About six years ago, I went to the Poconos for a winter retreat with
my church. It was a small, simple gathering of about forty
We were not yet teens but slowly coming to realize ourselves as more
than just children.
Since I was new to the church, a few friends of mine gave me a basic overview
on the kids of our youth group. I can still remember a few random
faces and the descriptions that went with them:
"Oh, that's so-and-so. He's such a pussy; he wet
the bed at last year's retreat." or "That's
the kid that kicked so-and-so's butt cuz he bothered his sister."
Yet the one that haunts me with such clarity to this day is of a little
girl, probably in the third grade at the time. With uneven
locks of greasy hair adorning her mishappen
face, she was constantly bombarded with ridicule from the heartless
and unsympathetic. She was born with a physical
ailment that affected her coordination and altered her facial features.
It would be almost a daily retreat tradition for us to yell "retard"
as she passed by on her way to the chapel.
Yet, as the final day of our retreat neared, we all prepared our hearts
for the most emotional night...the night in which voices
would cry, hands would be raised, and
eyes would flow freely without considering
what the person next to you would think the following day. Yet,
instead of pouring our hearts out in a scattered
groups on the floor as expected, our pastor told us to stay in our seats
for a moment.
After about three minutes of composed silence, he said with calm, monotone sincerity,
"Who here loves Jesus?"
Everyone raised their hand; some even shouted small cries of their devotion.
"Who here really loves Jesus?" he repeated.
Again, everyone raised their arms, some fists
clenched, accompanied by countless amens and hallelujahs. Then,
as the silence reentered the room, he slowly produced a seven-inch long,
steel stake from behind his back. With
eyes of ice, he said,
"Then those of you that really love Jesus please
come to the front of the room...and suffer his fate."
A confused and scared silence congested the air of the room. No
one dared make a sound, even a cough, for fear that everyone else may
look at him. It seemed as though everything had been frozen in a
heavy fog that engulfed the room. Watches
seemed to have stopped. Eyes ceased
to blink. The only thing that moved was the flowing perspiration
as we all waited for something to happen. The pastor clenched the
stake high above his head.
"Who here is willing to place their hand out for
this stake to puncture it? Who? WHO?!"
A small, scraping sound arose from the back row. It was the sound
of a little girl, whimpering and stumbling, slowly rising from her
chair. She broke the expectations of every person that had looked down
on her, the retard, the ugly retard, just
as Jesus had been resurrected
in spite of the Romans' hatred of him. She bore the weight of everyone's
stares and snickers as she limped up the aisle to the front of the room,
just as Jesus had arduously
carried his cross. Slowly lifting her ugly head to the pastor, she
Tears coursed from the pastor's eyes as he
asked her with fervent conviction,
"Are you willing to pierce your hands for Jesus?
Her face was streaked with the rivers of tears, not emotional tears like
that of all of ours had been, but spiritual tears
flowing from her dull eyes. She slowly peeled her arms from her
sides and lifted them to the man before her.
Not much changed the next day. She didn't miraculously lose
her physical defects. She was still made fun of...mostly by the
kids that weren't at the last night's service. And I'm sure that
if I asked any of the kids that were in that room the final night if they
ever made fun of anyone ever again that they would all say yes.
But the fact of the matter is, that occurence will stay with all of us,
the teachers, the kids, everyone, for the rest of our lives.
And perhaps we should all stop being so
judgmental, so ready to accuse or ridicule or hate, and stop
modeling ourselves to be like the Romans. Because as much as
it surprised us all, the only one of us that approached the
pastor with a sincere courage was that "retard,
that ugly retard" girl.
And even though we already know to do this, do we really always follow
it? Well, that just shows the understanding and love of Jesus,
of how much he can allow himself to be spit on and laughed at and still
forgive us...just like a humble, disabled little girl with a monumental
spirit. Pass this on...and I hope this girl's courage and sincere
faith has affected you and will remind you of Christ's love as much
as it has me.