The Strength of Stories

The Strength of Stories

“God blesses those people who are humble. The earth will belong to them!” (Matthew 5:5 CEV)

“Love cannot be drowned by oceans or floods. It cannot be bought–any offer would be scorned no matter how great.” (Songs of Solomon 8:7 CEV)

One of the first tasks given to me when I arrived at Pringle Home for Children, a home-away-from-home for girls ages 8-18, nestled at the top of a rural mountain range located in Carron Hall, St Mary, Jamaica, was to set up the library. Happily taking up the task of unpacking about a dozen big boxes of all sorts of books, I was determined to create both a comfortable, appealing space as well as a user-friendly system for finding resources quickly and easily, and so after dusting and tidying I set out hundreds of books in themed arrangements across tables and shelves in the small space provided for this purpose. Having only unboxed a small handful of children’s bibles and picture books, I spread them out on a slight nook conveniently located at the entrance of the library so that they would not get lost amongst the countless other fiction and nonfiction texts. Over a year later, the girls still race to the library with the same exuberance as the first day it (re)opened, and to my delight and surprise, this small cluster of picture books at the entrance have since become the most beloved of all the books in our little library. Without exaggerating, the girls have read these half dozen picture books of admittedly some of the most marvelous and captivating stories of Jesus’ life and ministry about a hundred times each. Girls, young and old just the same, take turns reading these short parables and accounts of encounters with Jesus back to back, literally one girl immediately following the other. In the background, as each child takes her turn, the other girls don’t just wait patiently for their chances but rather gather, arrange themselves and studiously reenact the scenes, mouthing the words they’ve come to memorize with ease and embodying the emotions and characters as told and retold. Their favourite by far so far is a story they not only know by heart but so easily demonstrate each for herself, both in reenactment as well as day-to-day life here at Pringle Home for Children.

And so the story of ancient goes: Months into his ministry, as the testimonies of his power to heal and perform miracles paired with the Good News that he so generously shared traveled far ahead of him, Jesus was making his way back into Jerusalem when he stopped in a small village and was greeted by 10 men. This small gathering of ten maintained their distance to keep their infection from reaching him, and cried out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”. Each of the ten there to see Jesus were unified in voice and assembly as much as marred markings of their disease and the shame and suffering of being unwelcomed outcastes in society due to their condition. Yet, in response to them, where anyone else would have swiftly turned away, covering her/his face and fleeing the threat of this highly contagious disease not to mention the sight of the men’s deformities or the smell of the wounds typical of leprosy, Jesus stopped. Not turning his head or walking away, he faced them and listened. He paid attention to them. He acknowledged them. He recognized and addressed them even in their pain. Then, in just as a beautifully odd way, Jesus offered them the directive to go and show themselves to the priest – something the men would have very likely done before and which would have resulted in being declared unclean, and having been castaway to the outskirts of family and social life. Nevertheless, whether out of sheer desperation or a sign of their tremendous faith, the ten men turned towards the temple in obedience to Jesus’ curious command, and it was in so doing that they were healed. Given their leprosy, this would have meant perfect sight where blindness had set in, new smooth skin to replace sores and scales, restored digits and reformed limbs, along with rejuvenated hope found in the possibility of alas being reunited with family and friends too. An absolute transformation and miracle indeed! And then as if this splendid story wasn’t in and of itself enough, an even more wonderful thing occurred: from afar one of the ten men turned his eyes away from the miracle of his newly restored body to look back at Jesus. Overcome with gratitude, he turned around and began running towards Jesus. As an expression of his tremendous thankfulness, he fell at Jesus’ feet and in a single, loud shout praised God. The man, once a leper but now renewed, returned to simply and solely acknowledge the One who made this marvelous phenomenon of new life possible. After brief, seemingly rhetorical inquiry about the whereabouts of the nine other companions of this one Samaritan (after all, was it not 10 in total who were healed?), Jesus lifted the once exiled man to his feet and blessed him saying, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (a retelling of the story found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 17, verses 11 through 19). What a remarkable story of healing, hope and grand thanksgiving!

Certainly, as I listen and watch the girls my own celebration for the story has grown. I cannot help but join the girls at Pringle Home for Children in rejoice over this marvelous story with shouts of excitement just the same. Still, while the story is beautiful, I am also amazed by the candid enthusiasm of the girls on the 101st reading of this simple, beautiful account, and my marvel is yet all-the-more when we close the book and leave the library: I am speechless and awe-struck by all the ways the girls so poetically resemble the faithful thanksgiving of one grateful man in their own day-to-day lives. The girls bring the pages of this story to life in their singing of grace at each meal, and songs of praise during morning devotions and Sunday services. The celebration of new hope is in the constant laughter that echoes through the building despite the painful pasts which bring each of these girls to us at Pringle Home for Children. Their gracious thanks are loud and clear in their responses to “How are you doing?” which is undoubtedly “long as mi av life, mi affi praise di Lord” (as long as I have life, I will praise the Lord). These beautiful, strong, resilient little girls muster deep faith and faithful gratitude in telling stories of present moment (e.g. of how their days went) as much as recounts of childhood because the reasons that bring these precious little girls to Pringle Home are nothing short of an array of tragedies; yet as much as they sing with absolute joy, they write the most lovely and loving letters to family and friends “back home”. Similarly, their exuberant thankfulness adorns my home and office walls, which are laden full of daily artwork and letters of appreciation for the simplest of gestures (and I am no exception as the other staff members on our team receive the abundance of these heartfelt home-made gifts of thanks too). Heartfelt gratitude is evident in the way the girls always have a number – whether it be poem, song, speech or dance – ready for an opportunity to share about how God has been good to them. In my opinion, it’s most apparent in the speeches girls excitedly offer on their birthdays, when the stage is theirs to express their gratefulness for all the blessings of the year which has just come to a close and hope for the new year ahead, even though all we have to offer them are kind words of birthday wishes (no cake and balloons, no special wrapped gifts, no party of sorts, just prayers and kind wishes from the sisterhood of this little family and home).

Nevertheless, full of thanksgiving and understanding of who God is to them – as is seen here in their contributions of our communal art project “God is…” recently – the girls at Pringle Home for Children recognize the grace of God in their lives, and their faithfulness to take God at His word and live out loving others just as He would is inspirational. Despite painful experiences, the girls are full of the hope of new life, and are not only ready with a word of thanksgiving at all times, but they are ready to take hold of (rather than for granted) the gifts life offers. In a recent journaling assignment wherein the girls were asked to write their responses to “If you had a million dollars, how would you spend it?” a majority of girls ranging in ages 8 to 17 individually wrote a variation of the same: they would give back to the ministry of children’s homes like Pringle Home for Children. Some girls noted and explained how important the home away from home and the sense of family we strive for here means to them, especially given the rejection and trauma of their pasts. Other girls wrote an explanation that made reference to wanting to bless children living in children’s home in light of understanding their pain paired with too often feeling a sense of being forgotten or unwanted. Almost all referenced a sense of want both materially as well as with respects to simply feeling remembered. One girl summed this up when she wrote, “If I had a million dollars, I would give all of it to all the children and staff in all the homes I’ve lived in since I was 7 years old. I know how we suffer and what it feels like to feel like you are forgotten. Like nobody cares. Not your family and other people in the society too. I would want every girl like me to know that I still remember them, even if their family don’t and even if nobody else does. I would want to give her something special, just for her, to let her know that as long as you have life, there is a reason to have hope. I would want her to feel special too. That’s what I would do if I have $1,000,000.”

In following the examples of our delightful little sisters here at Pringle Home for Children, I am learning a new love for the stories of ancient, how to live life with exuberance, what it looks like to have a heart full of thanksgiving and how to share that abundantly. COVID-19 hasn’t made a dent in their joyfulness or readiness to give shouts of praise to a God who they recognize as being ever ready and able to offer new hope. As Christmas fast approaches and we prepare to celebrate the birth of an otherwise unlikely saviour, the girls and I reflect back on 2020 as I’m sure you and your loved ones are preparing to do. The girls are honest in their recognition of the pain that’s come with this unusual year and likewise the circumstances in their families of origin which bring them to Pringle Home, but they don’t stop here; overcome with gratitude, they lift their eyes and take time to recognize the ways in which Emmanuel is ever-present with us. Surely Christmas will be different this year, and for us too a bit difficult, but if we dare take a page from the wise little girls here at Pringle Home, we are graciously invited to consider the possibilities and opportunities to count our blessings, to express that gratitude to someone God has placed in our lives, and even better than words, to begin living a life full of even more thankfulness. Is there someone you can lift up, acknowledge and bless this holiday season? As 2020 fades out and we usher in a welcomed new year, I follow in their childlike, faith-filled wisdom and stop to acknowledge God’s loving kindness in my life. As I count my blessings, at the forefront is of course the fact that I get to be here with each of these truly remarkable girls who emanate their Creator’s Light and Love, an opportunity made possible through the generous giving of brothers and sisters like you in Canada and the United States, who partner with the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Island in ministry and ultimately with Christ. With all my heart, Thank You! Truly, “I praise God with every remembrance of you” (Philippians 1: 3). May I offer us a simple prayer: Lord, we stop now to simply acknowledge your loving kindness and your great power. We thank you for the blessing of being partners in your ministry through the United Church in Jamaican and the Cayman Islands. Thank you for helping us to maintain this longstanding partnership between Global Ministries and our brothers and sisters in Jamaica. May we continue to be good stewards of this relationship, working together always in mutual respect towards justice, reconciliation and peace. Reflecting on the example of our little sisters at Pringle Home for Children especially, we willingly take up a page from their book. Lord continue to bless them with your love, laughter and joy, and may we too be blessed by taking up the Pringle Home challenge of living out just a little more gratitude this season. In doing so, may we be raised up in spirit just like our beloved little sisters, and in turn use this life-energy to be a blessing to others, both near and afar, for the worthy call of sharing a little more Love in this big, beautiful and hurting world.

Rachel Pellett serves with the United Church in Jamaica and Cayman Islands. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts. Make a gift that supports the work of Rachel S. Pellett