John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
Ten years ago, some from our family of faith took a mission trip to Meriden, Connecticut but we were not quite prepared for what awaited us there. Meriden was a very poor city and we were in the poorest section of town. Each day the city would bring free lunches out to the kids in the neighborhood parks and we would set up to do vacation Bible school for the kids when they were done eating. As we walked the streets to let people know about our VBS in the park, we quickly became aware of the presence of a number of gangs. There were Crips wearing blue, Bloods wearing red, and one gang that wore baseball shirts. There was even a Banditos motorcycle gang headquarters about two blocks from the park where we were having VBS. It was a tough place. The gangs were tough. The parents were tough. Even the little kids were a little tough. It did not take us long to figure out that we were not in Kyle, Texas anymore. It was hard to imagine how God could ever use a bunch of white, middle class young people from a small town in Texas in a place like this.
Despite the presence of the gangs, the week went well, we got to talk with some of the gang members about Jesus, and a number of the children prayed to receive Christ. On that last night of VBS we planned to have an ice cream social in the park, but it was pouring down rain. We couldn’t imagine that anyone from the neighborhood would want to come to an ice cream social, and especially not in the rain, but we decided to go by the park anyway. When we got there, we were amazed to see lots of kids and their parents standing under a tree in the rain waiting for us. We quickly got out our tent and set it up. Some of the youth stood out in the rain to make room for more people from the neighborhood. We all huddled together under the tent as best we could and ate ice cream. Afterward, we went over with the parents some of the things we had done with their kids at VBS. As we prepared to end the evening, we shared the same simple plan of salvation we had offered at VBS. When the invitation was given almost every adult under the tent expressed a desire to receive Jesus as their Savior. I was so shocked I gave the invitation again to make sure everyone understood. But the second invitation produced the same amazing result. Almost every adult there was saved. As we were preparing to leave, we heard someone from the backyard of a house adjoining the park asking of we still had ice cream. One of their children was having a birthday and they didn’t have any ice cream. We are laughed as we handed the leftover ice cream over the fence to them.
I think I learned some important lessons on that trip. First, people are just people; no matter where they live, or how much money they have, or what culture they claim as their own. Second, we all have problems, some more than others, but we all need Jesus. Third, Jesus loves everyone and given half a chance, He will receive anyone who comes to Him with open arms. Oh, yes, one other thing. Everybody likes Ice cream.