A couple of weeks ago I bumped into Emma El-Khouri in the hallway at church. Emma is how old: Five? Six? Anyway, she’s an adorable first grader, and I squatted down to talk to her about the Bible I would be giving her during the Sunday morning service. This is something we do at First Baptist: we give first graders a Bible, and Emma was looking forward to getting hers. She assured me that she could already read.
“Well, then,” I said, “this is what I want you to do: take your new Bible home, read it, and then next Sunday you can come back and tell me how you liked it.” She nodded and smiled as if she had already planned to do that (and, honestly, she probably could; that girl is whip-smart).
“I have a whole shelf full of books at home,” she said.
And that made me think of something else.
I had read something just the day before about children who don’t have any books at home—not even one. Can you imagine how deprived you would be if you never got to enter the magical world of story through the pages of a book? It’s a big part of the reason First Baptist is sponsoring a book drive. On Valentine’s Day we hope to present every child at Glen Lea Elementary School with a book of their own.
And so I asked Emma if she would like to help.
“There are some children in our city who don’t have any books,” I said. “Do you think you could go home and find one on your shelf that you could give away?” She nodded again. “And,” I added, “do you think you could pick one of your favorite books, one that somebody would really like and not just one you want to get rid of?” She nodded again, a little more slowly this time.
This was going to cost her something.
But I wouldn’t be surprised if Emma went home and did exactly that. I think lots of people did that, because last Wednesday night at church I was almost run over by two shopping carts full of books being pushed down the hall by some of our youth.
“Wow!” I said. “Are all those for the book drive?”
“Yes,” they said. “And this is just the first load!”
It seems like a little thing: to put a book in the hands of a child who has never owned one. But the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, Jesus said. It’s a small thing that grows and grows. Who knows how Emma’s small act of kindness may change a life, how the little girl who gets her beloved book may come to treasure words and language and the One in whose name the book was given, and grow up to be the poet laureate of Virginia, writing poems about mustard seeds that become trees where the birds of the air can build their nests?
Maybe this is exactly how the Kingdom comes.