Nine years ago, I left university. With an English degree under my belt and an unknown future stretching ahead of me, I embarked on a Gap Year working as a volunteer for ShipleyBaptistChurch. My work co-ordinator was a hairy gentleman by the name of John Froud.
It wouldn’t be over-stating things to say that that year changed my life. I found a husband (David, not John Froud, although they do share a commitment to beards). I became a storyteller. And I discovered what it was that I needed to be doing.
As part of my work, John arranged for me to go into a local primary school for one afternoon a week, supporting the teacher with their year two class. It was a typical class of children; from the timid girl who played with her hair whenever she spoke to the giggling gaggle of girlies who were inseparable, the boy who always had a smile on his face and a piece of Lego in his hand to the lively pocket of lads who never quite managed to do what they were supposed to be doing. It was a place that was full of life.
After several weeks, the teacher discovered that I was a fledgling storyteller and asked me to tell a story to the children at the end of the afternoon. This quickly became part of the weekly routine. I loved it – and so did the kids.
But it was one boy in particular that I’ll never forget. He was one of the naughty boys, the ones who couldn’t settle to their work, who were always in trouble after playtime, who had a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he had a glint in his eye and a cheeky little smile and I know that he had a good heart.
One week, he sidled up to me during ‘Golden Time’, the magic half hour at the end of the day when the children were allowed to choose what they wanted to do. This was one of those rare occasions when he had managed to not get into so much trouble that he had his golden time taken away.
“Miss,” he said, leaning towards me.
“What story are you telling today?”
“Well…” I said. “I can’t tell you the story, cos it would spoil it…”
His face fell a little.
“But… I could give you a hint or two, just to give you a taste for it…”
He looked up at me.
“There’s a frog in it,” I said. “And a princess. And a talking tree.”
He pondered this information briefly, then announced, “I’m going to draw the tree!”
And off he went. When he returned a few minutes later, he brought with him a sheet of paper with a pen drawing of a tree in the middle of it, orange and green with a face carved into the trunk. And it was beautiful. He had a real talent.
“Would you like to stand and hold your picture up when we get to the bit with the tree?” I asked.
So that’s what we did. When I got to the bit with the tree and he stood up, there wasa moment when his teacher wasn’t sure, when she assumed that he was doing something he shouldn’t, because that’s what he always did. But the moment passed, and he stood there, proudly holding his picture, for the rest of the story.
It was a small moment, just a brief passing of time in one hour of one day of his whole life. But that moment made a difference. Because in that moment he knew what it was to be proud of himself, to feel like he’d achieved something. It was a good moment that he could share with his mum as they left school together.
And from that moment, I knew that this was what I wanted to do.
I love the Zephaniah Trust. John has created a charity that shines light and spreads hope wherever it goes. Those moments of light and hope may be small ones, but I believe that they really do make a difference.
The schools we visit are wonderful places, full of life, where God’s image can be seen reflected in so many different people. But they are also places that need to see God’s light shining. In every school, there are adults and children who carry burdens, who need to know that God is there and God is real. They need us to keep our light shining.
I still have the tree picture…
The Zephaniah Trust and I are currently fundraising to support my storytelling work, replacing a £10,000 funding stream that ends later this year - find out more about the fundraising fashion show event we're running here or if you'd like to make a donation, click here.