By Linda Porter Carlyle
Hannah Maria Estevez unfastened her seat belt as Papa turned the car into the church parking lot.
“I asked you to stay seat-belted until I turn the car off,” Papa said, frowning at her in the rear-view mirror.
“I’m sorry,” Hannah said. “I just don’t want to be late for class. And we’re always almost late!”
“It will be easier when Baby Paulo is older,” Mama reassured her. When he’s out of diapers, life will be easier.”
“Well, maybe,” Papa said as he parked. “I’d say life will be easier when he’s about three years old and can climb in and out of the car seat all by himself.”
Hannah smiled as she opened her car door. Even though Baby Paulo was a lot of trouble, he was worth it. She was sure he was the cutest baby brother in the world.
Hannah hurried down the hall to her classroom. The door was open. She could hear the chattering of voices. That was good. It meant class probably hadn’t started yet.
“Good morning, Hannah!” Pastor Chuck said as she entered.
Hannah gave him a quick smile as she slid into a seat.
Pastor Chuck heaved his black duffel bag from the floor onto a table at the front of the room.
Everybody stopped talking. What would be in the bag today?
Pastor Chuck grinned. “Our lesson this week is about leprosy,” he began. “But I figure no one here has ever seen a person with leprosy.”
Mac bounced on her chair. “My dad says he doesn’t think there are any people with leprosy around here,” she said.
“He’s probably right,” Pastor Chuck agreed. “But what I want to talk about today is not people who actually have leprosy, but people today who get treated sort of like the lepers were treated in Bible times.”
“In Bible times, people with leprosy had to shout, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ wherever they went so nobody would accidentally get near them,” Trevor put in. “But nobody has to do that nowadays.”
“True,” Pastor Chuck said. “And why did they have to shout, ‘Unclean!’?”
“Because other people were afraid they would catch leprosy from them,” Hannah answered.
“Right!” Pastor Chuck agreed. “Other people stayed away from lepers because they were afraid of them. Can you think of any people who might be treated like that today? Groups of people that we might stay away from because we’re afraid for one reason or another?”
The class was silent, thinking.
“Well, I think teenagers with shaved heads and tattoos all over everywhere are scary!” Mac suddenly exclaimed. “I would keep away from them!”
“Some people are afraid of anybody who doesn’t have the same color skin as they have,” Trevor said. “Or of people who don’t speak the same language they do.”
“Good answers,” Pastor Chuck said.
“Prisoners!” Hannah put in.
“I’d be afraid of prisoners!” Joseph said. “You know they already did something bad!”
“Sometimes there are very good reasons to be afraid of, or to stay away from, somebody,” Pastor Chuck said. “But at the same time, I want you to remember that everybody is a child of God, and that God loves them and wants to forgive them for whatever they’ve done.” He looked around the room. “Hannah, would you like to come up here and take out what’s in my bag?” he asked.
Hannah walked to the front of the room. She unzipped the duffel bag and peeked in. She felt important because, for just one minute, she and Pastor Chuck were the only people in the room who knew what was inside. Then Hannah reached in and took out two Bibles. She put them on the table and reached in to take out more. Soon there were 14 Bibles, all different sizes and colors, stacked on the front table.
“What are all the Bibles for?” Mac asked. When Mac wanted to know a thing, she always asked.
“One of the reasons Naaman’s story was written in the Bible for us was to remind us that God’s grace is for everybody,” Pastor Chuck explained. “Naaman wasn’t one of God’s special people, the Israelites. But God healed him of his terrible disease anyway.”
“I’ve collected these Bibles because I have permission to take them to the local jail for the prisoners. The prisoners need to know that God has grace for them too. They may have done something very bad and are in jail because of it, but God loves them and can forgive them.
“I’ve brought bookmarks that I thought you guys might like to write a special verse on. Then you can decorate them, and we’ll put one in each Bible.”
Pastor Chuck turned to the chalkboard and began to write. “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1:7”
“There are colored pens, rubber stamps, and stamp pads along with the bookmarks on the big table in the back of the room,” Pastor Chuck said. “While you decorate your bookmarks, think about the good news of God’s grace that you are sharing with a prisoner.”
Hannah sat down with her friends at the table. She picked up a blue bookmark with a dark red tassel attached to the top. Suddenly she had the strangest thought. The prisoner who would get her bookmark had been a baby once—just like Baby Paulo. Maybe he had even had a big sister who loved him a lot. But maybe no one had ever told him that God loves him too!
Hannah read the text on the chalkboard again. She reached for a dark blue felt-tip pen and got ready to use her very best handwriting.
What does the Bible verse in the story mean to you? What do you think it will mean to a person in jail? Two people in my church go to two prisons every week to have a Bible class. Eighteen prisoners were just baptized! Sometimes prisoners like to get nice Our Little Friends or Primary Treasures to have something to read to their children when the children come to visit. Maybe someone in your church could find out if that would work in a prison or jail near you.—Love, Mrs. Sox