I wonder: Did the boy hesitate, thinking the disciples must be crazy, or did he eagerly hand over his five loaves and two fishes when they told him Jesus wanted to use them to feed the hungry multitude?
The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle of Christ that is recorded in all four gospels, and the account in the Book of John is the only one that mentions the boy: “One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?’” (John 6:8-9)
You probably know the story: Jesus is teaching the multitudes in a place near the Dead Sea when his disciples suggest He send the people away so they can head into the nearby villages and find food for themselves. “You give them something to eat,” Jesus replies. It’s hardly surprising that they respond with incredulity: “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little,” Philip says in John 6:7. And then Andrew points out that there is a boy among the crowd with barley loaves and fish, and Jesus takes the meager portion and proceeds to feed the multitude with it. And after every person has eaten his fill, the disciples collect the scraps and leftovers, gleaning 12 baskets of bread.
As we have been talking during the past couple of weeks with some leaders in the community of Peris, a forgotten little place located along the road between Montrouis and Saint Marc in Haiti, I have been referring to this miracle over and over again.
Our ministry, Supply and Multiply, does not have the resources to solve the problems of Peris. Even if we did not sometimes struggle to meet the needs of our own elder care ministry, and even if schools were part of our normal slate of work, we’d still be faced with the reality that Peris is a solid 20-minute drive from the area where we normally do ministry. Everything about this place is outside of our normal scope.
And yet, God brought us to this place, and He put these people in front of us. There are surely a thousand such poor communities in Haiti and probably as many mission schools that are struggling to pay their teachers after their founders and other donors have finally gone. But God brought us to THIS community and showed us THIS school and gave us the opportunity to minister to THESE kids and their teachers.
And so, on Monday, as we unloaded $150 worth of food (that buys 225 pounds of rice, 50 pounds of beans and 50 small bottles of cooking oil here) from the bus and onto the front porch of the school director’s home, I found myself thinking about that kid who gave up his bread and fish near the Dead Sea nearly 2,000 years ago.
What strikes me first is that of all the five thousand, he is the only one Scripture marks as having arrived with his own food. In other words, he came prepared; maybe he was the first Boy Scout. We can also suppose that he brought what he had to bring. We all have some gift, some ability or some talent, that we can allow God to use for His glory. It may seem insignificant in the face of what seems an overwhelming need, but in the hands of Jesus, our gifts can be multiplied beyond our mind’s ability to imagine. First, though, we must be ready to be used.
In Peris, we saw an overwhelming need. An orphaned boy living in the streets of this community was simply the most visible evidence of the great needs of this community. A mission school whose American founder and benefactor had stopped sending money and made her last visit to Haiti five years ago operates with teachers often unpaid, its building in need of repair and its students wearing tattered uniforms or none at all. There is no longer money to feed the children there, and yet they still come.
I knew we could not change the long-term situation for this school, and I knew we could not solve all of the problems of Peris, but I believed we had to do something. We may only have had a few loaves and a couple of fish, metaphorically speaking, but when the villagers introduced us to Wadnerson, a young orphaned boy who had been found last year wandering the dangerous road that passes by the community, it was almost as if Jesus had sent His disciple to ask for them.
Again, I am reminded about that young lad who was the only person in the crowd who had food. He could have assessed the situation and concluded the wisest thing to do would be to feed himself. His little loaves and fishes could hardly feed the multitude, but they probably would have made a good meal for him. And then along came one of Jesus’ disciples with a request that must have seemed outrageous: “Jesus wants to feed the multitude with your loaves and fishes.”
Scripture doesn’t tell us anything about that exchange, but I wonder whether the boy laughed right then in disbelief or later in wonder at the miracle Jesus did with his small gift. Perhaps his laughter was a little of both; that rings true to human nature for me.
Even before the school administrators had decided what to do with the food we had brought to Peris, I was laughing. While my translator, Ben, and I had been meeting with them to discuss plans for future visits and the wisest ways to distribute the food, the rest of our group had been in the schoolyard playing games with the children there. As we concluded our meeting and walked into the schoolyard, Ben was watching the children, whose squeals of delight filled the air as they skipped rope, played soccer, threw Frisbees, danced and marched around with the visiting Americans. “I don’t know if you can see it,” Ben said to me, “but that’s joy.” I laughed and said to him that joy is something that transcends language barriers.
My own joy was complete the following day, when I stood back inside that schoolyard at the head of a set of long concrete tables. More than 100 children were seated on four rows of benches with bowls in front of them that they had brought from home. Inside each bowl was a generous helping of rice and beans, along with a couple of spoonsful of the thin broth that accompanies so many meals in Haiti. Shamma, our other translator, was asking the blessing, and I – standing there with a serving spoon and enough rice and beans left over to give everyone seconds – was thinking just how much I already was blessed.
I wonder if that little boy with the loaves and fishes thought that, too, as he watched Jesus perform a miracle with his small gift.
— Res Spears