- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2002

If you tell children to "find God," where will they look?
Some chose palm trees. Others took a look at Honolulu skyscrapers, baby siblings, tropical fish, their mothers' hands and even the local Hard Rock Cafe.
The 168 children and their families from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School in Ewa Beach, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, who took on that assignment emerged with profound results.
"Go find God, and when you find him, take his picture and write about what you saw," teacher Shelly Mecum told her students on April 23, 1998. Students then boarded 14 luxury buses to tourist locations and local hot spots around the island.
The participants, ranging in age from 5 to 79, were armed with 800-speed Fuji disposable cameras, pencils and journals. When asked on the day of the search if she had ever seen God before, one 8-year-old girl whispered, "No, this is my first time."
The result, "God's Photo Album," telling the story of the search and including hundreds of photographs taken that day, is a 192-page book that has sold more than 20,000 copies. Published last May, the book will be the subject of a made-for-TV movie to air on Christmas. The movie also will feature a song composed by one of the grandmothers involved with the project.
"We are the ghostwriters and God is the author," Mrs. Mecum says of her book.
Each chapter of the book follows the journey of one of the 14 buses and centers on a theme of the divine in daily occurrences as viewed by its passengers.
"I like to watch the waves dancing with God," wrote Deyandra Abella, 5.
A 6-year-old boy said, "I took a picture of my brother because I love him and God is love."
Mrs. Mecum said she wanted to teach her students the process of trying to get a book published.
"To ignite the passion in writing and the power in writing, a teacher must provide a real reason to write," she says.
Even the adults got into the act. "I see God in the food that we eat," writes Irene Alcain, a 33-year-old mother.
Mrs. Mecum came close to giving up on the book several times. While trying to find a publisher, a concern was raised over the book's subject matter. It was suggested that students should search for "aloha in the gathering place."
"No, it must be God," the teacher said.
But what if they didn't find him?
Mrs. Mecum confessed she was so wrapped up in the logistics of the project that she never thought about that. She contacted Sister Nirmala, the mother general of the Missionaries of Charity, the world-famous group of nuns in Calcutta founded by Mother Teresa. They promised her they would be praying that day for the children to "find" God.
One endorser, author Madeleine L'Engle, says they have succeeded.
"These children and their families have found God in unexpected places and in return they give God to us," she writes.
The idea is being replicated, and Mrs. Mecum has received stories from families going out and trying this for a day to find God for themselves.
She plans to move to the University of San Diego, where she will teach children's literature and organize a day in April 2003 that will involve 6 million children in California public schools. It is not yet clear if the event will take place on a school day, which requires use of the mandatory early release act, or on the weekend to avoid legal problems.
Each participant will be limited to one picture and caption for potential publication in volume two of "God's Photo Album." Galleries throughout the state also will take part.
Mrs. Mecum has been invited to lead similar "God searches" in South Africa, Uganda, Australia and Europe. She is convinced that this project can be accomplished in any community whose children enjoy the same insights as children in Ewa Beach.
"Now they can never not see God," Mrs. Mecum says. "That is the immense lifelong gift given to these little God-seekers."

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