A few weeks ago, I covered these three parables in my religion class: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. My students had some difficulty grasping the concepts, though I explained the best I could. Little did I know that God had an illustration coming up for me a few days later.
It was a cold afternoon in March. Even though we had been getting glimpses of spring, winter was still maintaining its chilly grasp on Seoul. Coats, boots, three or four layers--all were required to stay warm. I had just finished my first two junior classes and returned to my office to rest and prepare for my final two classes of the day when Tamin came in the room, flustered and angry. I questioned her about what was wrong. "Sam is missing, all because Rebecca sent him out to find a rock!" Initially, what she had said didn't completely register in my mind. I sat there, continuing with what I was doing, until the pastor and Rebecca came in a few minutes later and were talking about the situation. Then I looked up and asked a few questions. I asked Rebecca why she had sent him outside. Usually calm Rebecca reluctantly, ashamedly, and angrily uttered, "He did something wrong, so I sent him outside to find a stone for punishment. Is that so hard to do?" I'd never seen her like that before. "Well, in Seoul . . . it might be," I hesitatingly mentioned. The situation was real.
Prompted by God, for I know not where else this motive came from, I calmly stood up, put on my coat, and left the building without being noticed. I still had about 40 minutes until my next class. I started praying, "God, help me find this kid," and just then, I got an instant message on my phone from one of my friends. I didn't think of it at the time, but that would have been impossible under normal circumstances because I didn't have access to wireless internet while I was outside. I responded, "We have a missing kid. Please pray," and continued on my way.
Seoul has innumerable side streets that lead every which way imaginable, so common sense would have told me that it would be impossible to find him. But I wasn't thinking that way. I know Sam. He is one of our two church members that are children, and the second is his older sister. He is full of life and energy and enthusiasm, and he isn't one to be rebellious or disappear to have a good time. I knew something had to be wrong. So I wandered down a few side streets and looked for him.
After about ten minutes had passed, I saw a little head pop up behind a car parked on the side of the road. "Is that Sam?" I thought it had to be for sure because of his hairstyle. Most Koreans don't have curly hair, but some get perms, and his hair is curly. He was just about the right height too. The head disappeared, so I ran to the car and looked behind it. Sure enough, there was Sam. I acted casual, like I hadn't really been looking for him. "Hey, buddy, what are you doing out here? Are you lost?" "Yes," he sniffed. He was wearing a T-shirt, so I knew he had to be cold. "Here, let's go back to the school." He started to walk back with me, but this talker wasn't in the mood for conversation. He was either guilty or scared or both. He had gotten quite a long ways away from the school.
We were back on the main road and almost back to the school when I saw the pastor coming our way. He got a shocked expression on his face and then ran and picked up Sam and twirled him around. He spoke to him in Korean and then asked me, "How did you find him?" "I prayed." Then he asked me again. I said the same thing. There was really no other answer to give. The chances of a foreigner who speaks hardly any Korean finding a missing Korean child down a side street in Seoul and not getting lost herself in the process are slim to none. Once we got him back to the school, everyone was resting easy again, and the pastor drove him home.
The next day in religion class, the pastor told the story. I hadn't known a few details . . . one of which was that the secretary had tried calling this little 10-year-old's phone many times, as I had a couple of times as well, but apparently his phone was on silent, and he didn't think to use it. The other detail was that the secretary herself had gone out looking for him for about 30-40 minutes before I had and had given up. He had been out there for an hour! I had no idea.
This was truly a miracle story, and it gave me the answer to a difficult question. The students had gotten caught up in the repentance part of the story that says, "Even so, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents." They asked, "Did the sheep or the coin repent?" The answer is of course not because they are an animal and an object. The point of the lost sheep and lost coin stories was to demonstrate the joy that the owner had at finding them. It is relatable to God's joy over one sinner who repents. He so longs for us to return to Him, but He is the one who actually seeks us out when we're lost and don't know it. I looked for Sam because God prompted me to and because I cared about him. There simply was no alternative. However, if I had known that the secretary had already looked for him, I'm not sure that I would have gone searching because I would've doubted my ability to find him. God prevented that from happening. I explained to my students that the joy of finding a lost child helped me understand the concept better--the joy that God has when someone returns to Him. I'd like to think that they understood it better as well.