Hannah’s house had eight-foot-tall bookcases shoved against its white cement walls. Seven-year old Hannah loved to read everything, especially Boxcar Children and American Girl books.
But she was very smart and she got bored when she knew it already. Like the Beginner’s Bible stories each night before jumping under the mosquito net. Usually Mom and Dad still read from that Bible so the younger kids could understand.
One day she was lying on her daisy comforter-covered bed with a kids’ Bible she hadn’t seen before. It was probably a Christmas present, maybe from Grandma Rasmussen.
There were the usual stories, Adam and Eve, Noah, David, Jesus, you know. But then there was a picture with a hand – with no arm – writing letters on the wall. That wasn’t supposed to be there. There weren’t any Bible stories about that, silly! But it was, and it had right under the title the actual verses straight from the real adult Bible.
What if there were other stories in the Bible that the adults never taught the kids?
Grandma Rasmussen taught Hannah how to bake cinnamon rolls, and how to iron, and make beds, and learn the three- and four- times tables. It was because she used to be a home economics and math teacher.
She and Grandpa were pastors too. She tried to teach Hannah the song, “Come everybody let us tell, the books of the Bible we know so well… Genesis, Exodus…”
Hannah knew the tune, but the words she knew were Swahili syllables she just tried to copy in her mouth. Later, she read the Table of Contents from the Swahili Bible and figured out what they had been teaching her to sing in PEFA Sunday School. It was the only thing she learned from ten years of PEFA Sunday School.
But Hannah learned things at Sand Hill Lake Bible Camp in Minnesota. It was for the whole family, but she was eight so she was with the other kids. At craft time she learned how to make “God’s eyes” by crossing two popsicle sticks and winding bright colored yarn around them. She was really good at not letting the yarn overlap. She learned the theme verse that year, which was Jeremiah 29:11. And she learned that the lady up front was called Rebecca H. and she was very nice to Hannah because she was a missionary kid from East Africa too.
In East Africa at school on Monday mornings, all the kids had to walk in a line to assembly. Everyone had to have their white and blue uniforms tucked in. The Headmaster made us sing songs like “Oh Cinnamon, where you gonna run to, all on that day?” Later Hannah figured out that it was the British way to say “sinner man.”
The headmaster usually told the story of the Good Samaritan, and that it meant we should all be nice to each other, and that Gandhi and Mohammed and Jesus all got the idea about how to be good people. Pretty much all the kids were Muslim Indians, and everybody liked the really Christian science teacher and hated the headmaster, who was Anglican or something. He always ended by telling all the kids they would look like spoiled brats if they littered. They could tell he didn’t mean it when he sang about “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”
Hannah and her atheist Dutch friend talked about God as eleven-year-olds. Hannah started wondering if she was lying when she sang the songs about loving God and believing him.
Then Hannah left that school and moved to Chicago. Dad taught pastors at a Bible school in Tanzania but God told him to get more training at Trinity. She made friends with Rachel, the brave New Zealander, and Neema, the tomboy from India. They went to Kids on Kampus together.
Mr. Mike was the leader of Kids on Kampus. He loved puns, taking kids out for ice cream, and the Bible. Once he gave the kids a talk about how “as long as it is called today” we need to respond to God. It was really real to him. Maybe Hannah didn’t know it already. Maybe the Bible was sixty-six books on an eight-foot-tall bookshelf. Maybe thought she had read them but had only read the blurb or looked at the pictures. That happened sometimes.
Hannah didn’t have to read the kids’ Bibles anymore. For her birthday, Grandma Rasmussen gave Hannah a card with Jeremiah 29:11 at the bottom (as always) and a Daily Bible. That meant it was arranged in chronological order because she wanted to read each day together with “my special Hannah.” Hannah tried really hard for a while but had to skip through parts of the Law because it got too boring, and gave up partway through Psalms, or maybe earlier.
Hannah also got a real Bible, an NIV Teen Study Bible from the Trinity bookstore. She and her Trinity friends always biked there to buy candy, listen to free music samples, and hide behind the shelves reading in the teen section. She made a goal to read one to four chapters of the New Testament every day. She almost always ended up reading four chapters, and wrote a lot of pencil marks on the sides.
Rachel, Neema and Hannah all started reading the Bible because of Mr. Mike. They got together and talked about God and doubt. They met on a field on the other side of campus a couple times and gave each other sermons they wrote themselves.
The Trinity kids were very different from the rest of their school. There were a lot of Catholics and Jews with ipods, au pairs, North Faces and Birkenstocks. Michael Jordan’s kid was in Hannah’s 22-person eighth grade art class. Hannah took eighth grade art and math instead of seventh grade math like all the other kids her age. So every week the boys threw their dodgeballs at her and her Trinity friends.
Jewish Ian put a Time Magazine cover on the locker next to Hannah’s that said, “Looking for the Real Jesus?” and signed it “Jésus”, his name in Spanish class. It made the three friends angry. They started to call themselves “Friends Always Through Christ Around the World” and became closer because of the tough times.
Hannah left the F.A.T.C.A.T.W. at the end of the second year to go back to the house with the white cement walls in Tanzania. At the last night of Kids of Kampus, Mr Mike and all the kids prayed for her and her family. The songs on the overhead seemed to pop out at her: “Prince of Peace,” “Emmanuel,” “Friend.” “Blessed be your name when the road’s marked with suffering…” And Hannah knew God was telling her there was a Friend who would be with her wherever she went.
While Hannah had been gone from the British Anglican school, her best friends had moved away. Her classmates now loved celebrities and partying and Hannah loved God. So she ate lunch with a new girl, another Dutch atheist.
Before school in the morning, Hannah read the Daily Bible Grandma Rasmussen had given her. At night, she wrote angry tearful letters to God for not being her friend. Then right before bed she sung a made-up tune to a Bible verse ten times that she’d written on an index card, a different one to memorize every week.
Back when Hannah gave her sermon to Rachel and Neema, it was on the “What Will They Think” factor from Galatians 1:10. Now, she said it like a rap to memorize it: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men/ or of God or am I trying to please men/ if I were still trying to please men/ I would not be a servant of Christ Galatians one ten.”
Slowly Hannah realized she had been blaming God for not keeping his promises but maybe it was her fault for being angry and very picky about friends. Then she realized God wasn’t picky about friends, and she shouldn’t be either. So she made three other friends. Then Dad and Mom told Hannah they might be moving to Kenya.
Hannah cried because she knew deep down it was meant to happen, but it was scary. They said goodbye to the house with the white cement walls, and went to visit the States for the summer before school started in Kenya.
At Sand Hill Lake Bible Camp again, one of the workshops was about listening to God. Hannah laid down on a pew. She remembered the theme verse from last time she was at Sand Hill Lake when she was eight and from Grandma Rasmussen’s birthday cards: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Then she remembered verses she had memorized before bed: “Be strong and courageous, do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” And: “If I rise on the wings of the dawn and settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
And this time Hannah wasn’t going to blame God for not keeping promises. For the talent show at Sand Hill Lake, she did a song she’d written about the last move. The chorus went, “Not in the gale of wind, not in the fire, not in the earthquake, but in the gentle whisper You are there, saying, ‘I love you more than life itself, Trust Me, Trust Me, I am Emmanuel.’”
And Hannah had more sleepovers in the first six weeks in Kenya than in the previous three years in Tanzania. Her new friends read the Bible and prayed together, because all of the friends were friends with God too. And Hannah realized maybe the Bible was God’s letters – sometimes angry and tearful – to God’s people for not being his friend. Why couldn’t everybody be friends?
Originally written for a college English assignment about my experience with the Bible.