They ran for the bus
When I stepped off the Big Red Bus at a stop along the Impact Ireland route the OM Ireland staff and short-term participants waved and cheered at the arrival. They knew as well as I did that the presence of the Big Red Bus would change the face of today’s kids club.
They told me that they’d walked around a couple of housing estates the night before to hand out flyers for the kids club. When chatting with some neighbourhood kids, they’d ask “Do you know the Big Red Bus?” Each time, they got a wild reaction of excitement.
So when we drove into a local estate that day, I looked out the upper level windows of the bus to see what kind of reception we’d receive. Knowing that I was responsible for taking photos of the day’s events, I prayed that there would be an encouraging number of kids and enough excitement to carry our team through the club.
In sets of two or three, neighbourhood kids flew out of their houses and ran to the lawn next to the bus. They jumped up and down, waved, shrieked, asked about games and crafts and ultimately stared up at the massive red vehicle like a long-lost friend. Even as strangers stepped off the bus (our team members who’d be leading the kids club), the kids welcomed every one of us because we were part of the Big Red Bus.
I won’t deny that the first half-an-hour or so was quite chaotic. Everyone running around, burning more energy than I’ve had in weeks, before finally settling into groups to play games, make crafts on the lower level and enjoy the puppet show on the upper level of the bus. The team expertly managed the group of 15-20 kids, and I snuck around in the background with my cameras. As long as I could stay out of the way, I’d be okay.
That’s when the other group arrived…the huge group of kids from the asylum-seeker hotel up the road. The energy level in the housing estate spiked, and I stood back and watched as most of them ran straight for the parachute spread on the grass.
I crept over to our team leader who lived in the area and had gone to the hotel to invite the kids. This group was huge! Where did they come from? What was their story?
“They’re from all over Africa. Every story is different. For some of them, there are groups within a country that help women and young children get out; but that means that husbands, brothers, older sons are all stuck back there. They could be here for 8-10 years before they’re granted asylum and the rest of their family could try to come join them here. Or they’re here for 8-10 years and sent back.”
That made me stop in my tracks and see these families in a new light. In this moment, they were happy, loved, shown favour and attention. But a month from now? A year? Who knows where they’ll be or when they’ll have a chance to see the rest of their family. I made a choice to leave my home country, but I knew exactly when I’d see my family again. These kids, these mothers…they hadn’t had a choice and they couldn’t know.
One thing was for certain. They’d chosen to come to the Big Red Bus. They’d come running around the corner to join the team for games, crafts, a puppy show, a story…for love. As they whipped the colourful parachute in the air and took turns running under it, their faces shone with a child’s happiness. It didn’t matter that we were strangers, or that they might not see us again. For that afternoon, in that moment, they were out of that hotel with people who were willing to play with them, run around with them and show them that they were loved no matter where they came from.
As our team boarded the Big Red Bus and pulled away from the curb, a small group of kids waved and jogged down the sidewalk alongside the bus until we turned the corner. Even then, we could hear them yelling ‘Goodbye! Thank you!’ behind us. It was only an afternoon, a couple of hours to show them love, tell them about Jesus Christ and bless them with a balloon animal to take home.
Yet they’d run. They ran to greet us and they ran to say goodbye and thank you one more time. I can’t remember the last time I ran (physically or metaphorically) because I was so excited about something.