BEIRUT, LEBANON (ANS) -- On this very Saturday the "Just for Kids" tour of Iraq was coming to an end.
"Yes, it was all over. The last prayer had been said. The last laughter had been heard. The last 'Greatest Stories,' a Gospel booklet for children, had been handed out to hundreds of children and adults who had just been to Father Salem?s lively church in a densely populated area of the Iraqi capital Baghdad," said Tom Hoglind, who has been working for the Bible Society of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq since the Seventies.
JUST FOR KIDS, A DREAM COME TRUE
During the war years in Lebanon, the Bible Society learned the efficacy of drama and puppetry to bring the message of the Gospel to the new generation. Founded during those hard years, the Grain Wheat Association was very involved with the Bible Society?s theatrical ambitions.
Its leaders soon realized that they should develop a Lebanese Team that could present the Gospel to today?s children in an appropriate and interesting way. When the idea was presented to young people with stage training and with the desire to follow their Lord Jesus wholeheartedly, "Just for Kids" was born. The leadership of "Just for Kids" turned to the Lebanese Bible Society to make this effort a partnership.
It was like a dream come true. Imagine the bliss of having four young people give up "money-making" to concentrate on giving -- and giving their very best --to children.
?I SAW JESUS IN HER FACE?
"Like earlier times the audience had looked in awe when 'The Baker ? the Bread of Life' had risen from the dead. And right then she was coming forward with a lovely two-year-old in her hands. She wanted to share the joy of holding this beautiful girl with somebody from the team."
"Oh, the smile, the laughter, the joy on the smiling face," Hoglind told ASSIST News Service (ANS).
"I looked at her and saw Jesus right there. I couldn?t speak and I couldn?t move from where I was standing. Right in front of me was an 85-centimeter tall (or maybe rightly -- short) girl -- a dwarf. I thought to myself that she must have hundreds of reasons to ask for acceptance and love for herself in our society where you need to be at least a couple of feet taller to be fully accepted, and here she was offering this bundle of joy and love to others. What great unselfish love to give and ask nothing in return!"
TREATED AS ROYALTY
"Yes, this was a fitting farewell to a country where we once more had been welcomed as' ?royalty' and where we had realized that we had been receiving more than we had been able to give.
"Our dear Father Yousif put it in his own words:'When you return home from Iraq you feel you?ve been washed in the blood of Jesus anew, as you?ve been honored to carry His cross for a little while.' He went on to say: 'The Iraqi Church has been touched as so many people have read the Word of God and have allowed the Holy Spirit to make it take root in their personal lives, and to me the truest witness of renewal has been the practical concern and love for the handicapped in our midst.' We had been given a new definition of true revival. ?The love for the ?outcasts? in our society!!!?
RUMORS OF WAR
"Yes, just like a year earlier the Just for Kids-team had joined up with the Bible Society to visit Iraq. While rumors and threats of war were rampant children, youth and often adults got together to spend an hour with five young people from Lebanon who wanted to entertain but most of all turn people?s eyes to Jesus Christ ? the only Way to the Father," Hoglind said.
ZACCHEAEUS' LIFE WAS CHANGED
"We cannot certainly forget the performance in the sitting-room of the Sacred Heart?s convent in Mosul -- Nineveh. More people than the room could hold, but nobody cared for comfort. All -- both adults and small children -- had come to participate in a celebration.
"The room was getting hotter and hotter but nobody seemed to bother. The foldable stage was almost in the middle of the spectators and sometimes you were wondering how it would all work out.
"All eyes were on the team and all ears were tuned in to the Lebanese Arabic that sounds so different from the Iraqi dialect. But with a few Iraqi expressions thrown in here and there the audience followed and enjoyed what was going on. Yes,'Zacchaeus' might have scared some of the small children, but everybody could see the tremendous change in his life after Jesus Christ had entered his heart and his home. And everybody walked home that evening realizing that Christianity is not only belonging to a certain community, but it?s also having a deep and living relationship with Christ."
A FAMILY CHANGED
There are times when we believe that the greatest impact on a person comes from the preaching that comes from the pulpit, Hoglind said. "But this time we saw it happen right in front of our eyes as some of the team-members lived with a local family. It might have been 'uncomfortable' to share one?s belongings with a couple of lively children.
"But day by day we were able to see that those not only lively, but more correctly rowdy children, started becoming lovely and lovable as the Holy Spirit was at work in the whole family. The home that had just been a house when we first entered had become part of our family and it was hard to leave both parents and children. We all knew as we said good-bye that the week together had caused a deep change to take place in all of our lives. It had been purifying and wonderful to see 'the weak vessels' of God being used in this most practical way."
PRAYER IS VITAL
"During the time of preparation we had encountered many difficulties. Not only the rumors of war -- but so many practical things about the timing and people not being around to receive us. But when, on the second day of our stay in Iraq His Beatitude Rofail I Bidawwid blessed us all and encouraged us to continue proclaiming Christ in this particular way, we knew for sure that God was with us.
"The partnership between Just for Kids and the Bible Society would once more bring eternal fruit -- and it certainly did. God protected us all those miles of driving -- both at night and during the day. The weather was gracious to us and at the end of the performances hundreds and even thousands of children returned home with something in their hearts and a wonderful booklet containing the message of the Bible from 'Creation to the Resurrection' so graciously provided by Manara Book Ministries.
"Most of all we want to thank you all for praying for us and God answered prayer and His Grace was sufficient -- even on that day when disaster got very close to us. Thank you Jesus!"
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