By Debbonnaire Kovacs
Solomon Nassim El-Charif bobbed his sock-covered hand up and down and said in a high, silly voice, “Hey, everybody, my name is Mr. Sheep, and I am going to visit a sheep farm! Baa, baa!”
The van echoed with primaries trying to sound like sheep. A whole flock of sock puppets waved and bounced in the air.
“That doesn’t sound like a sheep, Mike. That’s a goat!” Susannah called.
“Susannah ought to know!” Kenya smiled.
Everybody laughed. Susannah’s goat, Daisy, had produced triplets last week.
“Could we turn down the volume just a little?” Mike’s dad called. The primary class was going on a field trip, and Mr. Patterson was driving them in the Lilies of the Field delivery van.
“Sorry, Mr. Patterson!” everyone chorused, and the noise was a little more bearable for five whole minutes.
Susannah inspected the sock sheep she had made in Sabbath School. “When I get home, I’m going to glue cotton balls all over this for wool.”
“Good idea,” Kenya agreed. “I’m going to put yarn eyelashes on mine.”
Soon they arrived at the sheep farm, which belonged to a friend of Ms. Kimoto. The primaries piled out of the van. Ms. Kimoto, Mr. Patterson, and Aunt Rose herded them together. “Are we your sheep?” Solly asked with a grin.
“You are,” Mr. Patterson said. “Oh, good, here come the sheep dogs, in case we have any strays!”
Solly and the others laughed and greeted the two excited, black and white dogs who came dancing up.
“Good afternoon! Happy Sabbath!” a man who followed the dogs said. “You picked a great day to come. I’m Seth Miller. And these are Toby and Micky,” he added, pointing to the dogs. “They’re border collies, bred especially for herding sheep.”
Mr. Miller led the way down a path between the house and a big barn. Behind the barn was a fenced pasture full of bright green grass and lots and lots of sheep.
“Oh, look at all the little lambs!” Susannah cried.
Mr. Miller went and caught a lamb and brought it to the fence for them to pet. The mother watched nervously. Solly reached over to guide Mike’s hand to the lamb and watched Mike’s face light up as he felt the soft wool.
“Now,” Mr. Miller said, “I understand you kids just had the lesson about Jesus telling Peter, ‘Feed My lambs.’ Is that right?”
“Yes,” they all answered.
“What do you think that means?” Mr. Miller asked.
“To teach people,” Susannah said.
“To treat them kindly,” Mike added.
Mr. Miller put the lamb back down. “Watch,” he said.
Everyone watched as the lamb ran to its mother. They sniffed each other, and then the lamb eagerly began to nurse. Under his breath, Solly told Mike what was happening.
“That’s so cute!” Kenya exclaimed.
“Looks to me as if the lamb and his mom have the feeding pretty well figured out,” Mr. Miller observed. “Why would I have to feed any lambs?”
“What if the lamb didn’t have a mom?” Solly asked.
“Very good question!” Mr. Miller said. “Come to the barn. I have something else to show you.”
As soon as Mr. Miller opened the barn door, the primary class heard excited bleating. Mr. Miller led them to a box stall, where two little lambs ran to him as soon as he opened the stall door. He let the boys and girls come in, and the lambs seemed happy to snuggle with each one. They tried to suck on fingers, buttons, and the edges of coats. Solly knelt down and one tried to nibble his ear, making Solly laugh.
“These lambs’ mother died when they were born. It was a cold, rainy night, and at first I had to take them inside the house where it was warm. I had to dry them off and try to convince them to drink from a bottle, which is not that easy, believe me! I was up and down with them all night.
“The next day, they ate better and were fairly steady on their feet, so I brought them out to the barn. Otherwise, they would get used to the warmth inside the house and never be able to live outside. I had to feed them several times every day the first week or so.
“They’re a month old, now, and eating three times a day. Today I kept them in the barn so you could see them. Most days I put them outside in a small pen by themselves. Soon I’ll try to introduce them to the flock and hope the other sheep don’t hurt them.
“Motherless lambs take a lot of time and attention. Both Jesus and Peter might have had personal experiences with sheep. So what do you think Peter thought about when Jesus told him to feed the lambs?” Mr. Miller asked.
Solly thought, and then asked, “Could he have thought about teaching little children?”
“Or maybe people who aren’t children, but who just learned about Jesus?” Kenya suggested.
“And the bottle is the Bible,” Mike said thoughtfully. “I know when I try to explain the Bible to kids at my school, they don’t want to listen. That’s like the lambs needing to learn to eat, isn’t it? They don’t know the bottle has food that they need.”
“After you spend time with the lambs, they learn to love you, though, right?” Solly asked.
“They associate me with food,” Mr. Miller said. “My job is to teach them to feed themselves eventually.”
“Just like we hope people will learn to read the Bible for themselves,” Mike said. “Like Mr. Fontaine. I think maybe he’s starting to like the ‘bottle’ a little bit.”
“It takes lots of time and attention,” Mr. Miller repeated.
“Hey, everybody,” Solly exclaimed, “let’s take our sheep puppets tomorrow and put on a puppet show for Mr. Fontaine. I’m sure he’d like that!”
Ms. Kimoto beamed, her smile was so big. “These human lambs are learning to feed themselves and they’re even learning to feed others!”
Solly hugged a lamb and smiled. He knew Jesus was smiling too.