“Come on, Anna, we’re going to miss the train,” commanded big brother Sam as his 11-year-old sister reluctantly dragged her suitcase down the stairs.
Anna barely knew her cousin Christa, who was a few years older than her and she’d never been to the seaside; now her family was sending her off to stay in some strange and unknown place. The train journey was long and her headphones played her favourite songs as the landscape changed from city skyline to countryside fields.
Christa was waiting for her, looking agitated as she took Anna’s case. “Your train came in late,” she declared. “We’ve got to get to Beach Fields, for this church activity, so we’ll have to run. Come on.”
The ‘run’ turned out to be a short distance, ending in a field full of children and adults. Chaos seemed to be reigning as a large bossy woman came up to them.
“Christa, you’re late. Oh, and your friend....hello. Come with me.” With this command she left, leaving Christa and Anna to follow her, Christa still pulling the case.
“On this treasure trail you have to find things,” the domineering woman continued. “You have all you need in this bag. You’re due to go first. I’ll take the case.”
And with that she was gone. Anna bit back frustration but Christa gave her a friendly hug and they ran to a post which marked their start line. Here they sat down on the grass and looked in the bag they had been given. It contained a jumble of items with no indication as to what to do with them.
As Christa spread them on the grass to show Anna, her young cousin noticed the stickers which decorated her handbag. While a lot of these were bright and colourful, her eyes were drawn to a picture of a sheep, under which were the words: “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.” She was just about to ask what this meant when a friendly voice cut in above them.
“Now then, missy, you have your bag and your list, so off you go....” With that a sharp whistle blew and they were off, running down a track of grass and heather, until the way ahead divided.
“Which way?” asked Anna, still feeling totally confused. “We have clues in the bag,” replied Christa. “Let’s look again. We have spades, torches, welly boots, buckets....”
“But that man mentioned a list. We don’t have a list....what do we do?” “Work it out ourselves,” declared Christa. “But I need your help. Let’s look around us. We don’t need buckets and spades here, in this field, but I do know that down that track there, there is a cave, leading into a dark wet tunnel....”
“Torches!” exclaimed Anna, beginning to warm to the game. “Yes,” smiled Christa, relieved to see her cousin was looking happier. “And the raincoat and wellies. Let’s put them on and see where we get to.”
As they struggled into the waterproof attire, far too big for them, Anna noticed a sheep grazing at the beginning of the track. She was sure it hadn’t been there before. “Look,” she whispered to Christa, who was doing up the bag and getting ready to leave. “That sheep. It’s bleating at us. And now it’s walking down that track....shall we follow it?”
“Why not?” Shrugged Christa. She had seen Anna looking at her sheep sticker but hadn’t had time to explain it. The sheep continued to walk ahead of them and, as they reached the cave and proceeded into the tunnel, the grey white of its fleece glowed in their torchlight. The blackness of the tunnel soon gave way to daylight, as the brightness of the summer sky met them and presently they were aware of the smell of the sea.
“What’s that smell?” asked Anna, feeling momentarily confused by the brightness of the sunshine and the sharp cries of the sea gulls. “Oh,” said Christa looking at her in surprise. “That’s the sea. Haven’t you been to the seaside before?”
But when Anna opened her eyes all she could see were rocks filled with seawater, and soon Anna learned that there were lots of little creatures living in the pools. The sheep had momentarily disappeared and she looked to Christa for advice.
“Look in the bag,” encouraged Christa, who had played this kind of game before. “What is there left?”
“Buckets, spades and a fishing net. Well, there’s nothing to dig so how about the nets?”
As if in answer, a sheep could be heard bleating and they saw their friendly guide standing on the rocks nearby. “He’s talking to us!” exclaimed Anna, suddenly feeling excited. “Look, he’s saying ‘yes’ to the nets. Let’s do it.”
Although Anna had never fished with nets before, she soon discovered the excitement of catching numerous little creatures. However, she also discovered that the more she caught, the fuller the net became and soon she was losing as many as she had gained.
“How do we take them home?” she asked Christa, who was also busy at her side. “Oh, we don’t,” replied her cousin. “We take them to the sea. But they need to be in water, or they’ll dry out before we get there.”
Uncertainly, Anna looked at the sheep. “Buckets,” she voiced aloud and, as if on cue, it bleated loudly. “Yes!” Anna clapped her hands joyfully. “We’re following him and he’s talking to us. Just like on your sticker.”
Soon they were filling the buckets with little creatures and sea water; the sheep moved away, continually bleating and they followed it, finding their wellies and raincoats cumbersome in these sunny surroundings. Presently they rounded a rocky outcrop and there Anna stopped in speechless amazement. Ahead of them was a vast expanse of sand, culminating in an even greater stretch of blue sparkling in the sunshine.
“That’s the sea,” remarked Christa quietly as she came to stand beside her cousin. “We must go and release our little creatures.”
Anna couldn’t contain her excitement as they ran across the sand to reach the shallows. Here they stopped, treasure trail forgotten, as Christa took off her boots and splashed into the water. “Come on!” she cried. “You can do it too!”
The next ten minutes were spent running in and out of the shallow waves, Anna initially gasping as the cold water seeped around her bare feet. Soon she was enjoying it as much as her cousin and while Christa went off to empty the buckets in a nearby pool, she carried on running in and out, throwing off her coat and splashing joyfully. Soon she was soaked from head to foot.
“Good job it’s sunny!” exclaimed Christa, as she came running up. “There’s an ice cream van over there. That’s the reward for our treasure hunt.”
Soon they were joined by several other children, and as Christa and Anna talked with them excitedly, and saw the lists that they themselves had not been given, Anna realised that they had had another guide. Faintly she could hear the sound of bleating and as she looked beyond the excited group of children she thought she could discern the form of their sheep disappearing over the rocks.
“That sheep was our guide,” she reflected out loud, as she and Christa ate their ice creams in the warmth of the sand hills. “Yes, he was,” answered Christa, with a smile. “In our kids’ club at church we read in the Bible that the sheep is like Jesus. As we listen to Jesus’ voice, he tells us what to do; he is always our guide and we can trust him completely.”