The blade glinted in the son, the sharp point rotating on the asphalt, as the boy spun the knife handle. This was vacation Bible school, or VBS, that summer staple of churches across the United States. I have volunteered with many church VBS programs, across two states, multiple denominations, and two decades. But never have I dealt with a machete-wielding kid at VBS!
A child should have a footlong hot dog, not a machete blade stretching over a foot long! Why did he have the knife? Was he going to use it on himself or on the vacation Bible school (VBS) kids?! My internal safety alarms triggered, I walked quickly toward him. Although aware of my presence, he did not look up, but continued to spin the dangerous blade.
Concerned for his safety and curious about his motive, I finally got close enough for him to hear me. “Hi, what’s your name?”
“Isaiah.” His face resolute and his eyes on the knife, Isaiah (not his real name) spoke softly.
Isaiah was not enrolled in VBS. On the other side of the asphalt were fifty VBS kids squealing, playing, and running around on a sunny day. Trays of watermelon and yogurt packets filled the snack table. The inflatable house, tie-dye crafts, and water games were set up on the church’s back field that bordered Isaiah’s house. What kid would not want to join that?!
Isaiah eventually opened up and started talking with me. The VBS director then walked over carrying the leather sheath, which Isaiah had dropped on the ground by the inflatable house. Isaiah reluctantly handed his weapon over to the VBS director, who slid the blade into the long leather sheath and handed it to me.
After a short conversation with mild-mannered Isaiah, I realized that he posed no threat. Instead, he was a normal ten-year-old, trying to get attention and join the other kids. And Isaiah’s method of doing that was to grab the coolest thing in his garage and bring it to show the other kids. He didn’t want to answer my questions about the knife, but he became interested when I asked if he wanted to join us. “Do you have anyone at home that I can ask about you coming over to play with us?”
“Yeah, my mom and grandma.”
“What if we bring the knife back and ask if you could come to vacation Bible school?” Holding the sheathed knife, I walked Isaiah home and told him about VBS. When we got to his yard, he went straight for the garage, but I called him back. “Isaiah, let’s go to the front door so I can talk with your mom and grandma about you coming to join us.”
Just then a large man walked out the garage side door. Before I had a chance to explain, he snarled at Isaiah, “I told you not to touch this!” Isaiah hung his head and slumped into a porch chair.
Realizing that this was probably Isaiah’s grandfather and the owner of the weapon, I held out it out to him. As he took the knife, I launched into a description of VBS and an invitation for Isaiah to join us. “We go until 12:30 today and then we have three more mornings of VBS. We just need someone to come over and sign him up.” I tried to be welcoming, but looking at Isaiah as he sat with his head lowered, I feared that there would be punishment and no chance of Isaiah coming to VBS.
“That is up to his mother,” the grandfather said, pointing the boy into the house. Then he turned and carried his machete into the garage.
I walked away with a heavy heart, realizing that no gentle invite or encouraging words would convince Isaiah’s family to let him join us. I prayed that God would intervene to bring Isaiah to our fun-filled VBS playground.
During snack time, our pastor joined us outside. Apparently, Isaiah had been out with the machete the previous day. Pastor Mark had met Isaiah, walked him home, and then spoken with his mother and grandmother. They had no idea he was out of their yard with the machete. Pastor was surprised to hear that Isaiah had come back with the knife, given his mother’s anger about the first incident. Pastor Mark had also invited Isaiah to VBS, but his mother didn’t sound like she was interested in sending him. We did not see Isaiah again that week.
Lord, you know and love this young boy. I pray that you minister to his lonely heart. Bring him into fellowship with you and with others who love you. Please protect him from punishment or hurt. Lord, instead of playing with knives, bring this precious boy to the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Grow this boy up to understand how alive and active your word is (Hebrews 4:12). Lord, teach him to serve you, that he would wield the sword of your word to your honor and glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.