Do you know any 5-year-olds? A new, all-day program has brought 100 of them to my school this year. To say that they’ve made an impact on the school year would be an understatement. They are passionate, affectionate, and full of energy. Races must be won, and nearly everything is a race! Whether it’s the color of a crayon, their spot in line, or the thrill of finding just the right book in the library–every aspect of their day is nearly a matter of life and death. A case in point–the second week of school, one of these kindergarteners was inconsolable at the discovery that someone she thought was her friend didn’t like the same book she did! How could they possibly stay friends?
Another kindergartener reminds me of my daughter, Stephanie, when she was five. I’ll call him Matthew. On his first trip to the library, he wandered around looking lost until he finally said, “All I really want to read are some Bible stories. Do you have any Bible stories?” Thankfully, we had some nice, new Bible stories to show him. For weeks after that, he’d come up to me on the playground on his library day and say, “Guess what I’m going to check out today!” His enthusiasm for Bible stories could not be contained.
Stephanie was just like that, but her venue was “Show and Tell.” For about two minutes every Monday morning, she got to share some aspect of her life that was important to her. Week after week, she’d bring a craft from her Sunday school class, tell a story about singing with the children’s choir in front of the whole church, or share the wonder of carrying a real candle in the beautiful Santa Lucia pageant held every year during Advent. Her enthusiasm for church could not be contained.
This continued until her teacher nervously approached me and told me that she was afraid she’d get in trouble if Stephanie kept this up. The district “frowned on religion in the classroom.” There is a lot I could say about that (and probably will in future blog posts!), but suffice it to say that in this case, I think that the teacher (who is no longer in the district) was, hopefully, a little misinformed, or needlessly afraid. After all, the idea behind “Show and Tell” was to help others get to know them a little better–to encourage understanding. It was a chance to get personal. To share what you thought was important. To reveal what made you, you. To anyone with “ears to hear,” that’s exactly what Stephanie was doing.
Back then, Stephanie’s classroom of five-year-olds wasn’t nearly the diverse place that Matthew is experiencing now. The group of 100 kindergarteners is made up of Asians, Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Hispanics, and Caucasians. Every major religion is probably represented. I like to think that if Stephanie’s class had been this diverse, her enthusiasm for her church might have encouraged the Muslim students to share about Ramadan, or why they cover their heads every day with beautiful headscarves. Maybe Buddhist students would have showed their golden necklaces they often wear that depict Buddha, and told a story about who Buddha was. Maybe the kids would have learned something about their actual community. I’m hoping that Matthew, in his enthusiasm for the Bible, is helping other kids feel free to explore their own faith backgrounds. We have some nice, new books for them, too!
When religion is treated like something to fear or be embarrassed about, or worse, like a bad word, we discredit the life experiences and deeply held beliefs and values of much of society. We may not agree on fundamentals, but we all can learn something about each other, right? Wouldn’t that be the neighborly thing to do?
As for that impact being made by the 100 five-year-olds in my school? I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m hoping to catch some of their passion and energy, and share Christ–by showing love and kindness and patience–with an enthusiasm that can not be contained.
May God bless all the Christians in the public schools as they “. . .shine like stars in the universe” and “hold out the word of life. . ..” (Philippians 2:15).