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The little boy who was thrown right out of his school.

February 2, 2018

7 Lookit this place, Pastor Brad! We’re gonna have a great time!” Steven yelled.  We were spending a week at a Christian retreat in Northern California near beautiful Lake Lucerne above the Napa Valley and it was evident that my little pupils were ready for their very first summer camp experience.  The kids were rarin’ to go, and I must admit that I was pretty charged up myself.  I was still in my early twenties and single, so I had been able to use my free time to develop a good strong friendship with many of the students in my fifth and sixth grade classes.  Sammie hooted and Ricky hollered while we unloaded the van.  Even the normally cynical Shelly was smiling ear to ear.

It was a refreshing sight to see, unusual in the sense of your typical campgrounds.  The camp was actually an old 1920s-era hotel complex (please see picture) that was purchased by a Christian organization in the 1970s with the intent of creating a camping ministry.  I went in to the main lobby and was welcomed by the activity director who gave me an outline of the week’s events.  The structure of the camp was unusual as well, different from my other experiences in that they did not mix the various school groups into one big camping experience; each church/school was its own little “team” in the week-long competitions.  If my memory serves me correctly, there were around four or five different middle school groups coming together for a total camper attendance of about one hundred and twenty or so.

As the kids gathered, the director announced: “Each team – and you combine guys and girls – must name themselves.  This title will stay for the week.  Name your team after a cereal.”

The Prunedale group called themselves Frosted Flakes.  The kids from San Jose called themselves Wheaties.  There was a group from Castroville called Cheerios and another – I think they were from Gilroy – called Cocoa Puffs.

All of my students were Central California outdoor barnyard/rodeo-tough youngsters, and from the very outset they were able to excel.  They remembered an off-brand cereal they had seen at the local supermarkets back in Hollister and named themselves after it: Body Buddies.  I kid you not.

I noticed something out-of-kilter at the start of the afternoon’s game.  Our first contest started by creating a huge pentagon-shaped field of play with each team holding hands among their teammates and making an impenetrable wall of defense against a ball being kicked through.  It was a combination kickball/soccer game with the attitude of the “Red Rover, Red Rover” challenge and our kids dug into it with gusto.

The team to our immediate right – the Cocoa Puffs – could not get coordinated.  Worse yet, we heard a lot of shrieking.  Their adult team leader, a vice principal from a Salinas area school, kept losing his composure every time the ball slipped through for another goal.  After the fifth goal, he exploded.  “If you all can’t get coordinated, we’ll just forfeit the whole week.  Do you understand?  We’ll just quit right now!”  He pointed at the smallest kid in line.  “Georgie! Go sit down!” He screamed – and I mean screamed – at a little thin waif of a boy who was having problems standing up.  “Over there!  Sit down!”  Some of the other students chimed in.

“Georgie, just go sit down!”

“You can’t play!”

“Georgie, get out out here!”

As the thin little middle schooler stepped out of line I could see him more clearly.  He had an uncombed batch of hair and an oversize T-shirt with a neckline that was overly stretched.  The shirt was dusty and torn at the shoulder.

The boy was wearing jeans that were at least a size too long for him.  Someone had simply cut the cuffs at the end of the leg and let the jeans go at that – no fold-up cuffs or tailoring at all.  This little boy was walking around with a flap-flap of pants that were draping over his feet.  I could not see his shoes, nor could I figure out how this boy was walking around without tripping over those long trousers.  My heart sank as little Georgie glanced up dejectedly and without a word, shuffled over to the edge of the grass and sat down.

The game finished and our team won it handily.  As the Body Buddies cheered and jumped, I saw Georgie’s teammates look at him, shake their heads and walk away speaking in tones that were although inaudible were obviously abusive.  He started to rise but they, led by their adult leader, waved him off.

They actually walked into the lodge and let him sit by himself.

Georgie sat there silently and stared out across the lawn.  Obviously he was used to this kind of treatment.

But my kids weren’t.

“Look at him,” said Shelly.  “All by himself.  It’s not his fault.”

Sammy nodded his head.  “What was his name… Georgie?  They just left him alone.”

“Yea, Georgie.  He looks poor.  Wait a minute,” said Shane.  He walked over and chatted briefly and came back, red-faced with anger.  “They kicked him off their team.  Kicked him off of their team.  After the first game of the week!”

I was stunned.  Each school had its own members.  You technically couldn’t kick someone off of your team.  But it was true.  The boy was cast off from his very own school.

“Say…” said Steven slowly.  “Why don’t we invite him over to our team?”  Shane nodded.

As one, the kids agreed.  They turned and headed to little Georgie and after a few quiet introductions, gave him as gracious an invitation as I’d ever seen.  “We want you to be part of us,” said Sammy loudly.  “We’ll win it all and you’ll be part of the winning team!”

Georgie looked meekly around.  He hadn’t said anything.

“Will you join us?” asked Ricky.

Georgie nodded quickly and smiled.  The kids shook hands with him.  Shelly gave him some cookies from our van that her mom had made for our trip.  Still not speaking, he wolfed them down like he had never eaten before.  I noticed that my kids exchanged quick glances between one another.

And that was the moment that Georgie became the official mascot of the Body Buddies.

At the pre-dinner volleyball game, his classmates were openly shocked as my students walked him – ripped jeans and all – right onto the court and set him in the middle.  Surprising to me, none of his original schoolmates said anything about taking him back.

The game was a vigorous one, with shouting and cheering all around.  The volleyball bounced and lofted all over the court.  Georgie did very little in the game; in fact, I don’t think he had the strength to even serve the ball over the net.  Didn’t matter to my kids, though.  I saw them lightly pat him on the shoulder and move him to various positions as the teams battled.  He leaped and clapped but I don’t think he touched the ball more than twice in that whole game, but I watched his  quiet little face and I could see him having the time of his life.

Late that night as I walked though the lower bunk rooms I saw that while the rest of his school classmates were snoring on bunks, he was scrunched up on a blanket.

On the floor.

In those same  ripped jeans.

With no pillow or top-cover blanket.

I choked back a tear.  Then I heard a small noise behind me.  Sammy and Steven saw it as well.

While everyone snored, they went over in the dark and tapped Georgie.  They quietly  led him into our section of the bunk area and set him up on a lower bunk bed.  They had pooled their resources and provided him with a pillow, sheets and extra blankets.  And some more snacks.

Throughout that week as I cheered him on and chatted with him along with the others, whether it was in the cafeteria or on the field, I don’t think Georgie said more than a hundred words.  He would nod and look down.

But I could tell he was immensely happy.

And hungry, too.  It was actually hilarious;  I kept seeing Shelly handing him something to eat, be it a candy bar, a cookie, a piece of fruit or a slice of bread.  Georgie would eat it all.   Day or night, this little boy kept eating.  And we kept winning.

The victories were in more than sports contests or quiz challenges, though.  I saw the victorious display of the compassion that came from Jesus Himself, manifesting itself in my middle schoolers.

I am always deeply moved when reading about the compassion of Jesus.  He looked over the broad populace of the city and wept because of His ache due to their lostness.  He reached out and breached every health guideline when He touched the leper as He healed him.  Compassion, as Christ showed us, is more than a sympathetic feeling in the heart;  it’s a deep, devoted action of love.  From the healing of the blind men to the torture of the cross, Jesus’ compassionate care was a lesson for the ages.

My kids were displaying it to this little boy who was hurting.  It was making a difference.  Though little Georgie barely spoke, he was beaming.  Sammy would pat him on the head.   Shane would high-five him.  Ricky would make sure he was front and center of each game.  Shelly would keep feeding him.

I was a front-row witness of a ministry of love.

Yes, as you guessed it, we won the entire week.

It was a grand time.  The kids cheered and yelled as our name was announced from the front of the auditorium.  It was a grand memory.

You know, somewhere in my storage boxes I have a picture of the Body Buddies all lined up, grinning from ear to ear as they hold up the winning trophy.  And if you look right in the middle of that photo you see that Ricky and Sammy have their arms draped around little Georgie who is smiling broadly.

And eating a candy bar.

 

 

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3 Comments
  1. Lula permalink

    Where’s the rest of this story? Did you say anything to the other adults? Confront his principal? Camp leaders permitted this? What happened when camp ended?…..

  2. Bryan Riebe permalink

    ..”of some have compassion, making a difference” Jude 22. Prayers the ministry of your students eternally impacted Georgie

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