3 Lessons From A Memorable Christmas

My most memorable Christmas had nothing to do with what I received for Christmas. It had nothing to do with time spent with family though I enjoyed those times as much as anyone. It had to do with serving. Here’s the story.

When I was a young teen—about 13 or 14—my church youth group decided to do something special for 3 families in our community. Each of these families was poor and lived in poor conditions. I don’t remember why they were poor and was probably never given that information. Young teens don’t bother themselves with details that interest adults.

The leaders of our youth group planned the whole thing. We would raise money we would then use to buy and wrap Christmas gifts for the families. We would go to their home (a critical step that impressed most of us youth about poverty), bring them to the church where we would provide a hearty meal for them after which Santa would make an appearance and give out the gifts we had bought with the money we raised.

Businessmen in the church paid us to distribute flyers announcing their Christmas sales throughout the community. We went door-to-door putting the flyers between the front doorknobs and door facing of every home. This is what was done in a small town without social media or other means of marketing at Christmas. It was easy work, and we were paid less than a nickel for each flyer distributed. It was a small community so getting to lots of homes wasn’t hard. I have no idea how much money we raised, and it is entirely possible that it wasn’t enough to buy the gifts we wanted to get for the families, and someone (probably the youth leaders) had to make up the difference.

When the night for the Christmas party came, I was more excited than I was on Christmas morning! I rode along with one of the leaders to pick up one of the families. They lived far out into the county in a rundown house. I don’t remember exactly what it looked like, but I do remember thinking it wasn’t much of a house. The ride to the church was a lesson in compassion by the youth leader. He avoided questions of the family that might be embarrassing and made sure they knew how grateful he and the youth were to spend time with them.

What I remember about the meal provided for the families is that they gathered up all the leftovers to take home. Not a crumb was wasted. They needed the food and were grateful it would stretch beyond that one meal. Then Santa showed up. I knew the truth about Santa, but I was never so happy for the myth when I saw the faces of the children light up when they saw the uniformed distributor of presents. When he passed out gifts with the children’s names on them, they were ecstatic! And I was right there with them.

That night my life changed. I experienced firsthand the joy of serving and it embedded itself deep into my soul. I doubt I could have verbalized it, but I knew for certain that serving people in need is one of the most joyful, gratifying, loving things a person can do.

Another way of saying this is a seed was planted that night. The truth is that seed laid dormant for a long time . . . , but it never died. Somewhere around midlife, the seed sprouted and slowly grew. For a long time the seedling grew ever so slowly until 1995 when Operation Inasmuch was born. Suddenly, God dumped a pickup load of fertilizer on it, and it grew like kudzu until now. I don’t see any sign of it slowing down. The seed of serving has now become a tree with branches stretching out and producing more seeds some of which have taken root and some of which are dormant. I am not quite ready to draw a straight line from that memorable Christmas party for 3 poor families in my town to the international impact of serving others through Operation Inasmuch but a zigzag, dotted line would be appropriate. 

Lessons learned from my most memorable Christmas:

One. Never underestimate the long-term value of helping children and teens experience the joy of serving. I had nothing to do with the decision to put on the Christmas event I have described above, but I have benefitted from it ever since.

Two. When providing an experience of serving for youth, to the extent it is possible, make them earn it. Earning the money used to buy gifts for the families was key to the whole experience. We could have asked people of means in the church to fund the event and they would have gladly done so, but it was better that we earned the money for it.

Three. When serving people in need at Christmas, build into that serving adequate time to talk with and get to know those you and your group are serving. For me, the drive to and from the church and sharing a meal with the families we served taught me the value of sharing myself as much as material goods (Christmas gifts in this case). It would not have been the same if we had merely delivered our gifts to their homes.

What do you think?

Is there a Christmas in your past that contributed to your understanding of and practice of serving? What is your story of Christmas serving? I’d love to hear it.

Written by:
David Crocker

David Crocker is the Founder of Operation Inasmuch. He was a pastor for 38 years prior to launching the Inasmuch ministry which has equipped more than 2,100 churches in 25 states and several other countries to mobilize their members in mercy ministry. David’s passion is seeing believers serving as the hands and feet of Jesus as a lifestyle.

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