Lessons from the little ones: Building bridges in Pittsburgh

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

He was sitting in a chair with his back to a room full of Mennonite preschoolers.  He wouldn’t make eye contact with me as I sat down on the floor next to him, using everything I had in my bag of tricks.  I had offered my afternoon to help with the preschool class at Mennonite USA Convention and something drew me to this little loner.  Every question I asked was greeted with a shake of his head and a mournful whimper.

Little by little, we made progress.  Within a couple of moments, he was forcing his mouth into an “I’m not going to let you see me smile” frown that told me we were almost there.  Soon, he erupted into a laugh as he delighted in bouncing the ball past me so that I had to run after it.  And once the dam broke, his joy and energy filled the room as he engaged me in play.

About an hour later, I noticed a little girl tucked in a play tent, staring sadly at the ground.  My new little friend followed me over to her.  The instant I climbed in and plopped myself down next to her, the frown turned into a whimper and a trembling lip.  “I want my moooommy.”

“Do you want me to read you a story?” I asked.

“Nooo.”  The end of the word came out like a moan.

“Do you want to color a picture?”


I looked up and realized that my little friend had disappeared.  A moment later he returned with a coloring page and some crayons.  Instantly, the girl perked up.  Just as instantly, the trembling lip resurfaced.

“I only want to color with pink and purple,” she sighed, fingering the orange crayon.  Her benefactor disappeared again.

After a few seconds, he returned with a handful of purple crayons, dumping them onto my open palms.  In awe, I watched this little champion, this loner who had become the comforter.

“I’m going to go get another activity,” he stated strongly in accented English, laughing when I had to ask him several times to repeat himself.  “An ac-tiv-i-ty!” he said again, leaning in close to yell into my ear so that I would get it that time.

He was back sooner than expected, his eyes twinkling.  “Do you want to play with bubbles?” he asked, peering at her through the tent opening.  That’s all she needed to hear.  They were off, a little girl and a five-year-old Jesus, building bridges with bubbles and crayons.