Judah, Meet Jesus: Reflections on Childlike Faith
[Below is my January column for the Tri-State Voice, syndicated in Next Wave, Youth Ministry Exchange]
I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Jesus, to his disciples (Matthew 18:3, NIV)"Why didn't we help him?" As Judah's confused yet compassionate eyes gazed at mine, his words cut deep. We had just passed a panhandler in Chinatown on the way to introduce mom to soupy dumplings. I had taken Judah the night before, just the two of us, on a father-son date. He enjoyed the dumplings so much, and the practice chopsticks the waiter taught him how to use, that he wanted to bring mom the next night. "What do you mean, why didn't we help?" I thought. "We're on family time." The rationalization didn't cut it for me, however, so I figured it would mean even less to him. I promised that if the man was still there after we ate then we could give him some money. On the way back to the car, we passed the man a second time. No longer panhandling, he sat on a stoop with his head between his legs. I gave Judah a handful of coins and took him to the man. "Excuse me, my son has something he wants to give you," I said. Slowly the man raised his head and watched Judah approach, hand outstretched. The man grabbed his hand and with tears welling up in his eyes, said, "God loves you, boy." Later Judah offered him his ice cream cone and the tears streamed down his face. The ice broken, the man introduced himself as "Lonnie." He said he'd been strung out for 30 years and homeless for 25. At one time he was a Christian, but he turned his back on God and became hooked on crack cocaine and alcohol. He said he's been off drugs for 12 years, but the booze he can't shake. He wept as he told me that Judah was the sixth person who stopped to tell him that God loves him that day. He kept saying he was scared, afraid that he would go to sleep and not wake up. Judah looked at him lovingly, straight in the eyes and said: "Everyone is scared of something." With that, more tears. Lonnie was chilly, so we gave him Judah's beachtowel from the car, and a brand new Bible I had bought for myself that weekend. But first he asked if Judah would pray for him. He did, along with mom and dad. There we stood, on the corner of Bayard and Mott Streets, around the corner from the ice cream shop, minutes removed from soupy dumplings, spending quality time with Jesus, in the person of a homeless man. "Inasmuch as you've [loved] the least of these," Jesus said, you've done it unto me." Family time, indeed. The best kind. Six months later, Judah still prays for Lonnie at bedtime, and his heart remains sensitive to the needs of people. Following Hurricane Katrina, again with tears in his eyes, Judah prayed that God would give its victims "a new life, a better life." He then declared: "I want to go to states where people are homeless, don't have any food or mom or dad. I want to try and find their mom and dad and I want to try and find them food and love them." Judah turns five this month. Among the other pearls of wisdom he offered last year is the following letter he dictated for his grandpa: "Jesus was put on the cross. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus stopped the storm on the ship. Jesus' body was gone from the tomb. Jesus blessed the little boy's food. "Jesus loves us. Jesus takes care of us. He wants us to love each other. He wants us to pray every day. We go to church and praise God. He wants us to tell others about him. "God made everything. Mary had a son that the angel told to name him Jesus. Jesus is God. How could Jesus be God? "Jesus made Judah and other people too. "Jesus gave us food and restaurants." Words to live by in 2006. - Jeremy Del Rio, Esq. directs Generation Xcel in Manhattan. Judah teaches Jeremy how to eXcel at their home in Brooklyn. For more on both, visit http://www.genxcel.blogspot.com/.