Lessons from Two Hungry Boys

In this post I share the experiences of two five-year-old boys. Both, now adults, live very different lives. Kevin’s story disturbed me greatly while Robby’s gave me hope. The more their stories rolled around in my mind I realized I was missing something. I couldn’t put my finger on what or why.

I initially thought the problem concerned how we serve the most vulnerable among us. I believe that work is an ongoing necessity. But the more I mulled on the matter I came to a different realization which I explore throughout the post. By the end I conclude that we continue to revaluate how we walk and live as individual Christians among our communities.

But first let me tell you about these two boys. I’ve changed their names and tweaked the setting a bit, but other than that, the stories reveal real experiences.

Kevin’s Story

When a local business was unable to resolve a problem that had been giving us all kinds of grief at our house we were referred to another company.

Kevin was sent out to assess our situation. He parked his truck in the driveway behind the house. Instead of coming to the back door as instructed in a text he went around to the front door and rang the doorbell.

“Yes sir, I know, sir,” he immediately and respectfully apologized when Micheal opened the door. “I know you meant for me to come in through the back, but I find it more professional to meet my customers face-to-face at their front door. I hope you don’t mind.”

Micheal invited him inside. Kevin politely wiped his feet and closed the door. Once inside they discussed the pros and cons of maintaining an older and unique home. Older homes are notorious for having sloping floors, cracked ceilings, and a fare share of foundation and plumbing issues. Our home built in 1880 was no exception.

They continued to chat. Kevin shared he had lived in Colorado as a small boy. Since our family had lived in a small town in Colorado years ago, the two made a connection and continued to visit. Kevin was familiar with that part of the city. It had expanded since we moved to Missouri and he described in detail the wealth and affluence of that area.

“The homes are magnificent,” he remarked!

Micheal asked what brought him to Missouri and learned he moved to live near his father.

They turned their attention to the task Kevin was sent to do. A brief exchange took place regarding the resolutions for our home-owner-woes. He reassured Micheal that another specialist would get in touch with us shortly.

As he prepared to get in his truck to leave he turned and asked Micheal one last question. “So, you said you teach at a college — now I’m curious. If you don’t mind my asking, what is it that you teach?”

“Well, “Micheal began, “I teach classes on the New Testament and the Bible.” Kevin gave him a blank stare. “I also teach classes about missions.” Another blank stare. “Oh, and I train young people to serve in the church,” he added in an attempt to make a connection with Kevin.

Kevin, respectfully responded, “Oh, so let me get this right, you essentially teach subjects that I know absolutely nothing about! I am clueless and do not understand a single thing about what you just said!”

Micheal was a bit dumbfounded, “Really, I’m not sure I believe you?”

“No, honestly,” Kevin reiterated, “I’ve never been in a church building in my whole life. I don’t have a clue what church is about. It has never been a part of my life.” He paused, then with a distant look in his eyes, he said, “Well except for that one time when I was five years old.”

Then he poured out a memory from his childhood.

He didn’t live in any well-to-do suburb. He recalled days and nights of poverty. He went on to describe the one and only time he visited a church. It was in the downtown area of the city.

“We were starving and so very hungry. Dad heard of a church that served meals to the hungry. So we went there. We joined the others standing in a long food line. We wanted to get out of the cold, but we really needed a hot meal to fill our hungry bellies.”

“I remember my stomach kept growling,” Kevin continued. “I could smell the food. We all sat on benches inside the room and waited. I was so small my feet couldn’t reach the floor. I tried to stop fidgeting but I simply couldn’t help it. I was only five years old and so hungry!”

He went on, “Before they let us eat, though, the people in charge insisted we listen to uh, a message, or sermon, or whatever you call that thing! Trust me, it was very, very long! I don’t remember anything about what was said. All I remember is it felt like an eternity to me!”

“Maybe it wasn’t the best plan,” he said. “Maybe I would have remembered more if they had let us eat before making us listen to the talk. All I remember, is that I was too hungry to think of anything but food. Anyway, we left after we ate. Don’t get me wrong, we were glad to be fed.”

He turned and looked Micheal in the eyes, “I’ve never stepped foot inside a church again!”

With that said, he hopped in the company truck and drove away, leaving Micheal standing in the yard regretting not inviting him back into the house for coffee.

Kevin’s story brought me to tears, literally. The image of a this little boy haunted me throughout the night.

Was there no one in the center who saw him? Did no one kneel down on his level and offer him a piece of buttered bread while the adults listened to the message?

A place meant to be a sanctuary became a source of shame, or so I thought, even though in retelling his story Kevin never indicated any sense of shame in needing a helping hand, nor did he deride the church and Christianity in sharing his memory. No doubt the adults in the room fully recognized the bartering that took place – attention to a gospel message in exchange for a meal.

After a fitful night of sleep I woke in the morning remembering a different kind of story. This five year old’s story gave me hope. Maybe we get it right more often than not. Or at least I thought.


Robby lived in a small house in a large city in an impoverished neighborhood. His parents loved him in their own way. He spent many afternoons playing alone. His parents often remained preoccupied with adult things.

One day while Robby was alone playing in the front yard a van came driving through the neighborhood. It turned the corner and headed down the street where Robby lived. The driver, spying a little boy all alone in the yard, slowed down and stopped close to the curb of the street.

Curious as boys naturally are, he stopped playing and walked over to the edge of the yard. The stranger seemed friendly enough. He rolled down the window and began to ask all sorts of questions.

“Where are your parents?”

“Why are you playing alone?”

“Would you like to come to a place where you can make friends?”

The stranger made promises. “Are you hungry? If you come with me I will give you snacks?”

“Are you lonely? I know a place where you’ll play games with other boys and girls. You’ll make new friends and even get to hear fun and exciting stories!”

“Does that sound like fun to you? Do you wanna come with me?”

Robby’s eyes grew large with excitement!

How did the man know he was hungry? His mouth began to water, imagining a table filled with candy and food to eat. How did this man know he was sad and lonely? The idea of playing games with other children would be a dream come true.

He was torn. What should he do?

“Yes, yes, I want to come with you,” he told the strange man in the van!

“Well, then,” the stranger said, “why don’t you run into the house and ask if you can come with me.”

He raced up the steps. The screen door slammed behind him. Excited and breathless, he yelled out, “Please, please, mom and dad, can I go with the man outside?”

“What man are you talking about? How many times have we told you not to talk to strangers?”

Robby caught his breath and slowed down. He told them about the van and the friendly stranger who stopped in front of their house.

“The man saw me playing in the yard and said he could help me make friends! Mom, Dad, he knew I was hungry and said there will be snacks to eat! Please, can I go with him? Please, I think he is a good person,” hoping they would let him go.

His parents walked to the window and pulled back the curtains to get a better look. They were relieved to see the van was clearly marked from a church in the neighborhood.

Now Robby’s parents had little use for any church. But on this day his parents, for whatever reason, decided to let their five year old go by himself with the stranger to the church down the street.

Robby fell in love with the church and attended as many activities as he could. He grew to know the stories of the Bible and fell in love with Jesus. He knew in his heart that he would follow Jesus all of his life.

I met Robby a while ago. He is married with children and serves in the church. As a child he knew the gnawing pain of physical hunger. Today, as an adult, he is filled with a different hunger – a hunger for truth and righteousness.

As I compared these two accounts with remarkably different outcomes I became more than upset. I turned my gaze to the organization – the two churches. I blamed one for failing to turn a young child’s life around. If only their methods would improve, I thought, then surely all who walked through their doors would fall in grateful worship to Jesus. I extolled the other – a life saved – because they loved this little one into the fold.

But even this was unsatisfactory. Surely there were others on that bus who took a different path than Robby.

Something wasn’t making sense. Back and forth I went in my mind looking for a resolution.

I admit I found it remarkable that someone living in the midwest, saturated as it is with churches and thousands upon thousands claiming to be disciples of Christ, would not have eventually encountered someone claiming to be a Christian. Or at least be engaged in a conversation about spiritual matters or things of the church.

So I blamed myself, the church, and for remaining isolated and invisible in the community. If only we’d come out into the open, share our stories, more would respond? Right? Maybe we’re not loving the lost enough? If we love more, surely more would respond.

So why didn’t they?

My thoughts were troubling. I didn’t like where they led me.

Words from my past childhood reverberated in my ears – Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated – words from the book of Romans, taunting me to believe the doctrine that God saw and loved one small child but turned away from the other in disgust. The thoughts were nauseating.

How many times had I heard these words callously spoken around the dinner table and taught from the pulpit about the many predestined to walk the path to perdition? Too many!

Maybe it was my own memory of watching my name written down on the non-elect side of a timeline that my father scratched on the green chalkboard, conveniently located in our kitchen for family devotions. Was I an Esau, someone God hated?

It finally dawned on me. I could not, would not, allow the doctrine of predestination and election explain why these two little boy’s adult lives were so different.

What I didn’t realize was my failure to factor free will into the equation.

Love is essential, but it wasn’t a matter of loving more. Hadn’t the essence of LOVE, embodied in God Incarnate, been rejected by many, even while Jesus walked the earth among us? I had to admit that even LOVE is incapable of drawing another to it. Loving and returning love is a voluntary act.

One of my favorite Bible stories came to mind.

After 400 years of enslavement we read of the exodus of a people out of the hands of Pharaoh in Egypt. They wandered 40 years in the wilderness, miraculously fed manna and quail from heaven. Finally, thousands stand at edge of the river bank peering into the promised land – a land of endless possibilities. And they are given a choice!

Joshua, their leader offers them an opportunity:

“But if it doesn’t please you to worship Yahweh, choose for yourselves today the one you will worship: the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. As for me and my family, we will worship Yahweh.” 

Joshua 24:15, Holman Christian Standard Bible

The act of worship is something humans naturally do – or so it seems. Some even desire to be worshipped. But, worship is voluntary.

No one in the Scriptures was ever strong-armed into serving, worshipping, or obeying the LORD. Endless possibilities for worship were available in Joshua’s day. Endless possibilities are available today. Some will choose to follow Yahweh and others will walk a different path than the one Joshua chose – one, according to Scripture leads to destruction, and the other leads to life.

How I wish programs could rescue every person from their troubled situations – some caused by their own choices – whether they wanted rescuing or not. Unfortunately, that would require running rough-shod over a person’s own free will. History is filled with stories of the church strong-arming peoples by doing precisely that – forcing peoples to worship against their will.

But I realized this amazing truth – If God doesn’t work this way then neither should we. God’s love is abundantly poured out for all to enjoy – even for those who choose not to acknowledge God.

What have I learned from these two little boys?

That their stories matter. I see myself reflected in both stories. Perhaps you see yourself in these stories as well.

I’ve been a Kevin, spiritually hungry but unseen. I’ve been a Robby nurtured by others when not nurtured by my own family. We expect the church – that holiest of places – to be there in our time of need, to see us, truly see us. Sometimes it does, but at other times it fails. The church is to be a place of healing, that is true, but too often the church is the very place where our deepest pain and shame is experienced.

These two boys have taught me that we need to keep feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. That we must continue the work for mercy and justice. Physical needs should be met before hearts can open. And, it is always in a loving community that a faith is nurtured.

If I’ve learned anything from exploring these two stories it is that I must better emulate God’s way of loving – one that pours out abundantly on all while making room for others to choose whom or what they worship.

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