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Heart Matters: The Patent-Leather Gang

"What I like best about Sunday that there aren't any Herdmans here." In Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, the Herdmans were the worst kids in the world-and if they showed up, things got dangerous. I know: The Herdmans came to my Sunday school.

We were a new church, and our fledgling congregation met in portable buildings connected by a plywood breezeway. Most of my kids were offspring of church leadership and were Sunday school experts. Everything changed when our "Herdmans" arrived.

Early one summer morning, our pre-fab church building shuddered with the thundering clamor of many pairs of feet. In tumbled 14 children, ranging from 5 to 15. The oldest barked, "Shut up and stand still!"

In record time the rowdy group lined up before our startled Sunday school superintendent.

The children had dressed for church -- with shirttails untucked, ties askew, and bows loose.

I distinctly remember that every child wore shiny patent-leather shoes.

Our flustered Sunday school superintendent parceled the group to class. Four came to me. They whirled in and challenged every fiber of my Sunday school demeanor.

By the hour's end, one child had folded himself in a folding chair, and another had spilled his lemonade three times. Fights over who was hogging the crayons punctuated project time, and huge puddles of glue pooled on construction paper. At the end of class, 14 pairs of patent-leather shoes tramped back down the breezeway, leaving a few lost Bible leaflets blowing in the wind.

We didn't know what had hit us. They came and left together, appeared to be siblings, but had different last names. The mystery was solved when one church member explained that they were from a foster child group home on her street.

Next Sunday I was prepared. Armed with extra crayons, glue sticks, and a lesson plan that didn't call for lemonade, I greeted the Patent-Leather Gang with fortitude. No one got folded in chairs this time because the kids sat on the edges of them. They didn't know the Bible stories and were fascinated. To children who'd faced hunger, someone who could feed 5,000 was worth knowing.

As the months passed, the Patent-Leather Gang never missed a Sunday. Their foster parents offered them food, clothing, and security. Their Sunday school offered them hope. Always refreshingly direct, our Patent-Leather Gang challenged me to think beyond customary Sunday school clichés and view Jesus from a fresh point of view.

At Easter I prepared to tell about Jesus' resurrection. Though by now I'd experienced many Sundays rediscovering Jesus with these children, it never occurred to me that they didn't know what happened. As the story of Jesus' crucifixion unfolded, their eager faces were etched with horror. How could Jesus let enemies murder him? It was as if I'd betrayed them with false hope. None said a word, but the hurt in those eyes caused me to hurry on. Carefully, I explained how Jesus was raised from the dead and offered them life everlasting. As the reality of the Resurrection sunk in, a child began to clap, and the entire class broke out in spontaneous applause.

The Patent-Leather Gang changed-and challenged -- how I viewed Sunday school. I'll never forget the rumble those wonderful little feet made as they pounded their way down the plywood breezeway and into my heart.


Debbie Granberry is a children's ministry volunteer at Heights Baptist Church in Alvin, Texas.

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