At one stop, the little girl who clambered up the steps stopped beside him and handed him a ball of newspaper, covered with Scotch tape. "For you," she said.
He took it from her. "Thank you very much," he said, placing it aside and easing the bus back into traffic.
But the little girl kept standing beside him. "Open it," she said. "You have to open it."
"But we're driving," he said.
"You have to open it now."
"It's a woman thing," Bill said when he told us the story at my church on a Sunday in 2007. "I knew it wouldn't do to argue. So I pulled that big school bus as far over as I could on that narrow street, took that taped ball and started unwrapping it."
The kids from the bus crowded around as he peeled off the layers of newspaper. Finally he came to the center and a little plastic creche. It was broken and dirty. She'd obviously found it.
"Thank you," Bill said. "That's great." Cars were honking behind him and on the street a couple of traffic cops approached. He made the motion of putting the gift down, but the little girl wasn't done.
"We have to cover it," she said. She took the manger ornament from Bill, cupped it in both hands and reached it up to him. "You cover it."
"Now look at it," the girl said.
Bill peeked under his hand and saw that from the baby Jesus figure came a greenish glow.
Beaming, the little girl said, "See - Jesus glows in the dark!"
I first posted this story on my blog in November 2007 after hearing Bill Wilson speak in our church. As the founder of Metro Ministries, Bill Wilson, has brought that Jesus-glow to the ghettoes of New York for almost 30 years.
He, himself was abandoned when he was 12. "You stay here," his mother said to him one day as she and Bill came to a street corner. "I'll come back for you."
Bill waited and waited, but she never returned.
Three days later, a man passing by in a truck noticed him. He and his wife gave Bill water and something to eat, then paid the $17.50 it took (in 1961) to send him to camp. Five hours later, Bill was at an Assemblies of God youth camp where his life was turned around.
This Christmas, let's remember that Jesus continues to glow in the dark. And most of the time it's through ordinary people like the man who rescued 12-year-old Bill, that same Bill who now drives urchin-loaded schoolhouses through the streets of New York, and through you and me — people who are willing to stop and listen to a lonely person who needs to talk, to drop a bill instead of change into the Salvation Army kettle, to stifle a sharp tongued response and instead smile at the lady who barges ahead of us in the checkout lineup, and to react with grace to the chatter and seat-kicking of the toddler who sits just behind us at the Christmas concert.
Bill Wilson quotes:
"If you want something you've never had before, you've got to do something you've never done before."
"Whatever makes you mad -- that's what God will use you to change."
"If you see a need and can fulfill that need, that's the call."
© 2010 by Violet Nesdoly