I’m privileged to lead a weekly Sunday School group of children between the ages of 9 and 13 in a low-income settlement just outside our city in Cape Town. Teaching them regularly challenges me to dig deep into the foundations of my faith and find ways to express biblical lessons in relatable ways. On one occasion, I planned to discuss the story Jesus told of the shepherd who left 99 sheep to search for the one that was lost.1 I’ve heard and told the story many times, but I wanted to have an impact on these children’s lives. The class had gathered, and I still wasn’t sure how to build the lesson. And then, it came to me.
“If you have 100 cents, and you lose one, is that a lot?” I asked. Most of the children shook their heads, looking slightly perplexed. “And if you have 100 dollars, and you lose one, would you look for it?” More than half of the heads nodded; these money issues are something they face daily. “Okay, and if you have 100 million dollars, and you lose one million, would it matter?” Exclamations of shock filled the room, and cries of “yes, of course!” mingled with emphatic nods from all. Now the moment of truth.
“Well, you and I are like that one lost sheep. There are BILLIONS of people in the world, yet when we are lost, Jesus loves and looks for us. To Him, we’re worth more than we can imagine. We might feel like only one out of so many, but Jesus looks at us and sees value beyond measure.” Silence prevailed for a few moments, then I continued. “I want each of you to say out loud ‘I am valuable to God!’ Now turn to the person next to you and say ‘You are loved by God!’” With beaming smiles, they affirmed to each other the simple truth that we each matter.
And I learned once again that even the loneliest lost sheep is unquestionably loved by God. It’s not about being the best, brightest, or most righteous. It’s about trying and failing, going astray and being gently guided home. It’s about being clods of dirt, yet amazingly desired as gems,2 and being sought until we’re found, because God wants each and every one of us in His fold.