Coming home one Sunday from the family dinner after church, I said, out of the blue, “I feel like we should volunteer for vacation Bible school.”
Without hesitation or discussion, Tink nodded.
And so we did. There’s not a lot they could find to do with us because we aren’t particularly skilled or gifted, but they were loath to turn away willing volunteers, so they gave us the registration table to handle for two nights. The first night after we finished, I said, “Let’s go down and see if they need help with feeding the kids.”
There we found our gifts. Tink’s OCD came in handy with collecting and quickly dispensing with trash, while my years as apprentice to Mama in the sweeping and mopping departments were equally useful, so we found ourselves jobs for the entire week.
Initially, we had thought that we could make a difference. But we were wrong, for the difference was made with us, not by us.
In the kitchen and dining room, we saw women who unselfishly laid aside their own work and prepared food all day for 200 children. They even went so far as to cook adult meals, as well. Tink and I had worked our normal days, then shown up to pitch in for three hours.
As I served the children fresh fruit, it was sweet Emma, a 7-year-old with Down syndrome, who always said “thank you” while others frequently forgot. The little blond boy, a preschooler, with laughing blue eyes, brought joy to everyone around him despite that, only a few weeks before, a farm accident had severed most of his fingers. Pure light radiated from the boy, and that makes me believe that there’s a special calling coming in his life.
We saw a few children, mostly visitors, who were ravenous for food and in complete awe of treats like potato chips and cupcakes.
“Whatever they want, however much they want, give it to them,” said Peggy and Cathy, our kitchen bosses. “This is their week.”
There had been a young, quiet boy who had been dropped off on the second day. He spoke not a word. Though every day, I told him how happy we were to have him back and asked if he was enjoying it, he never uttered a sound. One night, he came through the line and loaded down his plate. He stopped at the desserts and I watched, speechless, as he piled on four huge brownies and a cupcake. He looked up at me with expressionless eyes and moved on.
“We need to be praying for him,” said a teacher.
The night before, when the evening ended, he refused to budge from the church pew. When gently questioned, he answered softly that he was afraid his family was about to run out of money and that there would be no food to eat.
“See that little boy?” I asked Tink. “That’s Walter Cunningham.”
“Who is Walter Cunningham?” asked my husband, only because he was scooping ice into cups and not thinking about literature.
“You know. The little boy in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ who is poor and hungry. Scout and Jem take him home for lunch, and he piles his plate high with food, so Scout says, ‘Walter, what in the sam hill are you doin’?’ Atticus gets upset with her.”
For days, I frequently brought up the child, always calling him “Walter Cunningham.”
“Why don’t you call him by his real name?” Tink asked.
“Because you remember how poor the Cunninghams were so that became a theme throughout the book. We don’t need to forget that kind of poverty and hunger is at our back door.”
I don’t think we will because we have been deeply moved by those touched by misfortune yet soldiering on.
Those children taught us more than we could ever teach them.
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