The summer of 1999, my friend Dawn Compton and I volunteered to work at a Backyard Bible Club in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We were assigned to a trailer park on the outskirts of town where very few kids went to church and almost none of them had anything fun to do during summer break.
We never dreamed what God was up to that week.
The Bible Club had a “Son Castle” theme, which required us to build a makeshift castle in the backyard of a woman from our church. The kids loved it.
Every morning the children arrived, ready for another day at the castle. They sang along with the songs, listened intently to the lessons and addressed the members of the “royal court” as if we were kings and queens.
One of those kids was quiet little girl named Amanda, whom I vaguely remember. I never dreamed Dawn or I would ever hear from her again but you never can put anything past God.
Seventeen years later, Dawn hosted a party at her home, and a nurse from her workplace showed up. Her name was Amanda Schrader.
During the party, Amanda came over to Dawn and asked if she had volunteered with a Backyard Bible Club at a trailer park several years before.
“I sure did,” said Dawn.
“Oh wow,” said Amanda, “I was at that Bible Club. I knew it was you.”
Amanda told Dawn that she attended the club with her siblings, and for some reason, her most vivid memory was Dawn in a purple princess outfit. She had never forgotten Dawn’s face.
“I had a terrible childhood,” Amanda said, “and Backyard Bible Club is one of my few happy memories. It was my first encounter with God.”
To Amanda’s surprise, Dawn found several photos of the Backyard Bible Club and showed them to her. Amanda’s eyes filled with tears as she looked through the photos, and Dawn suddenly felt that God wanted her to share something very personal with Amanda: For 11 years of Dawn’s childhood, she had been sexually abused.
Amanda was stunned and, after seeing Dawn’s courage, she decided to reveal her own horrible secret: At the time we met her, her stepfather was forcing her to share a bed with him where he sexually molested her. Yet, somehow in the midst of her living hell there was a light in her dark memories: a 19-year-old named Dawn in a homemade princess outfit.
The two women embraced, smiling through the tears and marveled that 17 years before, God knew they would one day comfort one another with their stories. But they didn’t stop there. Dawn and Amanda have since begun sharing their story publicly and they’ve self-published a book to give sexual abuse survivors hope.
None of this would’ve been possible without some simple things like a Backyard Bible Club and a few young adults from church singing songs and playing dress-up at a trailer park.
Perhaps you’re doing some small things to love the people around you. Maybe you’re volunteering at Vacation Bible School, regularly visiting a relative in the nursing facility, intently listening to your kids or encouraging a coworker. It may seem so insignificant – maybe it's even a hassle – but whatever it is, God sees the way we're serving and He can use it.
One of the most powerful ways we can serve others is to share the hard parts of our stories: our extramarital affair, mental illness, miscarriage, addiction, getting fired. While we might prefer to keep those things hidden, God might want to use our story to give someone hope or maybe just help them see they're not alone.
Be encouraged. When we push over the dominoes of God’s love – even one – the result is unpredictable. Through his unfailing love, all kinds of people may reap the benefits of our selfless gifts, no matter how big or small. And while these gifts may not seem like much, God is big enough to take them and turn them into miracles.