She was so quiet. An observer more than a talker. Cautious, gentle and a bit sad.
We were hosting her through Together for Good and I’d just finished tucking her in for the night. I lingered at the edge of the bed, sensing she had something on her mind, and asked if she had any questions for me. The child has said maybe three words to me all day. She gulped and shook her head no. I smiled and patted her back, getting up to leave. But she stopped me, admitting she did want to ask me something.
“I want to know if its real.”
She swept her hand over the children’s Bible in her hand, “I mean, all that stuff about Jesus.” I sat back down, looked her in the eyes and assured her, “Yes. It is real. All of it.”
She lit up with a smile and exhaled with relief explaining, “I KNEW it! I knew it was real!”
I smiled, thinking she was referencing what she’d learned at our church AWANA program earlier that week. But then the floodgates opened. This child, who had barely spoken all week, started talking a mile a minute about videos she’d seen about God.
The re-telling was so tangential, I quickly lost track of her line of thinking. She chattered about everything from the Historical Jesus to the Leaning tower of Pisa to Biblical archeology to evolution to an Inside Edition news story about a sighting of Jesus in the Hudson Bay after 911.
I was stunned.
I’d never seen anyone so delighted to talk about God. And I’d never met anyone with such convoluted theology. I knew she’d never set foot in a church, because she told me that earlier in the week on the way to mine. I knew she had a curiosity about God, because she hung on my every word when I read from the kid’s Bible. And I knew she didn’t own a Bible, because she hugged the one I’d bought her earlier that day like her life depended on it.
There was a conversation that needed to be had, but I didn’t know where to start. How does one go about unravelling a convoluted amalgam of theology, science, news and conspiracy theories swirling in a young girl’s head?
I took a breath and asked what seemed to be the most pressing question, “Honey, what videos are you talking about?”
Her answer was simple and alarming all at once. She told me she searches YouTube for videos about God to learn about Jesus and how the world began and whether it is all true.
Trying to get a handle on what she meant I asked, “So you, on your own, just search for videos about God? Like on your phone?” She nodded yes, smiling from ear to ear. Then launched into more of what she’s learned with this approach.
It was a small mercy that she kept talking as it bought me time to collect myself. I envisioned this young girl sitting alone in her bedroom in the city, watching YouTube and trying to piece together truth.
Just was I was about to speak, she continued.
She told me that my daughter encouraged her to pray for her dad. She said that she wants him to know about Jesus because he is always in jail and on drugs. She told me that the last time he visited she made him a paper flower. He forgot it and it’s still on the counter, waiting until the next time she sees him.
She told me about the bullies at school who relentlessly pick on her. And she confessed to me a secret she hasn’t told her teachers: She told a bully he should go bully someone else and leave her alone. A tear slid down her cheek as she explained that she shouldn’t have said that because she doesn’t want anyone else to be hurt. She just wanted it to stop
She told me about a transgender friend whose brother cuts himself. She thinks she’s going to tell her friend to pray for her brother and asked me if that was a good idea.
She is just a little girl. So young to carry these burdens. I murmured that yes, we should pray for her friend.
This child has known deep hurts, rejection and grief. Yet she had no one to ask the questions burning in her heart. She was spiritually starving and desperately searching for truth on her own. On YouTube.
It was clear that God has set eternity in her heart. Just as He said He does. But my own heart was breaking as I silently asked, Church, where are we in this? What are we doing? Where is our burden for kids like this?
She is one child in a city of millions. How many more kids are just as alone in this world? How many kids need someone to come alongside them, share the truth and walk the journey of discipleship with them? Why do we focus on glitzy children’s programs for children who are already being raised in the faith, but do so little for kids who have nothing? Let alone their parents.
How much longer will God tolerate our complacency?
We can’t walk in disobedience to our clear calling to share the gospel. We can’t turn a blind eye to the least of these. And we can’t show up Sunday after Sunday to our nice churches while side-stepping the brokenhearted all around us.
We have to go into the world with the gospel. And we have to invite others into our world. I’d argue we have to invite others into our very homes. And we have to be intentional about it.
What I thought would be a routine bedtime with a quiet little girl turned into one of the most eye-opening experiences of my journey in hosting kids. And I was humbled that God allowed me this moment to minister to this child’s aching heart.
I knew I wasn’t going to be able to untangle her understanding of theology right there at bedtime. That would have to come over time and in future conversations. But in that moment, I hugged her tight and locked eyes with her to tell her the truth I knew she needed to hear. It’s the same truth the world is desperate to hear:
Jesus is real.
People will fail us and hurt us and reject us. Even those who are supposed to love us.
But Jesus died for you.
He will never will never leave you.
He will never reject you.
He loves you more than you can even imagine.
And it’s all true.