Pain Hides in the Shadows
By Norris Burkes
-- Growing up as a pastor's kid, Vacation Bible School, was unavoidable. If
the Pastor's kid failed to show up for VBS, most kids would use my absence as
their excuse to pitch a wailing fit.
The best thing I remember about Vacation Bible School was the "summer missionaries."
Summer missionaries were usually pretty college girls sent by our Southern
based denomination to help teach VBS and save the west.
The Beach Boys were right about southern girls "Its the way they
talk; they knock me out when Im down there." Each year, under the spell
of those accents, I vowed to become a minister. VBS was filled with girls
who wanted to give their hearts to Jesus, but the boys were determined to
give their hearts to our summer missionaries.
But the southern girls werent the only attraction of VBS candy bars were
another. Church kids could earn candy bars by bringing unchurched kids to
VBS, so with each new "prospect" Id bring, Id get one candy bar
One day a friend named Steve was playing at my house when my dad suggested
that he come to Vacation Bible School. With visions of candy bars dancing
in my head, I enthusiastically endorsed the idea.
Stevie was almost my friend, but not really. We lacked the solid connection
to make us mutual friends and since Stevie lived on the adjoining 56th
street, he wasnt quite my neighbor.
My family was almost as big as his. Mine had five, his six. He was almost
my age. I was ten and he was nine. I could swim and Stevie could almost swim.
My parents loved me and his parents almost loved him. There were so many "almosts"
with Stevie and me.
On the first day of VBS, Stevie showed up with his brothers! I was countin'
candy bars. My dad was pleased too. At week's end, he would sift through registration
cards looking for church prospects. A well-timed pastoral visit could mean
new families by Sunday next.
Stevie and his brothers came Tuesday too, but I only got one bar per prospect
so I took little interest in their regular attendance. But when they failed
to show up on Wednesday my dad was wearing an unusually grim expression.
A disquieting mumble infected the teachers. Horrifying glances were exchanged.
"Did you hear what happened?" went the staff litany.
Steve, his siblings, and their mom were dead. I wasnt allowed close enough
to hear details. I only heard "car" and "dead," so I assumed I knew the details.
But, I didn't. At least, not until lunch when I saw the newspaper my dad dropped
in nauseating horror during breakfast.
The front page momentarily shifted its coverage from the Vietnam War to the
War on 56th Street.
The story told of a family that shared the abusing marks of a drunken husband.
When dad abandoned them and left them destitute they felt a hurt that far
exceeded the maker's specification for the human soul.
The paper described how mom drugged the children and carried them to the
inviting warmth of their running car. In a closed garage, betraying the soothing
noise of a running engine, mom strung a garden hose from the tailpipe to the
car's cabin and ushered her children into a final sleep.
I put the paper down without finishing my lunch. The candy bars lost their
In the years that followed, my father retold his story to each new congregation
challenging them to find the pain that existed in the shadow of every church.
Each time, he would confess to having noticed suspicious marks on the boys
and would tell of the neighborhood gossip about the abusing father. Never
one for shedding preacher tears, his voice cracked each time he told his story
I didn't really know the family and Steve wasn't the boy's real name. I can
almost remember his real name, but not quite. If my dad were still alive,
I'm sure he could tell you. Im sure he never forgot, because there was one
final "almost" of the evening.
On the night of this horrendous loss, my father had planned to see them,
but exhausted from working two jobs, he fell asleep on the couch. After that
night, everything our church did for the family was done posthumously.
Think it Through
The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 is the greatest mission statement
of all times. What are the action verbs in the passage? Is the responsibility
placed on the hearer or the teller? Have we translated the harder verbs of
"Go" and "Make" into the more modern and less threatening,
"Come" and "Be?" In what ways do we shift the responsibility
of the Commission onto those who are hurting? Jesus words places the responsibility
on the teller, but has the church been guilty of shirking the responsibility
onto the listener?
For more information about Norris Burkes please log onto his website at
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