There’s an interesting technique in night photography called light painting. You secure your camera on a tripod, set the aperture at about f11, and then set the speed for 10-20 seconds. Since vehicles are always on the move, city streets provide the perfect venue. Movement is the key to light painting. Whatever moves disappears from the photo and all that remains is light.
I get the most enjoyment out of light painting, though, when I commandeer some of the younger West family members as my assistants. After the camera is ready to shoot, I supply them with flashlights, glow sticks, LEDs, or glow hula hoops and let them go wild, which they have no problem doing.
Afterwards, they do what all children do—beg to see the display screen on the back of the camera. The surprise at not seeing themselves in the photo never grows old. For the little ones, it’s sheer magic. And if I’m honest, maybe there’s a little magic in it for me as well.
We hear so many dire statistics these days regarding young people leaving the church. This weighs on me, so it’s almost become a hobby to engage pastors and youth workers with the troubling question of why this is happening. Michael Horton, in his book Ordinary, says that it’s now possible for a child to leap through a church—from nursery to children’s church to Sunday school to youth group to college ministry—without every landing and becoming an actual church member. He seems to think we shouldn’t be shocked by the statistics since many of these kids were never really involved to begin with.
I belong to a church that has a Sunday evening worship service, something that is becoming a rarity across our land. Last Sunday evening as the service came to a close, we all did what we usually do—cluster into small groups around the sanctuary. I was talking with some friends but soon noticed a child standing next to me looking a little anxious. It was Margaret, who was a student in my Sunday school class several years ago. First year students are usually on the shy side, rarely answering questions or volunteering. That would describe Margaret to a tee. But as the second year rolled around, Margaret bloomed and became one of our class leaders.
It’s what happened after Margaret graduated out of my class that made a deep impression on me. You may remember how you felt after promotion day, how the old class seemed so babyish, so yesterday. Week after week, Margaret would drop by my classroom after the bell rang. She’d talk about her week, what she was learning in school, how her reading was progressing, and how much she missed being in my class. Margaret always held a special place in my heart, but these visits endeared her to me.
“Margaret, you got your hair cut. It looks cute on you.” I ran my fingers through her hair, knowing she would relax and tell me what was on her mind.
“No one’s cleaning up after communion,” she explained, seeming quite disturbed by the oversight.
I took her by the hand and told her we would look for a deacon. Isn’t that what you do when something needs to be done? It’s what I default to. Find the person in charge and leave the problem with them. But on this particular evening, no one seemed to know who was responsible. After a few failed attempts, I turned to Margaret and shared a really creative idea.
“Margaret, let’s just clean it up ourselves!” Margaret beamed with an ear-to-ear smile. We made our way to the communion table where this child with a servant’s heart began stacking the empty trays. I realized as I watched her that this had been her desire all along.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) As I followed Margaret to the supply room, it struck me that I was looking at a light painting. Margaret loves Jesus and her quiet service painted His glory before my eyes.
My concern for the next generation seemed to have lost its melancholy edge as my head hit the pillow that night. This isn’t a time to be disheartened, I thought, but a season to rejoice! Jesus is still calling children to Himself. God is building His church with young people like Margaret, and He will continue to do so until Jesus returns.
Let the children come to me and do not hinder them,
for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.