Jersey City, NJ was the only place I wanted to be, despite the midsummer heat, specifically because I had a unique opportunity to lead children from ages 4 to 12 in a week long Vacation Bible School through a program known as Building Urban Missions Project, or BUMP.
When my youth group first arrived in the city, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We were told that we would be “helping” run a VBS for maybe 30 kids. That was a major miscommunication as our youth group and another church from Minnesota ran the entire thing…for over 60 children! The number of kids had doubled along with our responsibility, and we only had half of the supplies needed. These were only minor problems, though, when we discovered that a large portion of the child audience didn’t speak English fluently. We had not been informed that much of the local population speaks Arabic. What a stressful trip this was turning out to be, and we had not even started the week!
After we spent the night smoothing out the details, the kids arrived early in the morning, much more energized about being there than we were. The first day was our youth group’s turn to split up and lead a group of about ten kids to different stations, each group of rambunctious children only having one leader from our church. One of our biggest fears was that the kids would not want to sit and listen to a language they did not understand or that they would be at a loss for what to do when it came to games and crafts. To our relief, the kids who spoke both Arabic and English acted as our translators before we even thought to ask! In my group there was one eight-year-old girl in particular, named Marina, who sought the most attention. She was a troublemaker, but I could tell that there was a deeper reason for her behavior. Even though she only spoke Arabic, I could see from her facial expressions that she was especially sensitive about how others treated her. One of her friends became our designated translator whenever there was a fight that needed to be resolved, which was quite often.
Much to my chagrin, Marina took up most of my energy when we had breaks or free time, but I didn’t let her see that I wanted some space. I decided to put aside my own ideas of fun and let her play with my digital camera, something she hadn’t had the luxury of owning or even using before.
By the end of the week, our energy tanks were empty, the bags under our eyes becoming battle scars that we compared and took pride in. “Exhausted” had never seemed like such an understatement. The day before had been an emotional one as we had said our goodbyes to all the kids, thinking we would never see them again. Marina and I never got to say goodbye amid the bustle of guaranteeing kids were safely under their parents’ wings again. The next day, we were walking to a nearby convenient store when we ran into none other than Marina and her family! Upon seeing me, Marina sprinted over to me, gave me a tight squeeze and planted a big kiss on my cheek. In that one moment, Marina communicated her gratitude of my companionship more clearly than if she had spoken the words in English.
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