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Heart Matters—A Place for Dustin

It was Sunday morning, and I stood outside my children's church room. I still had 15 quiet minutes until Sunday school ended and the children would run down the hallway for the morning's service.

As I arranged supplies on the sign-up table, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned to face a very frustrated third-grade Sunday school teacher. She was close to tears and looked as though she was about to resign. She held the hand of our notorious troublemaker, Dustin.
Dustin could destroy any children's minister's patience. When teachers saw him enter their classrooms, they'd drop to their knees and pray for deliverance -- myself included.

Dustin had a difficult home life. His dad was in jail. His mom worked most of the time and had little time for her kids. It was Dustin's aunt who brought him to church.
Every Sunday that Dustin came to children's church, he brought trouble with him - name-calling, swearing, rude gestures, hitting, fighting, biting. You name it, he did it. I don't think Dustin ever actually made it to the end of a children's church service. I had even suspended him once for a few Sundays.

But this Sunday would change Dustin's life and mine. I asked the poor teacher in front of me what happened this time. Dustin had punched a boy who took his paper.
I sent the teacher back to class, assuring her I'd take care of the problem. I was ready to explode, but I forced myself to calm down before I spoke.

Dustin was uncooperative. He told me he wouldn't go to children's church if the other boy would be there.

"After all," he argued, "he started it!"
I tried reasoning with the 9-year-old, but he wouldn't budge.
Finally, after giving it my best shot, I dropped my head in defeat. There was no hope. All I could think about was how hard it would be to explain this to his aunt again.
Then I heard a small, weary voice say, "But you don't understand. I need you in there." I looked up, realizing I'd spoken aloud.

The lines on Dustin's face transformed from defiance to curiosity. He looked at me incredulously and said, "You need me?"
"Why do you need me in there?"
Honestly, I didn't know why I needed Dustin. Again, though, the voice spoke up. "If you're not in there, who'll turn the lights on and off when it's time for worship and the video clip?"
"I don't know," he said.

So, not knowing what the results might be, I took Dustin into the children's church room to the light switch. I brought over a chair and told Dustin to sit and pay attention during the entire service so I could give him the signal to turn the lights on or off. He enthusiastically agreed to do it.

From the time children's church began until the time the kids were dismissed, Dustin never missed a beat. He paid attention the entire service and even participated in the songs and prayer times. I put him on those lights every week. To be honest, I had a hard time replacing him when he was absent.

As soon as we found that place for Dustin, I rarely had problems with him. And I got to see him grow in his walk with God. So I found the answer I was seeking -- a place Dustin fit, a place he felt needed. Isn't that what all children are looking for? A place to feel needed.

Jamie Doyle is the children's pastor for River Valley Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota.

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