Thursday, August 15, 2013
300 Kids and Me, All Week
Mornings last week I spent with 300 kids and 150 adults at Vacation Bible School at my downtown church. Talk about controlled chaos. The morning started off with raucous music, 300 kids singing at the top of their lungs, doing their superman poses, shrieking "Stand Strong." About a dozen times in half an hour. The kids were dancing in the aisles, using the Irish jig moves they'd learned at school. Our pastor and our youth pastor were racing up and down the aisles, moving with highly playful dances, high-fiving the kids.
You didn't have to be there. You could hear it six blocks downtown.
The first few days, the noise alone wore me out. Our leaders had a really interesting and effective organizing strategy. The kids were broken up into groups of six kids with an adult as a team leader, and if we were really lucky, an older child as an assistant team leader. That way, every child had an eyes-on adult with them every step of the way. The kids moved in age groups through a story time, a short animated video, a really cool crafts session, and some times outside to play. The teachers stayed put; the kids moved.
Our church is a downtown church with a ministry to homeless people, sometimes people newly out of prison. So, safety and security strategies were taken seriously; but they were inconspicuous, i.e. somebody had to accompany a child to the bathroom, scope it out, then allow the child into the empty bathroom, and stand guard at the door.
I was lucky enough to have four sterling girls between 10 and 11, headed into 5th grade. I was devastatingly impressed with them, They were such smart, beautiful, well behaved kids, friends from school. I will pray every day for them, but they have got such a handle on life at such an early age, I have no fears for any of them. They were a little uptight at the first of the week; by the end of the week, they were dancing in the aisles, giggling, and laughing. Their real selves were beyond delight.
My assistant team leader took the lead in getting the kids to the bathroom, of getting enough snacks for them, for getting their badges and their crafts. Wondrous help. Her shyness abated a little bit too. We were safe for her.
Then there were the Two Little Boys. When I volunteered to help, I decided to pay attention to the Vacation part of Vacation Bible School, that the goal was to assure that the kids had big fun. So unless the kids were doing something overtly wrong: disrespect for me, other people, or each other, for starters, I wouldn't get in their way. My assignment was to watch over each one of them and to use each child's name in a loving way every day.
First Little Boy was such a prince, getting his behaviors pointed in the right direction, from day one. Then there was Our Little Guy. He had an excess of energy and decibels. Other team leaders knew him by his first name by the end of the first day. But He had me by the first day too. He had the ability to look at you with such love and tenderness, as if he understood every thing that had ever happened to you, could read everything that might happen to you. He was the most loving of children. So all week, when ever he shrieked too loud or ran ahead of us too fast, or raced to the snack table too quickly, he was guided with gentle words, with a touch on the shoulder, with a game.
Here was the payoff. The Two Little Boys and I became fast friends. We sat together a lot of the time; they snuggled in. Once, they came down from the high seats in class to the lower seats, where we were, because it was more fun with us. They would calm down during the skits and the wildly appropriate sermons from our two pastors, and get really comfy and quiet. They were safe with me and my girls.
One of the flukish things that worked really well: I picked up my camera from home and brought it, thinking that the kids were going to be really cute and we should get their photos.
True enough. But in a flash of inspiration, maybe a God thing, I suggested that the kids could take as many photos as they wanted to take. They took over 1,000 and the little cross at the top of the page is one of theirs. Maybe we discovered some budding photogs, a great career for anybody who can't sit still.
Our pastor came over to say high to each of the kids. His presence overwhelmed them a little bit. But he high-fived everybody and used their names in a beautiful, high-energy way.
They got something that they might not get so much in regular life. They were adored and, within that kind parameter, they flourished.