Iowa Teen Missionaries to Cleveland

by LeAnn Corn

"Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see ?"

The children sang this old Sunday school song loudly at Faith Baptist Community Center on E. 55th St. in Cleveland. Many of the 60-some underprivileged children were singing the song for the first time at a Vacation Bible School there this past summer. The teachers were a group of volunteer teens from the Ankeny Baptist Church in Ankeny, Iowa.

The teens? message to the 5- to 12-year-olds was all about being big in God?s eyes. It didn?t matter what kind of house they lived in or clothes they wore. They were important to God.

And although the Ankeny teens came from a completely different culture, many of them private school students from affluent suburban families, they believed in the importance of pointing these young souls to Christ. So much so they spent hours in training sessions every Sunday afternoon for months to learn how to share the Gospel. Some had also been on previous mission trips, including one to Ecuador.

"I appreciate the fact that we have so much," said teen leader Amanda Bryan. "I see how very little these children have and am so glad we can show them the richness of faith in God."

Through a week of Bible stories, music, crafts and puppet ministry, the teens shared the Gospel in the theme "Hiking the Heights." On the last day, they focused on the Bible story of a tax collector named Zacchaeus and how Jesus set an example of him when Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get even a glimpse of Jesus through the crowd.

Sometimes we all feel so small that we have to climb to greater heights on our own strength in order to just see a glimpse of Jesus, the teens shared. They knew they could never be good enough or do anything on their own that would get them high enough to see Jesus. They were sinners just as Zacchaeus. But the Bible says we only need to have faith, just as Zacchaeus only needed eyes of faith to see the Lord. When that faith was evident by him climbing the tree, it was then Jesus commanded Zacchaeus to come down from the tree and take Him home.

God is commanding us also to just come down to the level of faith and take Him home with us. More than a dozen children "took Jesus home" with them that day as they accepted Him into their hearts.

"The way we all perceived the inner city is a lot different than the way it really is," said teen leader Scott Cooley. "God is changing lives here, too, and we?ve learned these kids are just like us ? hungry for the love of God."

The week wasn?t all glamorous and fun, according to adult leader Russ Pals. He and his wife Michelle noted there were discipline problems among the children to which their teens were not accustomed.

"These children are not used to sitting quietly and listening to a story," Russ Pals said. "They crave attention and often try to get it by acting out in a negative way. Our teens demonstrated such patience and maturity and love toward these children."

Through it all, the teens saw the simpleness of the children?s faith and saw their own salvation in a new light. They could hardly wait to begin training for next year?s trip or for full-time missions work in order to show others how to just take Jesus home. C