on Daniel, Joseph, or Marcus that evening in the parking lot.
“What are you going to be when you grow up?” I was asking Joseph. H had gone to his car and was giving leftover t-shirts and bracelets and clappers and notebooks to Marcus and Daniel.
“I want to be a volunteer for six children,” Joseph said.
“Six children?” I asked.
“No,” Joseph said, “SICK children.”
“OH! Sick children. Cool,” I said.
“And if I can’t get the volunteer job,” Joseph said, “then I think I want to be a Christian.”
“Very cool,” I said. “Guess what?”
“What?” Joseph asked.
“Did you know you can be a volunteer for sick children AND be a Christian?” I asked.
“I can?” Joseph asked.
“Cool.” Then, “I think I AM a Christian!”
By now, Donovan had joined us. He rode a pink BMX bike and stirred up dust as he twisted and turned and stopped short on that bike. When he fishtailed to a stop right at my feet, Marcus came over, put his hand on Donovan’s shoulder and said, “This is my friend. We go to this school. We are in the same grade.”
“Yep,” said Donovan, and then he was off again. When he came back, he stopped at H’s car and said, “Hey, can I have a t-shirt, too?” Donovan was just like Daniel, Joseph, and Marcus. Loud. He put on his t-shirt and rode off again, just as Daniel came running from the playground and said, “Do you have another t-shirt? I need one for my sister.”
The next thing we knew, the parking lot was filled with children, asking for t-shirts and bracelets and clappers and notebooks, and H made sure everyone got what they asked for, and just a little bit more. They put on their yellow t-shirts and stood around while we talked about school and summer vacation and how to shake hands and how to pay attention in math class in the fall.
Eventually, a few parents joined us in the parking lot, wondering what all the commotion was about and who was standing in the parking lot handing out free things to their children. Malinda and H and I shook their hands, looked them in the eyes, and learned that one mother had just moved to town and another had all three children graduating this year — one from elementary school, one from middle school, one from high school. “A milestone year,” she called it.
I looked in my purse and wrote down the address and phone number of our church on the back of a receipt that I handed to a woman who said she was lonely and needed a church to attend. I told her I’ve known lonely and she let me reach out to touch the baby in her arms.
Slowly, the children made their way back into the neighborhood in their new yellow t-shirts and I watched them go. They looked liked fireflies in the night, taking light back home.
I looked around me and saw that Joseph and Marcus and Daniel were still there.
“Hey Joseph,” I said.
“Did you see all those people who came here to get a t-shirt or a bracelet or a clapper or a notebook?”
“Do you know how that started?”
“Me?” he asked.
“Absolutely,” I said. “If you hadn’t brought Daniel and Marcus over to meet us, we wouldn’t have met any of those other kids either.”
“Yeah!” Joseph said.
“That’s how being a Christian works,” I said, and I know I was simplifying things, but I’m brand new to parking lot evangelism and all of this was totally unscripted.
Before I could finish my thought, Marcus swung his arm over Joseph’s shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, “Just by tellin’ people?”
“Yep,” I said.
“Yes,” H said. “Just by tellin’ people.”
Honestly, I think we may have rented the school, practiced the skits, sung the songs, and ordered the t-shirts for that one unscripted moment in the school parking lot, and that unscripted moment was worth every dollar, every minute. Everything.
I’d love it if you’d say a prayer for Joseph, Daniel, Marcus, Donovan, and all the rest of those beautiful children we met in the parking lot that night.