Two weeks ago, Mike, our Seminarian Associate, shared with us the incredible ministry that he begun at Vantage Point - an assisted living facility here in Columbia. Similar to the paths of God that aren’t always self-revealing, the opportunity for new ministry opened up for Mike, and he took the ball and ran with it. I am extremely thankful for the gift of this ministry, and the many people who are now involved in it. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3 that I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. God always gives the increase because any one of us can plant, and any one of us can water - you can be either Paul or Apollos.
I had the opportunity of worshipping with the Vantage Point community this past Sunday. Mike reminded me that the sermon is to last between 5-7 minutes. My question was, "How am I going to make this happen?" I ended up preaching for about ten minutes but according to Mike, no one complained about going over the suggested time.
On my way home after the worship, I met a woman who happened to be a Vantage Point resident. She stopped me and told me a story about how she became a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Howard County. According to her, when they first moved to Columbia with their two daughters, they wanted a place where they could worship and where their children could be nurtured. They decided to visit the churches in Columbia and then make a choice as to which church they would worship.
The first church they visited was The First Presbyterian Church of Howard County. After worship, the mother and father asked their daughters what they thought about the church. Their simple response was, "We love this church very much." Based on their response, they decided to remain at that church. She concluded her thoughts with these words from Isaiah: And a child shall lead them. These adults credit their children for leading them on this particular journey.
I write about the unseen tears today because I’d like to contrast this story with an experience I had this past Tuesday. The buzzer to the church office rang, and when I answered it, a lady with a sweet voice responded that she had come by to see if she could get some gift cards for food.
I buzzed her into the building. She came upstairs and walked into my office. Behind her was a sweet, beautiful girl who appeared to be about 8 or 9 years old. The mother narrated her story about her apartment recently catching fire and the difficulty she has had in getting a new apartment in Columbia. She drives for Uber Eats as employment because she can make deliveries while her daughter rides with her. All she needed was a gift card to buy some food for herself and her daughter.
Sometimes, these stories hit me so hard!!
I wonder how many children would be able to stand hearing their mother describe why they are in need. I wonder how many children would be able to hear their mother narrate to a stranger why she needs a gift card to feed her. I wonder how many children would be able to wear a smiling face while their mother shares the painful details of their life. I wonder how many children would be able to endure seeing their mother and themselves in such a vulnerable situation. I could believe the mother's story because the little girl was standing by her.
Remember - it is now summer. Children are on vacation, traveling, going from one camp to the other. It is likely that some of their friends may be home playing with their peers, traveling, or on vacation.
But not this little girl - she was wearing a smile on her face. But I wonder what was behind her smile. I wonder about the unseen tears she’s shed because she isn’t in a position to do some of the things that kids her age are doing - not for lack of interest, but for lack of resources.
I do not question her smile. But I am inclined to believe that behind that smile were tears of a young girl whose only wish is to see her mother do well, to see food on her table, to have a place to call home, and to be able to enjoy summer, like her peers.
It breaks my heart whenever I come face-to-face with victims of a system that often fails those who are most vulnerable - and this is an almost daily occurrence. It breaks my heart when human vulnerability is laid so bare and raw. More than that, it breaks my heart when I feel helpless in meeting the needs of those most in need of our support and help. I wish I had asked for her phone number so I could stay in touch and offer the best support.
I have been thinking about the story of the two girls who led the way and helped their family choose a church, and thinking about the girl who was out with her mother, soliciting help for food. Two contrasting pictures, but both capture the human circumstance in a way that draws us into the lives of these young girls - not to judge their circumstances, but to examine for ourselves how we can create a society where children lead the way with joy, and not one where children watch the system fail them and their loved ones.
I had no way of seeing the tears of the young girl, they were buried deep within her. Thank God that each of us can be either Paul or Apollos, for we all possess the heart and gift to dry those unseen tears.
The good news is that the tears don’t have to be visible for you to see them.