The Least of These.
Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes Me…
They descended upon the church one Sunday morning like a Montana thunderstorm. They brought noise and chaos and above all a certain kinetic energy. There were three of them, but quite frankly it seemed like there was more. Three girls, stair-stepped in age and size and all talking animatedly at once. Presentia was the oldest. Twelve years old and all gangly elbows and knees. She was the boss, the ramrod so to speak. The oldest sister charged with the well being of her two younger siblings. Then there was Jeanne, the middle child. Jeanne with eyes that were far older and knowing than her ten years would dictate. She was a rebel. She was mostly resistant to her older sister’s pontificating with a determination to seek her own path. Last but certainly not least was little April. Her with the golden blonde hair and beautiful features that gave credence to the demands of a five year old who was obviously the baby of the family.
It took us a while to assimilate the story but apparently they had blown in with Mom from “parts west” and were living with somebody’s cousin just a block away from the church. Mom was a shadowy figure and we seldom if ever saw her. The girls were familiar with “church” and seemed to understand the workings of the Body of Christ. They were poor, almost painfully so. It did not take our “church ladies” long to figure out that when they showed up they were invariably hungry. The ladies took them on and the church kitchen was home base to breakfast before the worship service and sandwiches and soup after. During the week I would often hear the incessant chatter and clattering of dishes from the kitchen as they stopped by for a meal. As winter approached substantial coats and scarves and new boots magically appeared. Every gift was met with delighted exclamations and appreciation.
As The Pastor I was often charged with praying for specific requests, usually delivered with breathless intensity , such as a lost cat or a long dead uncle. They were part of the body and the church took them in with love and concern. They were accepted and safe here in our midst. Yeah they were kids and sometimes could be difficult but they became part of us and we treated them the way Jesus would have us treat them.
Then, one afternoon without warning they were gone. A beat-up VW bus pulled into the driveway parsonage. The window was rolled down and the Mom said, “We are on our way to North Dakota and the girls insisted that we stop by and say goodbye.” We could only peer through the window and look at those three familiar faces with tears rolling down their cheeks and gently wave goodbye.
Even after all these years I think of them often. I wonder what their lives have been like. Most likely they have children and families of their own. Do they remember us? The church that did it best to show them the unconditional love of Jesus. I am certain that they do.