tale of a six year old Disney princess

A couple of posts ago I talked about how I spent this past summer in Virginia leading mission trips for high schoolers. One of the things we did was put together a kids club for children in the community ages 3-12. There is a large Latino immigrant population in the area we lived, and most of our kids came from here. So Monday through Thursday every week we drove vans out to the mobile home parks and picked up our beautiful, spanish (and many bilingual, luckily for me)-speaking children. And yes, I referred to them as "my children." :) my fellow staff member Isaac and I got to know and love each of these kids- they had my heart. 

We had anywhere from 50-70 something kids on any given day of Kids Club (yikes!)- but I loved every minute of it. Clearly, with that many children, there are always a few that stick out in your mind. One of those children, for me, was a little girl named Jacqueline. Jacqueline is one of the most precious, sweet, loving six year olds I have ever met. She wore lots of pink, and 3/4 of the time had on the same little dress adorned with Disney princesses. Not to mention her pink Disney princess backpack. :) She was kinda like my shadow- piggy back rides, sitting next to me on the bus, photo shoots (she loves getting her picture taken), and just laughing and playing. Her two younger brothers came to kids club as well- and she always watched over them, made sure they were okay, and comforted them if they got hurt. Not many six year olds are that capable (or compassionate).

One day Jacqueline didn't come. Which was odd, because she was one of our children who never missed a day. We asked her cousins, but no one seemed to have a clear answer of where she was. A few hours later we got a call from one of the other parents, the sister in law of Jacqueline's father. He had been shot in the early hours of the morning. He was dead. 

And what was more disturbing about the whole incident was the WHY of his death.

Because there was no WHY. There was no reason.

He was shot...well, just because. 

He was sitting in the parking lot of his church with a couple of friends in the early hours of the morning, waiting for their ride for their shift at the chicken factory. They were approached by a few guys who asked if they had drugs (they didn't) and money (they didn't). They shot him and left the scene.

So senseless...

My heart began to break more as I talked to and heard from the family's friends, family members, and community members. Everyone was in shock. He was a good man. Jackie's little brothers came back to kids club after a few days- I think they were too young to completely understand- and  I just remember...shock. Hurt. Anger. Sadness. Jackie's mom was unable to work due to physical problems, the family was running out of money quickly, they were living in a tiny trailer with no air conditioning in the middle of the summer with 4 small children and other relatives...and there was so much sadness. Jackie's aunt, who moved in after the death to help out, told me the details of just how hard it had been on Jackie. It was heartbreaking.

I will never, ever forget the day - about a week later- that Jacqueline came back to Kids Club. I was running around outside, soaking wet (it was water day) and suddenly I see that little, pink, Disney princess dress flying towards me. I picked her and we hugged and hugged...and I knelt in front of her and struggled to hold it in as she begins to tell me how her daddy died. The rest of the day she clung to me, and talked with me, in her own sweet little six year old way, about everything she was going through,

Who could do such a terrible, senseless thing?

About a month after getting back home, I had my answer. Isaac called me and told me they had finally caught the shooter. He had sent me the link of the online article telling about the man and his arrest. I braced myself, and opened the link, not sure what I was going to feel. I expected relief that he was off the streets. Anger for what he had done to Jacqueline and her family. Disgust. Hatred.

The LAST thing I expected to feel was compassion.
...But I did.

I looked at this man's picture...a man of only 18 years, but who looked far older...and felt...sorry for him. I looked into his cold, lifeless eyes and felt compassion for this child who had been destroyed by sin. What kind of terrible things had happened to him to make him so lost? I don't know if he is sorry for what he did. There is no indication of that. But I remember, in that moment, wondering what had changed in my heart to make me feel this way towards him. And I realized...God's truth. The passage I taught high schoolers all summer, our theme verse, was REAL. it was real. and after a whole summer of teaching it, I began to actually understand just how real it was. I began to pray for this boy...this child who is so lost. To most people in our society, this thinking doesn't  make sense. Well...Jesus didn't make sense, did he? He loved those who performed the worst of crimes. He had compassion on every kind of sinner. He chose to call murderers, prostitutes, and every kind of criminal to be a part of his kingdom work. If Jesus had only seen people for their sin...well, his ministry wouldn't have been very effective, would it?  But he really loved people. All people. He even asked for forgivness for those who put nails in his hands and thorns on his head. I've had tastes of this, but I yearn for so much more. Gosh...we struggle to forgive the SMALLEST of offenses...and when we put that into perspective, doesn't that seem a bit crazy!? Many people think it is weak or doormat-like to forgive like this- but I would much rather live by God's truth then be consumed with bitterness and unforgiveness. I choose God's word.

Truly, some of the most powerful stories in my own life and that I have heard are those of forgiveness. And not easy forgiveness... but having love and compassion on someone who does not deserve it. At all. Who may, even when you forgive them, have no remorse or understanding of what they have done. This may be the kind of person you literally have to forgive "seventy times seven." It is this kind of love and compassion that changes the world. That breaks down walls. That breaks strongholds. That brings Jesus light into the darkness. 

The theme verse that I taught on this summer: 

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Luke 6:27-28