(From the book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament)
Needs: pictures of rebuilding work in Haiti (or rebuilding after some other disaster)
Once there was a man named Nehemiah. His family used to live in Jerusalem, but then an enemy army, the Babylonians, had come and defeated his people, and marched them across the desert many miles to their own country. There they had stayed for years and years, having to do whatever the Babylonians told them. Nehemiah had been born in that foreign land, but his parents had told him about the city of Jerusalem – how beautiful and strong it had been, with fine walls and gates to keep its people safe.
After a long time, there was a new king in that land, a kinder king, and he decided to let all Nehemiah’s people go home to their own land if they wanted to. Nehemiah, though, was one of the kings closest and best servants, so he stayed behind when the others left. Nehemiah wanted to see Jerusalem, but he knew the king wanted him to stay, and he had to do what the king wanted.
Then one day Nehemiah got a letter, a letter from his friends who had gone back home. He read it eagerly wanting to hear all about how beautiful Jerusalem was, but the more he read the sadder he felt. “Dear Nehemiah”, it said, “Jerusalem, our beautiful city, is in ruins. The walls have all been knocked down, the gates have been burned. People and animals come and go in and out of the city, just taking whatever they want and no one cares about it. We waited so long to come home, but there is no home to come to! Jerusalem is finished.”
Nehemiah was so sad. He didn’t know what to do. That day when he went in to serve the king, he tried very hard not to show how sad he was – he knew he mustn’t look sad in front of the king. The king didn’t want lots of long faces around him. But the king could see there was something wrong. “What’s wrong, Nehemiah?” he asked. Nehemiah told him about Jerusalem, how beautiful it had been and how it was all in ruins now.
“Well,” said the king, “then you must go back and sort it out. Rebuild the walls! Rebuild the gates! Make it safe and beautiful again! I can’t have my favourite servant sad like this.” And the king didn’t just send Nehemiah back, he also gave him all the things he would need – wood and stone – so he could do the job.
So Nehemiah went to Jerusalem. He felt much better now. He could sort it all out. He thought it would all be straightforward, but when he got there he found his problems were just beginning. It was much worse than he thought. The first night he was there, he got a donkey and rode all around the city – there was hardly any wall left - and everyone was tired and fed up, convinced there was nothing they could do. He went to the people in charge of the city and told them what he planned. You’ll never do it, they said!
“Yes I will, with God helping me” he answered, “and all of us working together.” He came up with a plan. Each family would rebuild a bit of the wall near them. If everyone did a bit, they would soon be finished.
They weren’t sure it would work, but they all set to work, and they all worked hard, and the wall began to grow. They thought they were winning, but then a dreadful thing happened.
Not everyone was pleased to see the walls getting higher. Some of the people who lived around Jerusalem didn’t want it to be strong. They wanted to be able to come and go into it, taking what they wanted from it. One day when the people came to work on the wall, they found they had an audience; their enemies had come to watch them and as they watched they kept making fun of them. “what a pathetic wall. It’s so low a fox could jump over it. You’ll never be able to build it high enough.” The builders looked at the wall, and it was true – it wouldn’t keep anyone out. They just felt like giving up. What was the point? Nehemiah had to work very hard to encourage them to keep going, but he did, and the wall kept growing.
Their enemies wouldn’t give up either though. Nehemiah started to hear reports that they were planning to attack the builders. The people were very frightened. Once again they felt like giving up. But once again Nehemiah gathered them together.
When you go out to work on the wall, he said, you must take a trowel in one hand, and a sword in the other. That way you can be ready if anyone attacks. Do whatever you have to, said Nehemiah, but whatever you do, don’t give up. And they didn’t give up, and the wall kept growing, higher and higher and higher.
And then one day they looked at the wall they had built, and they realised it was big enough, big enough to keep them safe inside its walls, big enough to keep their enemies out. It had gates that were strong, that they could close when they needed to. It was wonderful, and they couldn’t quite believe that they had done it, but somehow or other, the job was finished. They had all worked together. They hadn’t given up. And they had a great celebration, thanking Nehemiah, and most of all thanking God.
· I wonder what you think about that story – what would you have felt like if you were one of those builders. What helped them to keep going?
· It’s often easy to start a job, but it is really hard to keep going when things go wrong. People around us can encourage us. Sometimes we have to think of a different way of doing things.
· Show some pictures of Haiti (or the aftermath of a similar disaster) and of the work to rebuild there (A search for “Haiti rebuilding” in Google images will bring up plenty of pictures). Haiti had an earthquake a year ago. People have had to work hard and keep going in the face of illness and poverty, but together they are rebuilding.
· Pray for ourselves when we feel like giving up, and for the people of Haiti, that we would be able to keep going. Thank God that he is with us to help us. Pray that we would find people to encourage us, and that we would encourage others.