The following letters tell a compelling story about a simple idea and the eternal consequences of its implementation. The first letter, sent to the District Office by Pastor Boehne (St. John, Ludington), provides the background for the story in the second letter.
Letter from Pastor Boehne
Since we came here to St. John’s, we have been so blessed, and we are so thankful. However, a few years back when my wife and a friend of hers were doing the “young youth” summer program, they came up with an idea that was a bit overwhelming for me, yet proved to be very successful, and humbly I must admit, something I, too, looked forward to week after week. My skepticism came with the idea of having kids come to our house!! (Lowest attended day was 59, highest, 93). It was an open, outdoor program, and all were invited. And so often, it seemed like the whole town of kids came! This program ran week after week, for 3 hours, and included a picnic dinner, pizza, chips, bottled water, and of course, dessert!! We rented a huge water slide park to literally set up in our front yard and our neighbor’s yard, with a bounce house, and three water features including two huge water slides. Kids came from all around town. We blocked off the cul-de-sac we live on with our cars and cones and put up tables and had the neighbors and volunteers help with crafts for the kids. Various groups also helped, the fire department came, Pizza Hut sent fun pizzas, House of Flavors, etc.
As so many churches are very frugal, and rightfully so, we had some criticism and negative people who did not see a “return” in this program because we did not have a surplus of families joining the church. We could only answer that it was our job to plant the seed and let God take it from there. Sadly, the program ended a short year later, and new programs have replaced it. About a month ago, we received this letter. It touched us all to our very core. I wanted to share it with you and any you decide to share it with as a means of support for us all. The “return” on our investment in kids and the money spent has far surpassed any negative feedback we had received. I hope this touches you as it did all of us and reaffirms our mission in planting the seed of Jesus.
Letter from a Mom
I have no right to call you this, and yet, the gift you gave my family deserves nothing less.
I want to share this “testimonial” with you, selfishly, for myself, and for yourselves, because you unknowingly touch many lives.
A few years back, we lived on Timberlane, the street behind your church residence. Week after week in the summer, our sons Ricky and Josh would hear the excitement echoing through the subdivision. We drove around the block, and the street was blockaded by cars and cones, so we assumed it was a private gathering. There were so many kids, water slides, and unbounded excitement, that my boys just couldn’t let it go. They wandered together through the small woods that separated the streets and met with a tall man, who they presumed to be “in charge.” He laughed at that assumption and told the boys to go get their swimsuits, that they were “more than welcome.”
My husband, Rob, who we will affectionately refer to as Mr. Skeptic, was sure this was a grand “ploy” to get church attendance out of us, or worse yet, pry into our personal information to plague us with literature and calls. He was so wrong. He walked the boys over and they took him straight to the “really nice tall man.” (Rob and I were not raised in faith, so we had little knowledge, and were determined to let our boys chose their own way when they matured.) Reverend Boehne was so hospitable and bounteous. He even invited my husband to join for pizza. He declined, but wanted to “register” the boys. The Reverend assured my husband that all they needed was an emergency number, which shocked Mr. Skeptic. But it was true.
Week after week, we could not contain our boys. Their motivation to get over there each week was uncontainable. We waited week after week for the boys to come home laden with their trove of projects that they had diligently worked on. Eager to hear about the water fun, the games, and the experiences that would, unbeknownst to us, shape our boys.
They learned the “pizza prayer,” which we affectionately termed it. Even at home, the boys insisted that they had to say this prayer before eating pizza. It stayed with us to this day. We all learned it, and we will always say it.
They learned that they could talk to Jesus without a formal prayer. That He was their friend. Mr. Skeptic, Rob, was beside himself that especially Ricky felt comfortable talking out loud to Jesus. He would say, “Connie, people are going to label him a freak, and think he has an imaginary friend.” It stuck, though. Ricky would have to scoop dog dodo and complain to his friend out loud. He would play soccer, and yell for help with a goal on the field. My poor husband would cringe and wait for the aftermath.
They learned to say “God bless you” when someone sneezed.
They learned that glitter and stick-on décor was not just for girls. My husband nicknamed the two “sisters” who ran the program as the “blingy dingys.” He partially felt they deserved this because they encouraged all the kids to go crazy with their imaginations and “bling” when doing these projects.
They learned that playpens were not just for babies, as one day they were leashing our dog Pelican to join them at their “awesome day.” My husband stopped them and they eagerly told him that the dogs could go in the playpen and watch all the kids. Pelican is a boxer shepherd mix, and Rob insisted they did not have a pen big enough.
They learned that they were loved. The “sisters” who ran the program hugged and encouraged and teased and laughed with the kids.
They learned that the fire department could make rain, as the big truck came and made a shower for the kids, and then with the help of some of the wonderful neighbors, each of our sons got to use the fire hose, and climb the truck. “And guess what Mom, the firemen ate pizza with us, AND knew the pizza prayer.”
The boys followed that group into fall, and would prefer going to their activities rather than sports, family gatherings, anything else. They were invited to participate in a Christmas program. Mr. Skeptic said, “Here it is, Connie, here’s where they try to hook us.” But nothing could be further from the truth. You welcomed us with open arms and hearts. Again, poor Rob was afraid because it was standing-room only in the church, but you made room for us. Rob was astonished to see his sons come down the main aisle, dressed in “rags” and with fake beards. Ricky leaned in and said, “Dad, isn’t this the greatest, I’m a shepherd, and I have a cork beard!” His excitement was so great. We beamed with pride as he and Josh read their parts while balancing a tall cane. The Reverend allowed the children to be the focus of the church service and, talking to him after, we realized that there was no agenda. You truly were a group of people who just cared about children.
Rob took a transfer almost immediately after the Christmas program and instead of being sad to leave their friends, schools, etc., our boys were sad to leave this group of kids and the “blingy dingys.” Rob affectionately said, “Hey, we are bailing at the right time, who knows what they would come up with for Easter,” but the boys found no humor.
I have gone on too long, and I apologize, but now I will get to the core of this communication. Seven weeks ago, our life changed so dramatically, I have to include you. You, my friends, are the reason we have found peace and faith. Ricky and I were in a horrific car accident. A truck driver ran a light and hit us broadside. Ricky was trapped in the car. The police officers were waiting for the “jaws of life” and Ricky said, “Mom, I think we need a prayer.” He took my hand and the police officer’s, and recited the only formal prayer he ever learned: “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed.” The pizza prayer! Ricky said, “Mom, I think it’s OK to say it without pizza too.”
Successfully, Ricky was removed from the mangled car, and when Rob got to the emergency room he held Ricky in his arms. Ricky said, “Daddy, Jesus isn’t imaginary,” and with that he died.
How I longed to be in your church, have you comfort me, because although we were strangers, you made us feel like family. I longed to have Rev. Boehne console us and speak to our family and friends to put some sort of calm to this heartbreak. But we were ashamed to call. You see, Rob felt that we would be the ones with the ulterior motive. So instead, I told this story of our summers and shepherds and faith. And we ended with the “pizza prayer.”
Last week, while in Ricky’s room, the sun hit his shelf just right and there gleamed his treasure chest that he had made the last summer we were there for the kids’ programs. It was piled with “bling.” I opened it and there was a sticker that read, “I am Jesus’ treasure.” At that moment I knew. I knew what Ricky knew all along. I thank you for giving our sons the peace and security of Jesus. I thank you for the “pizza prayer” and for reaching out and touching total strangers, expecting nothing in return.
My little boy was not afraid when he lay dying. He knew Jesus, thanks to you.
In January of 2017, Mrs. Boehne told us that the family came to church on Easter Sunday, 2016 (after having sent the letter). They were moving away because there were too many memories in Michigan, but felt like they had to stop by the church one more time to say thanks. The dad said he was your “typical doubting Thomas”—and he knew it because he was now reading the Bible. He said he was a skeptical, always waiting for someone to ask for a large donation, but instead they received the best gift ever—knowing their son had faith in Jesus as Savior before dying. He said, “I have more peace than you’ll ever know.”
The Boehnes’ conclusion: “Our obligation isn’t to bring them to church, but to introduce them to Jesus, sharing God’s Word and love—you never know what impact you may have on just one life. Just move forward in faith.”
Photo (c) Imgorthand/iStock