Guest blogger Audrey Armstrong shares her experience distributing 5+2 bags assembled and shipped by Church at the Crossing last year as a special partnership with VPA.
Have you ever wondered how the people (especially the children) on the hillside that day reacted when Jesus blessed the lunch of loaves and fishes and started passing them out to the thousands? The Bible doesn’t go into detail, but I have the feeling I experienced it this past summer.
It happened at the end of that school day back in July. We had barely recovered from the eReader celebration and were measuring feet for a “new shoe” project coming up.
“When out on the lawn there arose such a shout,
We sprang from our tables to see what it was about!”
No, it wasn’t Christmas, and it wasn’t Santa Claus. It was better than that. A huge open truck filled with brown, slightly travel-worn boxes was pulling into the gates of the school. From every corner came shouting, waving, leaping students. They surrounded the truck and escorted it across the playground and to the door of the multi-purpose building. The queen herself couldn’t have had a more enthusiastic procession. How did they know? Who told them it was the long awaited 5+2 backpacks arriving in that truck? By the time we got to the building, the students had crowded inside and were celebrating with cheers, screams, dances, claps, and hugs. I can’t even describe the excitement and joy on those faces. And the noise—oh my goodness!
It took our team a whole day to sort and organize the bags. We had to be sure every student at Heritage Academy had their bag with their name on it. The letters inside were personal, and it was important to us that we matched them up correctly. We said lots of prayers, hoping we could distribute the bags and not leave any child without one. We had a few extra empty bags and a bit of “stuff.” God really multiplied it so we had enough for every child and every adult connected with the school. And all the time we worked, small faces were peering into the windows of our workspace, trying to control their anticipation.
The next morning the bags were distributed class by class, and the children carried them out to the playground. They sat quietly (almost) in the hot African sun, all 500+ of them, until every child at the school had a bag in their arms. Then Pastor Joseph thanked the friends at Church at the Crossing in Indianapolis for this display of thoughtfulness, effort, and love. He thanked us—the team who just felt blessed to be a witness to the event. He led the children in a beautiful prayer, thanking God for people on the other side of the world who cared for children and showed that love in such a tangible way.
What happened next was just remarkable. The children started moving. Some big brothers and sisters found younger siblings. They gathered together in groups and carefully began to explore their bags, helping each other when needed. Two memories I have were of a little girl hugging a baby doll and a small boy making a road through the dust as he pushed a little car along. That boy was so caught up with the car that he didn’t even look at the backpack full of treasures sitting there beside him. The children tried on socks, counted pencils, examined toothpaste and smelled bars of soap. They played catch with balls, played with trucks and stuffed animals, and jumped rope. The brightly colored washcloths were a hit too. We saw them worn on heads like hats and tucked into waistbands. The adults were also excited. The lady who received a Bible just shouted and cried as she waved it over her head. She carefully put it back in her bag and then, two minutes later, she pulled it out and was waving it and praising God again.
5 + 2!!! I feel like I was twice blessed. First, to witness the fun and pride of the families, both children and adults, at Church at the Crossing as they chose a child, carried an empty backpack home, and returned it full. Usually there was a letter addressed to the child and maybe a picture of themselves and their dog inside the bag. I have no doubt the bags were also filled with love and prayers. My second blessing was to be at Heritage Academy when the truck pulled into the schoolyard and those African children knew someone cared about them. Prayers are important to the children and they need to know we are praying, but when you’re a child, having tangible evidence—with your very own name on it—well, that’s impressive evidence that someone knows you and loves you.
It’s been some months since I was in Africa, but the emotional impact is still alive whenever I remember. I may forget the facts (it’s an “age thing” with me) but I will not get over the joy. It makes me smile again right now! I know what 5+2 means in a whole new way.
Village Project Africa is thankful for all who have participated in this program for the last two years and who are participating again this year! What a blessing each of you are to the children and teachers at Heritage Academy!