So I’m sitting in the teacher’s chair at Central Michigan University.
It’s my first time here- at Mission u, an annual event sponsored by United Methodist Women, where people come together to explore the mission of the church in the current world context. My role is to teach the children about Latin America.
They’ve already discovered and labeled the Amazon River, the rainforest, and the mountains of Peru. They know all about the Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Incas.
We’ve started to talk, a little, about how some of the children there have no homes, and no toys; how some have to work all day, and don’t get to play.
And now it’s time for the Bible Story. The children lie on colorful rugs at my feet.
Close your eyes as I read. I tell them. See the pictures in your mind.
I’m using a book authored by Barbara Bruce, a veteran Christian Educator who has written extensively about learning styles. The story we share is one of my favorites. It takes place on the hillsides of Lake Galilee when the disciples, in an effort to protect Jesus, try to send the children away.
So my little ones close their eyes. And lie. Their feet, adorned with the Caribbean jewelry we made, are still.
Take three deep breaths. See a hillside with many people. See Jesus sitting on the ground talking to the people….what does he look like? What does his voice sound like? See mothers come through the crowd with their children…how old are they? Are they quiet or noisy? Are they boys or girls?
Now hear some men yelling at the children to go away….how do the children look now? Are they frightened?
Now hear Jesus say ‘Let the children come to me; do not stop them because the kingdom belongs to such as these.’
Now see Jesus take all the children in his arms, hug them, and bless them. How do the children look now? How do the men look now? How does Jesus look now?
When you are ready, open your eyes, and slowly come back to the room.
I barely finish talking when up jumps one of our youngest. He cannot contain himself.
I saw the WHOLE thing! He says excitedly. I saw every page!
Well tell us. I say, laughing.
Well I saw all these children, playing on the hillside……in Peru.
I’m confused. This is the moment when, as a teacher, you feel like a failure. This little guy is mixed up. The story didn’t take place in Peru. The story took place in Galilee. But I don’t say anything. (Thank goodness.) I just nod, and wonder where he’s going with it.
And so all these children just wanted to have fun in Peru. And all of a sudden, these men said ‘you can’t play here. You can’t have fun here. Go away.’
And then Jesus comes.
Jesus comes and he says ‘no, that’s not right. The children can stay here. I want them to be here…because children everywhere should have fun. Children everywhere should be able to play. And Jesus hugs them. And that’s it. That’s the whole thing.
It’s quiet in the room. For a moment, I don’t say anything. The other children listening- they don’t say anything either. I look at my co-teacher as sunlight streams in through the window and we shake our heads in wonder…. at this eight year old boy, who has just demonstrated perfectly the upside-down kingdom of God, where a child becomes the teacher, and the teacher becomes the learner.
I am the one who is mixed up!
Don’t I know by now that Jesus is meant to be lifted out from the pages of the bible and moved from the hillsides of Galilee to the mountains of Peru? That Jesus belongs, not simply in a story, but in the streets of Haiti, and in the marketplaces of Mexico, and in the fields of Guatemala, where he yearns to welcome every child who comes to him?
‘Children everywhere should have fun. Children everywhere should be able to play.’
I’m back at home now, thinking about what I learned from an eight year old boy in the last few days. And I just can’t help but wonder…
When Jesus called the little children to him, was it really so that he could bless them, or instead, was it so they could bless him?