Last weekend was the Taste of Wheaton. Today is Run for the STARS—both signs that summer is finally here, and I guess it’s safe to put away the snow shovels and sidewalk salt. Why do I hesitate to write that last sentence? Yes, I have put them away, but within easy reach, if needed.
Last week, a man named David helped us pick up Bibles that Tyndale House Publishers donated for us to give away at our Taste of Wheaton display. David's homeland is Burkina Faso. On Monday I wrote a quick email to thank him. I told him of our persecuted church prayer group and invited him to send us any prayer requests.
Thank you for praying for my homeland. What is going on in Burkina Faso is something we had not experienced before. The country is currently at a level three travel advisory and is only one step away from the “do not travel” advisory level. Please pray for the safety of the country: terrorism, crime and kidnapping . . . have become very common. I grew up in the East Region, which is one the most affected regions as we share borders with Niger and Mali—two countries with terrorism strongholds. We covet your prayers.
Both Lorraine and I have written often of many fun and inspiring parts of teaching Kindergarten Bible school. We will undoubtedly write more of the things we learn from the children or our teachers. Stories from the Bible come alive so often over the course of the year. I especially enjoyed teaching the lessons of the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son with the Kindergarteners (who act out the scene of the father and son’s reunion with gusto and joy).
But there’s one Sunday of the year that I’ve never written about because, honestly, I don’t exactly love it. It’s the Sunday that’s the last one of the school year, and we say goodbye to boys and girls we’ve been with for nine months. That’s the Sunday we just had. Another sign that summer is here.
I feel silly admitting it. I’m not good with goodbyes. The team of teachers that we’ve worked with week after week—not getting to see them and teach with them and learn alongside them until the fall—I’ll miss. And the kids who have grown and learned from and with us, well, our time with them is suddenly over. They are so ready to move on to first grade, and we are not so ready to let them go.
For the most part, the kids just leave. I don’t really expect or even want it to be different from any other Sunday morning. It’s good and right. The kids are headed on to the next adventure, whatever that might be—a special lunch, church, going to a birthday party or a lunch with grandparents. Sometimes the parents remind them to say thanks and goodbye. And Lorraine checks the children out with a special word of love and care to both the parents and their children.
It’s a bittersweet, mostly happy time. I just don’t like to say goodbye.
As Lorraine was giving one of these farewells to young Enoch this last Sunday, his mom and her words suddenly pushed goodbye to a whole new level.
We have a procedure we follow when the kids are picked up after Bible school. The parents stand in line. Lorraine collects each name tag, turns to me and tells me which room for each child. We do it every week. So, it’s routine, but this time it’s different because it’s the last one. We’ll never do it again, not with these kids.
“Enoch,” she says, “Room One.”
I go to Room One and say, “Enoch” to the children and teacher in the room.
Enoch gathers his flower and sunshine craft and comes out of the room toward his waiting mom.
Lorraine starts to explain how we won’t be in the classroom next time Bible school meets, that we’re done, and new teachers for the summer will be in place for Enoch .
“We won’t be back,” Enoch’s mom responds. “Our time of study at Wheaton is finished, so we will be moving back to China.”
We tell her that we pray for China. Every week we pray for China in the persecuted prayer group on Fridays, how the number of requests about China is on the upswing. We are concerned.
Enoch’s mom explains how they have heard similar stories, but they feel okay about where they’re going. We assure her of our prayers.
“Enoch,” says Lorraine, “We're going to pray that you will grow up to stand for Jesus and walk with him. Just like your namesake.”
Suddenly Enoch’s mom is in tears, saying thank you and goodbye and they’ll miss us. And both of us are choking back tears of our own.
Meanwhile, a mom who is moving to Wisconsin collects a Kindergartener about to be a first-grader. And then, there go the twins. And Annie. Goodbye, Dylan.
Lorraine hugs Enoch’s mom. “We will be praying.” She nods her head affirmatively through tears. Then, they’re gone.
I just saw a Facebook post of a proud parent posting a photo of a son graduating from eighth grade. I don’t know for sure that I would recognize him, remembering him as the Kindergartener. And most mornings we drive by a boy headed to the bus for high school that we knew in our class all those years ago. So we pray when we see him. Enoch, too, will grow into a man we wouldn’t recognize.
Though we may never see Enoch’s family again, there will come a day when we will know and be known, when we will be together with them, and the believers from Burkina Faso and Kenya and Nigeria and our Russian friends from summers past in Maloyaroslavets and Ruza and Yaroslavl and all the Kindergarteners who stop being Kindergarteners and grow into men and women who love and follow Jesus.
That other summer tarries. Let’s live in anticipation of the season still to come and do all we can to point people toward, not away, from Jesus.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (Revelation 7:9)