When I was growing up, we loved Christmas. It was my job to put out the nativity set, something I tried to do with care but even so, one year I accidentally broke one of the figures - decapitated the poor thing actually:( Thank goodness for dad's who knew how to use glue! At any rate, I loved everything about Christmas - the presents (of course!), the special program that we kids performed in church, stringing popcorn at my grandparent's house (yes, we really did that!), and having Santa appear at my grandmother's little country church (yep, may be a little convoluted theology there somewhere) after an evening service. (By the way, he always gave each of us kids a sack with an orange and an apple and some candy canes in it and we thought that was wonderful!! Anything from Santa was special! Now I guess he has to bring Ipods...)
At any rate, as I was growing up, I learned that our family had a rule: however much our parents spent on Christmas presents, that same total amount went into the foreign missions Christmas offering. I don't know that I understood that rule when I was young but when I was older, I realized it was good thing.
Then, when I was a mom with a young child of my own, I heard about celebrating Jesus' birthday with a cake and a party so that little ones could get the idea of what Christmas is really all about. And I liked that idea as well.
From those two strands we eventually got the idea of giving Jesus a present each year, a sort of family project done out of love for Him. Over the years, we have taken on various things. Sometimes it is a one-time gift. Sometimes it is a gift that keeps on giving, a monthly commitment.
In the past, we have collected items for Shoe Box gifts to be sent to children around the world via Samaritan's Purse - that's always been a favorite. We've also done Angel Tree and enjoyed picking out presents for a child whose parent was in prison. Sometimes we've done the local, Toys for Tots program. Twice we have made up little baggies with a Christmas letter or note and some candy, cookies, etc. and taken them around the neighborhood as a way of getting to know the people around us. (Since we sort of live in the 'hood... this takes a little faith at times =/) And then once, some years ago, we committed to sponsoring a child through World Vision. Only as we looked through the photos, they were all so precious that we ended up choosing two kids to sponsor instead of one.
This year our church did something unusual. They passed out envelopes with varying amounts of money in them. Each family got one envelope with either 2.00, 5.00, or 10.00. And with it came instructions: to prayerfully consider where God would have us invest His money. We were not to give it back to the church but were to look for ways to spend it where He would want us to.
Somehow, our family cheated and we ended up with two envelopes. ..=/ (Actually I was in the pre-school area so they gave me one and Phil was in the worship service so they gave him one also). At any rate, we ended up with 15.00.
In the past, we've always looked at our Christmas gift for Jesus as sort of "We're going to take our money and do something nice for God..." Or at least, that is often in the back of my mind, followed by the tempting thought, "Look how good we are! I bet everyone doesn't do this..." Ugh... rotten attitude, I know....
The point of the "money" sermon was that if we belong to Christ, then all our money belongs to Him as well. Everything we have is His; we're just stewards of it. I'd heard that before but seeing the 15.00 sitting on a shelf day after day while we prayerfully considered how to invest this money - somehow that made it real to me. Instead of feeling smug about what we might do with it, I felt a timidity, almost a heavy responsibility about making sure we didn't misuse His money.
One night while surfing Face Book :), I came across a picture of a young kindergarten girl coloring a picture to send to her sponsor. The caption explained what she was doing and then said, "Who will it be?" The little Haitian girl was coloring a picture for a sponsor even though she didn't have one... I kept looking at the picture. Phil looked at it and so did David. And we all began to feel that this was where God's money should go - that we could apply it towards our first month's sponsorship.
We checked out the website, Hosean Ministries, and found that 30.00 a month buys school supplies, material for a school uniform, medical care, and a hot meal every day. So we e-mailed the ministry saying that we'd like to sponsor a child. I really wanted the little girl in the picture but we just decided to leave it up to the ministry to match us with a child, saying that we'd prefer to sponsor a child who had no sponsor if that was possible.
The answer came back that they had something like a 1,000 kids in their school and that they could easily place 200 kids with sponsors that very day if they had them. These kids didn't have any financial support other than what their families, who are impoverished, can provide.
So we arranged to become a sponsor and joy of joys! We were matched with the little girl in the FB picture, Lucknise!
Since she's in Haiti, we feel that we can keep in touch with her more easily than if she were across the ocean in Asia or Africa. And it might even be that someday we could meet her; she's that close relatively speaking.
In the book, Heaven is For Real, Colton Burpo kept asking his parents, after his near-death experience, "Do you know that Jesus reee-lly loves children???" His dad said that for months Colton would remind them of this several times a day, until finally his dad had to tell him to stop, that they'd gotten the message already and he'd done his job!