Yasin’s only 9, but he’s been around long enough to know.
Long enough to know he shouldn’t be looking at the pictures of naked women that someone at his school keeps texting him.
Long enough to know that Jesus is important. “If I were a superhero, I’d be Victory Man – like ‘victory in Jesus.'”
Long enough to know that if the church people show up to do a Kids Club at his Atlanta-area apartment complex, he should call all the kids in the neighborhood to come.
But don’t assume Yasin really knows.
“I want you to paint a cross on my arm,” he says determinedly and so everyone could hear him, after all the girls have asked for hearts and flowers and butterflies. After the boys have asked for tiger stripes.
I dip into the brown paint and start a simple cross, painting slowly on purpose.
“You were talking about Jesus’ cross earlier,” I asked him. “What do you know about Jesus?”
“I know that He was a really good man. I know that He died on a cross and that there was blood and chunks and stuff everywhere.”
In Yasin’s mind, that’s where it stops.
But thankfully for him, he’s in a blessed place – an apartment complex filled with a kaleidoscope of nationalities, single parents, chicken-factory workers, Hindu priests, abstract artists, political refugees. A place where reggaeton thumps in the parking lot, curry wafts out the windows and face paint marks adults’ devotion, not just kids’ play.
A place where dozens of languages are spoken but one in particular is speaking louder than the others in recent days.
As Yasin’s getting his cross, students from an Alabama church are singing songs about Jesus with south Asian kids, painting the nails of Indian and African-American girls and chatting with Nepali refugee parents. One teenage girl holds a little girl on each hip, clumsily engaging in a game of freeze tag. It’s not the first time the church has been in the complex loving on the people there and it won’t be the last.
A south Asian boy walks up and says, “I want my arm painted.”
“What do you want on it?”
He thinks about that for a minute.
I start to paint. “Do you know who Jesus is?”
He timidly shakes his head – he doesn’t know.
But he knows he should know. And he knows that the people who come from the church love him.
And that’s a great, great start.