There were more than 150 kids, and by gift-giving time we counted 225 children.
The village was small and poor, nestled between sugarcane fields high in the mountains of Honduras. A village overflowing with bored children.
“This would be a perfect place for a Vacation Bible School [VBS],” the pastor said. “We have a small church and an open area where children can play games. Our children need to learn about God’s love. Could you come to our village?”
The mission trip VBS leader stood in the open area, imagining 50 kids playing Bible games and making crafts. The little adobe church would provide an ideal stage where her group of teenage volunteers could teach the kids songs and act out Bible stories.
“I think it will work,” she told the pastor. “See if your members like the idea, and tell us how many kids will come so we can plan for the crafts and gifts.”
* * *
The leader had led scores of Vacation Bible Schools for thousands of children all around the world, and this VBS would be like the others, she thought. This was going to be a family mission trip, so it would be easy to recruit a dozen teenagers for five days of VBS.
The pastor told her to expect 75 to 100 kids, so she began planning for 150.
Crayons, Popsicle sticks, craft paper, silver crowns, paper angels, paper cups, and plates. Bible costumes for the teenagers. Spanish song sheets for the teens. And hundreds of other things she knew they would need for the program to be a success.
“Don’t forget the gifts,” she kept telling herself, imagining the bags of goodies the teenagers would hand to each Honduran child on the last day of VBS. Giving those gifts away was always the highlight of the mission trip VBS programs. Special goodies for the girls would include a doll, a stuffed animal, a Bible, a Spanish coloring book, and candy. The boys would get some of the same, but also a toy car or truck, a ball, a funny mask, and more candy.
* * *
“God performed a miracle,” the VBS director told me as the crew drove up to the mountain village Sunday afternoon. “The customs officers asked why we were bringing so much stuff. When I explained about the VBS program and the gifts, they laughed and waved us through.”
The teenagers checked out the church acoustics and the outdoor playground, then distributed invitations to every house in the village. Everything was ready for Monday afternoon.
The VBS leader, and her 12 teenage assistants, were ready at 1:00 p.m. Music practiced. Bible costumes adjusted to fit. Felt board ready.
Lemonade prepared. Then they joined hands in the church and prayed for the kids to come and the program to be wildly successful.
Only 25 kids came. The teens were disappointed, but played the music, put on the Bible story, and served the food with God-size smiles. As the kids ran home, the teens joined hands again, thanked God for a good Monday, and prayed for more kids to come on Tuesday.
* * *
Tuesday there were 50 kids. Seventy came Wednesday and about 100 on Thursday.
“How do we plan for Friday?” one of the teens asked. “Let’s prepare 150 gift bags,” the leader said, “and see who God sends.”
Thursday night everyone on the mission trip spent a couple hours preparing gift bags. Seventy-five for boys and 75 for girls. Everything stuffed in carefully. Bibles on the bottom, cars and stuffed animals next, candy on top. “Might as well put the sweets right up top,” one of the teenagers said. “That will save them time digging through the rest.”
I joined the VBS on Friday, planning to photograph the music, crafts, and gift-giving party. There were more than 150 kids, and by the gift-giving time we counted 225 children. We were 75 gifts short!
“What shall we do? How do we decide who gets left out? Can we make more gift bags? Could we take some things out and start some new bags?” The teenagers were worried.
“Let’s go into the church and pray,” the leader said. We all followed her into the darkened sanctuary. Her prayer was simple and trusting. “Lord, we’ve prepared what we thought would be enough gift bags, but we’ll be short. Please stretch our supply.”
“Two lines,” the leader shouted to the kids. “Boys here, girls there.” The children lined up, faces eager with excitement. The teens began giving out the gifts.
I stood inside the church watching as the large cardboard boxes rapidly emptied. “Lord, please stretch our supply,” I echoed.
There was still a long line of kids when a teenage girl picked up the last batch of gift bags. That was it. The boxes were now empty.
* * *
“Here’s some more gift bags.” A young Honduran man handed the teenage girl a black plastic trash bag with a smile. She reached in, gathered an armload of boy and girl gift bags, and handed them to the waiting kids.
“And some more that were back here in the church.” The young man handed her two more large cardboard boxes, each filled with carefully wrapped gift bags.
Moments later the gift-giving was over. Two hundred twenty-five children sat outside the church playing with dollies and cars, eating candy, and laughing happily.
“There were just enough gift bags,” the leader said. “Where did the extra ones come from?”
“They were stacked in the corner of the church in large cardboard boxes,” a teenager answered.
“A young Honduran man brought them to us,” someone said. “He was standing right over there, with a big smile. Didn’t you see him?”
Then everyone went silent. We had seen him. We had noticed his smile. We had happily given away the gifts he gave us. But now he was gone, and we didn’t know who he was, or where he had gotten the gift bags.
Then suddenly we all knew.