A Mohawk Goes Missing
by Carole Mertz
One hundred fourteen kids wiggled, jumped, and swayed, rocking the sanctuary of St. John’s at the opening of vacation Bible school. The piped-in music was deafening.
In the din of excitement Mrs. Shelley, a leader of the preschool group attached name tags to each child in her group. She looked across the aisle and gave a quick wave to her son who was in the first grade group.
“I hope I can keep my kids close to me, especially at the closing time,” Mrs. Shelley said to the teacher sitting in front of her. “It gets confusing. How are we to know if these little ones are running to their parents, or to just anyone at random?” she shouted over the music.
“I know. We’ve been warned not to release a child to anyone but a parent or relative the child recognizes,” the teacher replied, “but with everyone running around, and the adults clamoring in the crowded narthex – the situation gets a bit out of hand.”
At 9:30, after checking off each child on her list, Mrs. Shelley and her assistants ushered all of the pre-schoolers to the nursery classroom. Mrs. Shelley checked the schedule again: classroom lessons at 9:40, followed by snack time, outdoor exercises in the front playground and, finally, crafts.
Shortly after 10:00 there was a firm knock at Mrs. Shelley’s door. “Jean, could you step out for a minute?” the first grade leader asked. She spoke soberly. “We’ve lost track of Jay.”
“What? You’ve – you don’t know where he is? Did you check the bathrooms?”
“Yes, we’ve checked all of them,” the group leader said.
“I can’t see how we could lose him. He dropped in to see me about 20 minutes ago. He told me he was on his way back to the sanctuary.”
St. John’s was a large and complicated building, appearing from a birds-eye view as an irregularly shaped star, with the sanctuary on the left, and various classrooms on the right. Most of these rooms were locked for the summer.
Mrs. Shelley asked her assistants to take over while she raced down the long hall to the pastor’s office. She hoped he had seen her son.
At 9:30 Jay had asked an assistant if he could go visit his mom in the nursery room. He knew she was busy with her preschoolers, but he wanted to ask her something. “Are we going to eat lunch here or at home?” he whispered to her.
“I’ll come and get you after closing and we’ll go out and have a pizza,” Mrs. Shelley told him, as she hugged him. “You run along to your lesson now.”
Jay was a happy child, proud of the mohawk haircut his dad had allowed him, and feeling secure within his loving family. Familiar with the layout of his church, he was completely comfortable at St. John’s. But on the third day of VBS, he felt tired and the loud music irritated him.
* * *
The day was hot and Jay sipped from the fountain on his return to the sanctuary. Passing through the narthex, he stopped to enjoy the breeze coursing from the open doors at the front through the open door at the back. Miss Beryl’s registration desk stood at the back, facing in, but Miss Beryl was not there.
Jay stepped outside onto a walkway made of new bricks. Red and yellow trumpet-like flowers on both sides of the walk drew him farther away from the music. How nice, he thought, as he followed a path around a corner. Oh! Here was a pretty place he’d never seen. It’s like an outdoor room! Straight ahead was a tall cross, almost as high as the church roof. He wondered if he could climb it.
Bushes and trees surrounded the six- by eight-foot space, nearly concealing the red and yellow trumpet blossoms beneath. He felt safe here. It was like a garden, except the floor in the center was made of something shiny, like brown glass that made Jay want to dance. He dipped and spun.
Then he noticed her, a white angel. She stood in front of him, with her wings folded at her sides, her hands clasped lovingly to the right side of her chest, her head bent
slightly. She was just a bit taller than Jay. Overjoyed, he offered up another dance, just for her.
“I suppose I really shouldn’t be here,” he said aloud, “but it’s so nice in this place. I’ll go tell Mom where I am.” He found the walkway and rounded the corner to re-enter the narthex. The door was shut. Jay pulled hard, but it wouldn’t budge. Then he knocked. No one heard him over the blaring music.
He ran back to the angel, not really frightened, but thinking he’d ask her what he should do. She appeared calm. “Go to the window,” she seemed to say. Jay looked to the right at a window a foot above the ground with a six-inch ledge. He climbed onto the ledge, did a little hip-wiggle and called, “Hey! Mom!” But nobody heard and nobody saw him through the stained glass.
Back in the garden Jay shouted, “Oh, look! Christmas trees!” He counted fourteen in all. Then he noticed there were four benches, each made of the same glass, like the floor. Each bore alphabet letters.
Jay, a first grader, was learning how to read. He sounded out the words. “Thy word is a lap unto my feet,” Jay read. Star shapes were cut into the marble. He read the letters again, “Thy Word is a l-a-m-p unto my feet.” Perhaps people had lights at their feet in the old days, he thought.
Another bench read, “I will praise the name of God with a song and will magnify him with thanksgiving.” I wonder what “magnify” means. Maybe that’s what the flowers are doing, he thought.
He approached the angel again. “Mommy will come for me soon, I suppose. She always keeps track of me.” Jay danced around. He didn’t notice the music inside had stopped, for he twirled now to the secret song of the trumpet flowers. Tired from dancing, he lay down on the bench nearest the angel. This was his favorite bench. He had read the words and considered them to be a special message for his mom.
* * *
Inside, a distraught Mrs. Shelley exclaimed to the pastor, “How did this happen? I . . . I don’t . . . in the opening ceremonies, he was there. I sent him off to his class when he came to my door, and then . . . ” Mrs. Shelley was on the edge of tears. “Pastor, what can we do?”
About an hour later, Mrs. Shelley struggled to keep up with Officer Marcus, of the Berwyn Police Force, as they circled the church building. Either from exertion or fear, she felt unable to breathe. “No sign of him. Dear God, what’s become of him?”
“Hold on!” said the officer. He sidled between some bushes and walked across a flower bed. Here was St. John’s Garden of Peace, a memorial sanctuary. “We’ve found him.”
“Oh!” said Mrs. Shelley in a shaky whimper. “We hadn’t thought to look here.” There on a bench was her five-year-old, asleep. She ran to him. But before waking him, she read the inscription on the bench: “Fear not, for lo, I am with you always.” Her heart swelled.
Carole Mertz lives in Wisconsin.