By Madison Pettengill
Walking into the huge foyer of the largest Baptist church near us, the three year old me giggled and skipped as I held my mother’s hand while we were walking. After signing up and pinning a nametag to my shirt, mom and I walked back across the vast entrance and into a classroom labeled ‘Preschool’. I entered the room and beamed. Over twenty other kids my age were gallivanting around the room, playing in the midget-induced chaos that came from two or more preschoolers placed in a single location. These were the Cubbies of AWANA.
Four years and four classes later and I was out of Cubbies and into the primary school level of Sparkies. Ever since I had started in AWANA those four years previous, I had visited the enormous building every Wednesday from 6:00 - 8:30 and romped around for a full hour and a half playing the most ridiculously fun games imaginable, split off into a smallgroup, had a little bible study, then recited the couple of scripture verses we had memorized over the past week.
By my second year in Sparkies, I had fully memorized John 3:16, half of Psalm 23, and countless other single verses from all around the bible. I knew who God was, I could recite the creation story, Jesus was God’s son, Jesus had died and ‘wresarected’, Easter was not about bunnies, and Christmas was ‘Jesus’s birthday’. I could tell you how to get to Heaven. I could say that you need… something I lacked. I could hypocritically recite that you needed Jesus in your heart. I would say that you needed Him as your savior – something I did not have.
One day, a visitor came to AWANA and spoke to all the Sparkies during assembly. He was a man we all loved. Me especially, as he knew all the Doughnut Man songs by heart and often called me up from the crowd and we would sing them together. That day, the counselors had passed out chips, and I was munching on Cheetos, which were my favorite snacks of the time. With my eyes glued on the man – who’s name I don’t even remember – I silently passed one cheeto after another to my mouth. He spoke of God and Satan. He once more told the story I had heard more times than I can even now recount: First day, Light. Second day, sea and sky. Third day, land. Then birds and fish. After that, plants. Then animals. Then People. God had created the world, so he rested. Our storyteller told us about the trees. One of which would give you everlasting life. The other would give you the understanding of what evil was. The people ate it and were banished. The man then jumped to the other side of the bible and told about the cross and exactly why Jesus had died. All of a sudden, my hand stopped in the cheeto bag. The man had not stopped telling the story. He had not said anything new; I had already memorized this story. Something had just suddenly… made sense.
The story ended and a new sentence began. Our beloved ‘Doughnut Man guy’ asked the crowd at large if we wanted Jesus. Though my vocabulary was not as colorful at the time, my mind screamed the seven year old version of “Oh, heck, yes!”
Not waiting for an answer, the Doughnut Man guy led a collective sinner’s prayer to the 1stand 4th graders in the room. My life started then. It wasn’t a glorious ‘aha’ after a lifetime of evil. It wasn’t a heart-wrenching realization that Buddha didn’t have the answers. It wasn’t on the lonely deathbed of a darkened hospital room. It was me, sitting cross-legged, on the floor of a humongous Baptist church, with my hand in a bag of cheetos. God decided to start then.