When parents believe their child is special or gifted in some way, it’s not a big surprise. Most loving parents see “special” in their children. Yet too often, the giftings that parents notice (or at least believe they see) are tied to advanced abilities — musical giftings, advanced language or math skills, exceptional athletic abilities, and so on — for their age levels. But what about the giftings that aren’t a road to notoriety, riches, or fame?
Jose and Angelica Fontanez live in Chesilhurst, New Jersey, and have attended Pentecostal Assembly of God
in nearby Hammonton for the last three years.
At first introduction, when one meets Emma, Jose and Angelica’s youngest of four daughters, she’s much like any 8-year-old girl: Medium height, medium build, cute with dark hair, and a pleasant smile — a description that fits a myriad of grade-school girls.
If anything might draw specific attention to her is that she carries a rescue inhaler with her, and yes, it’s a clue as to what makes Emma remarkable.
Emma has nearly died twice in her young life, with the last time her being fully aware that her life on this earth could end in a matter of hours or even minutes.
Angelica explains that Emma has chronic asthma and has been in and out of the hospital countless times. At the age of three, she almost died of complications from asthma. Then this past year, in late November, she was admitted to ICU, with the doctor telling Jose and Angelica, “[Emma] is doing really bad. We are doing everything possible, but . . .”
And that’s when Emma’s gift began to truly shine, as her parents — and others — see it. It’s a special gift that many children her age or people of any age don’t possess. The gifting is that Emma fully and fearlessly understands that she’s not only a Christian by name, but that she’s a child of God and destined for heaven.
“I was lying next to her in her hospital bed, praying, crying out to God,” Angelica recalls, “and Emma said to me, ‘Why are you so sad? Don’t be sad. I know that if I die, I’m going to meet Jesus and that’s exciting.’”
. . . words of comfort from a child to her mother. Words of peace and hope. Words of faith and truth.
“My heart dropped [in conviction],” Angelica says. “And although the circumstances around her were tough, I felt a peace that God was in control, and I knew we would walk out of the hospital with a perfectly healed Emma. And even though my eyes did not see the healing, I left believing it.”
Her belief was fulfilled. After spending three days in ICU, Emma made an inexplicable recovery overnight and was discharged the following day — Thanksgiving Day.
For the Fontanezes, it was indeed a day of thankfulness. “Praise God!” Angelica says about the miraculous recovery. “All honor and glory we give to Him!”
But then, a few months later, came the COVID-19 pandemic. Emma unquestionably qualifies as someone with an “underlying condition,” which can make COVID-19 a far more serious threat for individuals of any age.
In late March, the Fontanezes became aware that people in their church and neighborhood were running short on and doing without food.
Angelica’s parents pastor another church about 45 minutes away, and it has a food pantry. The Fontanezes, including Emma who wanted to help, began traveling to the church, putting together food bags, loading and unloading their vehicle, and distributing the goods to people in need inside and outside of their church body.
“Our first time, we had 14 bags to distribute,” Jose says. “After we distributed them to different people, they came back and told us how they were able to take items from their bags and distribute to other families as well — somehow 24 families were able to be fed!”
As the Fontanezes continued to do a weekly grocery distribution through the help of the pantry, the number of people they were assisting also grew. They started delivering groceries to section leaders who in turn distributed the groceries to those in need.
“On one Saturday, I believe we distributed about 100 bags of groceries,” Jose says.
But then Emma, who is entering third grade this fall, thought beyond what her parents were doing and started talking about the kids who rode on her school bus (before school closed).
She wanted to help them too, “Because some people might not have any food,” Emma says.
The Fontanezes were able to identify several families that had children on Emma’s bus and get them food. “It made me feel good [to help them],” Emma says. “They said, ‘Thank you,’ and they were smiling.”
Over the last month or so, the need for food has subsided, so the Fontanezes have stepped back from their efforts for now. However, through their willingness to respond to people in need during the pandemic, which was just as potentially deadly to them — if not more so — as anyone else, the compassion and love of Christ was shared.
Recently, National Girls Ministries (NGM) learned of Emma’s active compassion for others. As a member of the Girls Ministries Prims club at Pentecost AG, she put aside the “what ifs” of her health condition during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to think first of the needs of others. As a result of her selfless service, NGM recently presented Emma with the Miriam Award.
In her recommendation letter, Elsie Baez, the Prims club sponsor, wrote: “[Emma] has displayed courage, passion, and love for others. She has put into action our Prims motto: ‘I will be kind and thoughtful,’ and club verse, ‘Be kind . . . to one another’” (Ephesians 4:32). Emma has shown that she is willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ during a crisis and be bold about it.”
National Girls Ministry
Director Lori Warning believes Emma was the ideal recipient for the award.
“From the moment I heard Emma’s story, I could see that this little girl exemplifies what the Miriam Award has been about through National Girls Ministries’ history,” she says. “She displayed courage beyond her years and set a precedent for us all to love others in the same way. Even in the midst of a difficult time, Emma set an example to fulfill our Girls Ministries motto, ‘Together we will influence our world!’ Her impact is one to cherish and celebrate!”
The award caught the family off guard. “It was totally a surprise for us,” Jose says. “We had no idea.”
But as far as Angelica is concerned, although the award was a great encouragement and they’re thankful for their daughter’s compassionate heart, she points out, “We’ve always known there is something — some One — very, very special within her.”