“You know there are some children who aren’t really children at all, they’re just pillars of flame that burn everything they touch. And there are some children who are just pillars of ash, that fall apart if you touch ‘em. . . Me and Victor, we were children born of flame and ash.” From the film Smoke Signals, 1998.
On the Rez, especially at Kids Club, you’ll see children that appear to just be pillars of ash. They show little emotion. They don’t laugh. They don’t cry, or cry very easily. They don’t smile. They don’t engage or do much of anything but sit and watch with blank faces. Sometimes they’ll start a craft or play, but break down or quit at the slightest adversity. These children are the pillars of ash. The pillars of flame stand out at Kids Club, because they’re the ones who fight, throw rocks, cuss, destroy crafts, and cause general havoc.
Pierre was a pillar of ash. During the first week of Kids Club, I noticed Pierre every day at Kids Club. He would sit on a wooden box in the middle of the basketball court and just watch. Pierre, in 2015, was maybe four and not at all interested in crafts, games, playing, chalk, or much of anything. (You see, Pierre lives in a rough home; a place that’s so chaotic Pierre's toddler cousin died in an accident the previous fall). Several times, I approached Pierre and offered to read to him and sat beside him and read aloud to him and other kids, but he never spoke.
However, I didn’t think much of it – it’s just another kid that is hard to reach. It’s tragic and heartbreaking, but I’m putting it in the back of my mind because there are lots more kids and I didn’t have time to dwell on it. I also didn’t pray at all for Pierre, his situation, or the other kids there.
On the first day of the next team week, it rained, so we had Kids Club at our Church Building. Team members were assigned stations, and one guy named Carl volunteered to lead the reading table. For 2/3 of the time, Carl had zero visitors – I felt badly for him, but someone has to man the station in case a kid shows up and wants to read a book. Eventually, Pierre showed up and spent 15-20 minutes reading with Carl. And then things started to change.
Pierre connected with Carl and they were buddies all week. They did crafts together, colored, tossed balls, did sidewalk chalk, and the most memorable thing: bubbles. Throughout the week, I would be doing something, hear squealing laughter, and turn to see Carl running with his arms stretched high above him as he held Pierre in the air and chased bubbles being carried by the wind. It was an amazing contrast as Carl is a big strong man who played linebacker in an SEC program, and Pierre is tiny. But I couldn’t get over the change in Pierre. He was engaged, laughing, smiling, joyful, safe, loved, radiant, and happy.
Psalm 30:10-12 says: “Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O LORD, be my helper! You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”
For that week, Carl was able to be a picture of God to little Pierre and exchange his mourning and sackcloth for gladness, dancing, praise, thankfulness, and joy. And for that week, Pierre was no longer a pillar of ash.
Over the next year (2015), Pierre continued coming to Church and was noticeably different. He connected with more team members, started talking, laughed more, and was happier. He didn’t come around weekly, but was still regularly involved. When spring teams of this year rolled around, I was pumped to find out Carl was coming back, and I shared with his team the story about him and Pierre and the difference one person can make on one kid for a week. And on the first day, I watched with a mix of trepidation and exhilaration as the two reconnected. Again, Carl made Pierre laugh and smile and chase bubbles, and they spent every moment of Kids Club together.
Later in the week Carl shared that he loved hanging with Pierre and seeing him smile and laugh, but he was blown away when they were playing with chalk. One day that week, they were drawing with sidewalk chalk and made a giant house and all sorts of things, when Pierre asked, “Where’s the slide?” Then Carl remembered – the previous year the two of them had a made a giant house, with a huge slide that wound all over the basketball court. Carl had completely forgotten about it, but Pierre remembered the slide. Pierre remembered the slide.
Back in May, Pierre and his siblings and cousins moved out of White Swan. We still see them occasionally when they’re visiting cousins. For every kid we work with, we don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know if CPS will take them away, or if they’ll move to Oregon, or completely disappear with no kids or adults remembering them or knowing where they went. It happens a lot – too many times to count; sometimes even the remembering can be too painful to retrace. We don’t know what will happen with Pierre or if he’ll be in a Church.
Right now, Pierre is five or six and in kindergarten. I don’t know if Carl will return, but if he doesn’t, Pierre won’t remember his name, and probably won’t remember the fun stuff they did. I pray and hope that he remembers the Church people loved him, made him feel safe and happy, and he finds Church people and Jesus one day. As Church people, we can be an oasis for the kids, a place of rest and peace in the middle of a sun scorched desert. Some kids won’t care, but others do and are changed. Some stick around and we see growth and leadership, while others get scattered to the winds. But God knows where every single kid went, and their story, and He will bring many back to Him and other Church people down the road. And it’s an amazing thing to be a part of.
Reading Time at Kids Club: