I watched as the group of elementary-school-aged children skipped raucously into the sanctuary, each chattering to his or her neighbor as they plopped down on the maroon pews. I fiddled with my PowerPoint presentation as they filed in, trying to assure myself that there was no reason to worry.
The recent publication of my biography for children about the life of Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian woman who rescued Jews during World War II, had garnered the attention of my home church’s AWANA commanders, and I had been invited to be the guest speaker for their Wednesday night gathering. I accepted the invitation enthusiastically, grateful for an opportunity to share a story of faith close to my heart.
But as I surveyed the many expectant pairs of eyes, my enthusiasm quickly melted.
No group of people makes me quite as nervous as children. While I like hanging with the under thirteen crowd, I can never tell if the feeling is mutual. Thankfully, summers as a camp counselor, semesters as a substitute teacher, and weeks as a vacation Bible school volunteer have taught me a few valuable lessons. First lesson: my tendency toward self-deprecating, dry humor and my use of multi-syllabic words are super boring and confusing.
The second is that kids are incredibly perceptive. Any hint that a subject is remotely intangible or not directly related to their interests, and they will find their time better spent entertaining their neighbor at the tedious teacher’s expense. Herein lies the struggle. I love sharing my passion for Scripture, literature, and history with kids, but doing so successfully has, at times, been a challenge. (As you might expect, my attempts to explain modalism to a group of twelve-year-olds went poorly.)
Of course, God rarely heeds my apprehensions and perceived shortcomings, and instead has placed me in consistent contact with the aforementioned age group in nearly all spheres of my life. With a husband in family ministry and a rambunctious, social toddler, I anticipated that contact. What I did not anticipate, however, was just how much my work at Christian History Institute would intersect with the lives of children.
When I first started working with CHI, I expected much of my time to be spent on our publication, the magazine Christian History. Instead, my introduction to CHI started with its The Torchlighters: Heroes of the Faith series. My task was to craft the study guides as companions for the DVDs by weaving lessons from Scripture into lessons from the narrative of that particular faith hero. With the helpful and gentle counsel of my overseeing editor, I found great joy in making God’s word accessible through our heroes’ stories. Here I could connect with kids in a meaningful way, and I loved it!
So when The Corrie ten Boom Story study guides led to the possibility of a biography, I was elated. This aspiring writer jumped at the chance to share amazing, deep, and rich truths through the life of a personal faith hero—to use my gifts as an opportunity to encourage, inspire, and build the faith of the next generation. I witnessed God bringing a dream to fruition.
But as I stood in front of my youthful audience, I was all too aware of my insufficient charisma. I sure hope I am a much better writer than I am a public speaker, I thought, muddling through my presentation as best as I could.
To my surprise, however, the small faces continued to look on with rapt attention. Hands shot up all over the audience, and they barraged me with questions about Nazi Germany, Corrie, good and evil, and God’s role in it all. Pleasantly bemused, I tried to satisfy their curiosity in the furious minutes that followed.
No doubt that when it comes to teaching children, I’ve had times of undeniable and total failure. There have been spectacular flops despite perfect preparation, gallant swings culminating in cringe-worthy misses. Even so, one home run, one blank stare changed to ecstatic comprehension, has made it worth every failed effort.
Indeed, if one thing was made clear that night, Corrie’s story proved my efforts successful. I’ve sometimes wondered if a morbid fascination with World War II atrocities is what makes the story resonate, but I think if you could ask Corrie, she’d tell you its true power lies in something greater—that is, the enigmatic depth of God’s love and forgiveness.
And what an enigma the story of our redemption through Christ is! It is both so vast the most impressive intellects puzzle over it, and so simple that the lips of little children can confess it. And when that redemption touches the life of a real, breathing person, like it did Corrie, it is always extraordinary. Not even I could stand in its way. Consider this lesson learned.
Kaylena Radcliff is the Circulation Manager at Christian History magazine, author of Torchlighters Biography Series: Corrie ten Boom, and an aspiring homeschool mom. Her greatest pleasures include discussing theology over coffee with husband and high school sweetheart, Tim, and parenting her joyfully articulate two-year-old daughter, Emma.