A Kid at Heart

09/01/2017 .
Jessica Wong  .  Student Volunteer Storyteller

It had been seven years since her first back surgery when Maria Martinez received the news that she would need a second one. Worry could have easily overtaken someone in her situation — she had not been able to tolerate painkilling drugs after her first surgery — but Maria kept fear at bay by praying and asking her small group to pray for her. Amazingly, after the second surgery which involved putting three rods and multiple screws in her low back, she only needed two extra-strength Tylenols every six hours to handle the pain. Maria shared with the awestruck nurses and doctors about God, her small group, and the power of prayer.

Even while recovering from the surgery, Maria longed to return to serving her church family. Prior to joining Saddleback, she had especially enjoyed working in children’s ministries: mentoring children, playing with them, and teaching them about Christ. When she heard about the Saddleback Kids’ Main Event, Maria was eager to volunteer. It had been several months since her surgery, and she felt ready to serve again.

The SK Main Event — a week-long summer program for children in kindergarten through sixth grade — hosts hundreds of kids every summer. The week is packed full with games, stories, snacks, crafts, and live productions. As a great-grandmother who enjoys spending time with and serving children, Maria signed up to serve a group of eleven kindergarteners. It had been several months since her back surgery but she felt ready for the chance to be involved with the kids.

When she expressed interest in serving at the Main Event, fellow volunteers were understandably concerned. Would she be able to keep up with eleven kindergarteners? There were no guarantees, but Maria decided to trust God to keep her from falling and reinjuring her back. She believed God had a plan and would take care of her. She wanted to focus on the children, reassuring the volunteers she was healthy enough to play an active role.

During the first two days, Maria connected with the eleven kindergarteners, guiding them through activities and helping them from station to station. Seeing the children’s excitement brought a smile to Maria’s face. That smile was stuck there the entire week as she watched their joy and enthusiasm carry over from each activity to the next, listening to their bubbly laughter, and seeing firsthand their wholehearted love for Christ. By the end of the second day, she realized she didn’t have to just watch her little group — she could join in on the fun! She would have to be careful; there was still a risk of reinjuring herself, especially since the activities involved water. Yet Maria refused to worry. She recalled God’s promise that all things work together for good. Each day that week, she prayed for strength and safety, for herself and all those involved at the Main Event.

The next day, she donned her bathing suit and played along with the kindergarteners. She had a blast running around with them and getting soaked by their water guns. "For those twenty minutes, I was a five-year-old kid again,” Maria recalls. “I felt I was part of the group. They will accept you as long as you’re a playmate, you listen to them, and you love them.”

After the week was over, one of the kindergarteners sent her a drawing, capturing the moment she played with them in the water. That one, short activity stood out to the child and left a positive impression. Another child from her group saw her while she was helping at Saddleback Kids and excitedly announced, “I remember you. I squirted you at the Main Event!” Maria also sent handwritten cards to each of the eleven children. Several of them told her that they had kept the cards on their dressers. These moments touched Maria’s heart. They showed her that the time she spent getting to know the group of kindergarteners, and especially playing with them, had resonated with the children.

“Adults are usually busy doing their own thing, so when you spend time with a child, it really helps them,” Maria says. She treasures the relationships she made with the children during the Main Event, making sure to greet them and talk with them whenever she sees them at church.

Maria has always believed in the importance of serving children. “As they grow, they’ll be facing a lot of pressures. I realized that I, even with my gray hair, could make a connection with them. Hopefully it’ll mean something to them in the future.” As Maria’s story demonstrates, it isn’t just teaching that makes an impact on children. Even when simply talking or playing with them, we serve as examples to them and can show them the love of God’s family and how to show that love to others.

Learn more about getting involved with Saddleback Kids HERE.

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