[Originally published as Mantis in the Manor]
by Karl C. Priest
Illustrated by Gary Gordan.
Manuel entered the red brick building carefully. He slowly pushed open the door, allowing the daylight to illuminate the dark corners of the hallway. When he saw there were no drunks or addicts lying in his path, Manuel began to climb the unswept steps toward his third-floor apartment. Like all the buildings in The Manor, the stairs were littered with debris and filled with unpleasant odors. This time Manuel’s eyes spotted no broken glass or discarded needles to avoid, but he came to a sudden stop as a menacing figure moved into view.
On the ledge of a shattered second-floor window, poised as if ready for a sudden attack, a small but intimidating figure was perched. Manuel’s rapidly beating heart began to slow to a more normal pace when he realized the object of his fear was — a praying mantis. He quickly forgot about continuing to his destination. The praying mantis filled his total attention; he had to keep his discovery to himself.
The last time Manuel had seen a praying mantis was during the early fall of last year. A group of older boys were teasing it. After feeding a roach to the mantis, the boys tried to get the mantis to fight. They jabbed at it with their sneakers and laughed as the courageous insect spread its wings like a bat and raised up on its hind legs into a stance that resembled a boxer’s crouch. When the tormentors were tired of that, they placed the mantis in a dirt area and began to throw an open switchblade at it. Manuel stood quietly in a circle with the other kids who were cheering spectators. He felt happy when the Mantis suddenly flew in a fluttering flight across a busy four-lane street and landed safely on the side of a boxcar parked on the railroad siding.
Although Manuel was a little afraid of being bitten by this creature that was larger than most insects, he wanted to get it to a safe place. He removed his baseball cap, put it over the mantis, and gently folded the cap closed with the mantis inside. He walked out of the building into the sunshine, where the heat and humidity of this summer day made him perspire. He wondered what he should do next and remembered the coolness and security of a nearby building. Preacher Rick would know what to do.
Just across a side street from the Manor housing project, Preacher Rick, as the neighborhood people called him, pastored a storefront church that had many uses beyond regular worship and Bible study times. One room of the church was used as a food pantry, another for used clothing, and a third room contained a banged-up Ping-Pong table, some board games, and a few small tables with folding chairs. It was at those tables that Preacher Rick would help local kids with their homework.
At one of the tables, while helping Manuel with his science homework, Preacher Rick had told Manuel about what it was like to have a college education. Preacher Rick had a degree in biology but had left a good-paying industrial job to serve as an inner-city missionary. He had not forgotten his love of science, especially animals, and was always willing to tell Manuel of the wonders of God’s creation.
Preacher Rick cautiously opened Manuel’s cap and calmly held his palm in front of the praying mantis. As Manuel watched intently, the insect slowly placed one tiny foot on the tip of a finger, followed by another foot, until all six legs rested on Preacher Rick’s hand. Speaking softly, Preacher Rick raised the mantis in front of Manuel’s large brown eyes, and Manuel looked closely at the amazing design of this fragile animal. Manuel had no fear as the mantis moved onto his shoulder.
Preacher Rick told Manuel there was much to learn about insects. Manuel’s mother was working in the church’s food pantry. She gave Manuel a clean jar with a lid punched with holes and a popsicle stick inside. With the mantis safely in its jar home, Preacher Rick and Manuel set out for the public library. There Manuel found three books about insects and eagerly began reading them that night.
The next day Manuel was able to tell Preacher Rick what he had learned. Manuel was convinced that this amazing and complicated pet, which he named Michael, could not have been a product of blind evolution. Using an idea Manuel had read about, Preacher Rick helped him make a new home for Michael out of a shoebox and glued plastic on the sides they had cut out for windows. Over the next three weeks, Manuel faithfully fed his wonderful pet. Soon Manuel realized that Michael was not exactly what he had thought.
Michael had grown very large and sort of plump and never attempted to fly. At first, Manuel thought the plumpness was due to Michael eating a lot, and the lack of flight was due to Michael’s affection for Manuel. One night Manuel noticed another mantis had flown onto the window seal of his bedroom. Manuel watched as the visiting mantis moved to his pet’s cardboard home. Manuel lifted the lid and let his guest inside, and for the next two hours, he wondrously watched the pair mate. Manuel removed the second mantis and released him after the mating was completed. Now he changed his pet’s name to Michele.
In a few days, Michele had placed an egg case on the ceiling of her home. Within a short span of time, Michele had glued two more egg cases to the underside of the box lid.
Now she was too weak to hang from her usual upside-down position. As Manuel looked into her face, he could sense her life would soon be over. He and Preacher Rick took her to the large city park so she could spend the remainder of her life in her natural habitat. Preacher Rick glued one of her egg cases to a twig of the bush where they had placed Michele. He helped Manuel glue a second case to another bush across the park. The third egg case was stored in Manuel’s refrigerator. Preacher Rick said it would be interesting to observe the hatching next spring.
In May of the next year, Manuel removed the egg case and attached it to the underside of the top of Michele’s old box. One Sunday morning a month later, he brought the box to Preacher Rick. Manuel was very disappointed no baby mantises had arrived. Preacher Rick told him it might be a non-fertilized egg case; then Preacher Rick set the box on a shelf behind the pulpit because it was time for the service to begin. Neither he nor Manuel noticed one of the plastic windows had come unglued.
After some hymns were sung, Preacher Rick began preaching. As he poured the message to the congregation, a flood of a couple of hundred tiny Praying Mantises flowed from the box and all around the choir and pulpit area. Preacher Rick realized what was happening just as he finished his message on “Prayer Warriors.” What a wonderful time for the praying mantises to make their appearance!
The other kids and several adults helped Manuel and Preacher Rick catch and place the babies into individual plastic cups. They grabbed some cloth from the used clothing store, cut it into small pieces, and secured each piece over the cup tops with rubber bands.
Now, many kids would be able to raise a praying mantis and learn what a fantastic creation it really is. As they feed, water, and clean the cages, the kids will always remember to pray and thank God for creation—especially for Michele: the mantis in the Manor.