Little Sparrows

In two weeks, 6-year-old Noah Alexander Russell accomplished more for the kingdom of God than most people who live to be 100. For my wife and I, the story began with texts and calls in the wee hours of a Monday morning. The messages let us know that Noah, who was thought to have a concussion, was rushed to the hospital with what actually turned out to be a pediatric stroke. Two weeks later, Noah passed away.

Those two weeks of turbulent emotions that ended in unspeakable grief also produced profound inspiration. The family began a Facebook page entitled "#prayforNoah." As the family shared updates online, the page grew to well over 3,500 followers — and those followers began sharing testimonies. Some told of praying for the first time in years, while others told stories of praying for the first time. His story brought people to their knees.

Noah called upon the church to become the body of Christ, as people opened their hearts and lent their hands and the contents of their purse to provide assistance of every imaginable kind. The outpouring of love and gifts was so great, Noah’s family was able to share out of their abundance with other people in the hospital. Instead of sitting alone, worried, grieving and anxious souls found comfort in new friends and the kindness of faith communities operating in the spirit of those early believers in Acts 2.

Churches connected to the story experienced a greater depth of experience during Passion Week. Just as Christ experienced darkness and apparent silence from God as He suffered on the cross, believers had to work through their own dark nights of the soul. Many had their shallow faith shaken. They moved beyond insipid platitudes and clichés to work through deeper themes of theodicy, justice, suffering and what it means to wrestle with God … and even disappointment with God and a world of sin. Those close to Noah’s story didn’t just attend church as usual — they wept, they felt, they stayed home and agonized, they cried out for something more than the horrific realties of a world many are often too comfortable in.

That same world that pushes us to fill our lives with more work, sports, projects, education and achievements had its hold momentarily broken as Noah taught us to hug our loved ones tighter and more often. Personally, I bought a couple Lego sets and the bicycle I have been putting off for too long in order to play more and enjoy exploring neighborhood trails with my girls. I’m grateful for the reminder of what truly matters in this life.

In his last moments, Noah was able to make donations to help other children live — demonstrating the words of Jesus, “Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one’s life for another” (John 15:13). While his illness and death were not voluntary, we know from his own testimony that he had the love of Jesus dwelling in his heart.

Just before his stroke, Noah had been involved with the passion play at Auburn Adventist Academy. During practice, while he watched people put Jesus on the cross, Noah began to talk about how Jesus was coming back and how everyone that had fallen asleep would be raised from the ground. Noah elaborated on how everyone who dies just sleeps until Jesus wakes them up. The 6-year-old theologian knew where to place his hope and reminded us where to put ours.

The Hebrew Scriptures tell us that “God remembered Noah …” (Gen. 8:1) after the catastrophic death toll and the chaos of the deluge. God remembered His servant, even the animals, and led them to a restored world. Jesus tells us that not even the smallest sparrow falls to the ground without God’s noticing, so we should have hope because we are worth more than sparrows (Matt. 10:29). For this reason passages like 1 Thessalonians 4 encourage not to grieve like others do, but to have hope because those who have “fallen asleep” will rise again when Jesus comes — especially inspirational little sparrows like Noah.

When that day comes, the heaven and earth that awaits will be new, and the God who notes every hair on our head, and each little bird that falls to the ground, will remember Noah and countless other beautiful children like him. Revelation 21 promises that God will wipe away every tear. Pain and death will no longer interrupt our lives — and nothing will separate us from our Savior or each other.

With such love in Noah’s heart, such a testimony on his lips and such an impact on so many who continue to "#rememberNoah," we can have assurance of seeing Noah again on that bright morning, when all little sparrows will soar like eagles into the arms of Jesus.

Noah’s family has been inspired to raise awareness for pediatric stroke in order to prevent misdiagnosis that can lead to loss of life. Please take time to explore

Featured in: May 2016


Seth Pierce

associate professor of communication at Union College in Lincoln, Neb.