April Butcher is the field events specialist for Operation Christmas Child.
Her name was Mrs. Barbara, and she had a felt board. I was enthralled. The enthusiasm with which she told the story, the brilliant colors of the felt board, and the fact that this man did something so common to get a chance to just see Jesus completely captivated me.
When we got to the end of the story, there was even a song. A song! Now she was really speaking my love language. We stood and copied Mrs. Barbara’s motions as we sang along with, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he!”
Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and I’m sitting in a courtyard with a group of about 15 Ugandan children singing that same song about the same “wee little man.” It’s the same song Mrs. Barbara taught us all those years ago with the same motions and everything.
My new Ugandan friends have just finished lesson five in The Greatest Journey, the Samaritan’s Purse discipleship program for kids who have received Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts. They learned about this Zacchaeus, who had made bad decisions and cheated people. They learned that he was so desperate to see Jesus as he came through town that he climbed up in a tree. With joy, they learned that Jesus called this man down from the tree and changed his life.Most importantly, they learned that the same Jesus can change their own lives.
Their teacher, Claire, fascinated the children and me. She taught them using interactive songs, engaging questions, and other activities including The Greatest Journey workbooks. As I saw how engrossed the kids were, I couldn’t help but think of Mrs. Barbara’s felt board. Claire’s engaging manner and enthusiasm for sharing the Gospel with children were evident.
“Once you believe in and accept Jesus, you are His friend,” she taught. “Sometimes you might still do bad things that you shouldn’t, but you can talk to God at any time and ask for forgiveness.”
I smiled as they practiced their memory verse for the lesson together, 2 Corinthians 5:17, complete with motions showing that, “Anyone who believes in Christ is a new creation. The old is gone. The new has come.”
After the lesson, I sat in the courtyard with 10-year-old Moses. He and his chatty friend Kelton told me about what they thought about Zacchaeus’ story.“He was not a good man!” Moses said emphatically (and loudly because Kelton was trying to talk over him). “But it’s a good story because it has so many things I like! I learned that God loves our friends and us. I learned that God is with us … that He is always with us.”
Through The Greatest Journey, Moses, Kelton, and hundreds of thousands of children like them are learning more about how, just like Zacchaeus, they can be a new creation in Christ. With passionate teachers like Claire, the Gospel is coming alive before their eyes and the stories are becoming real.
Moses was very excited to tell me that he has been sharing the lessons of The Greatest Journey with his friend Samuel.
“I showed him the stories, and we were happy to read them,” Moses said.
This is the heart of The Greatest Journey—passionate, trained teachers digging into the Gospel with children around the world who, in turn, share these lessons with their own friends. It’s the Gospel in action and made real to children like Moses in Uganda. And they don’t even need a felt board.