By Kristen Johnson
The holiday season is upon us. For Christians, that means a time of quiet reflection, waiting to celebrate our Savior’s birth, time with family and friends, and most importantly, following Jesus’ commands to serve our neighbors. Right? Then why is it that we mob stores in our efforts to buy more, more, more, overstuff ourselves on food that harms our bodies, and ignore the poor, the orphan, the widow, and any and all marginalized people?
It’s time to say no to consumerism (believe me, if you live in the Western world, it’s likely that you have more than enough) and say yes to Jesus. That means feeding the hungry, visiting prisoners, clothing the needy, forgiving each other, and serving everyone.
The holidays are the perfect time to start a new trend towards serving each other. Everywhere we turn we can find ways to serve – volunteering in a soup kitchen, visiting lonely people in hospitals or retirement homes, collecting canned goods for the poor, helping your child’s teacher get ready for the New Year or cleaning up after a holiday celebration, volunteering in an animal shelter or adopting an animal who needs a home, etc. The list is endless. If you’ve never tried community service, or you are looking for ways for yourself or your Church congregation to contribute more – I challenge you to start this week, Thanksgiving week, a time when we are counting our blessings. Count those blessings and go out and serve.
In general, I find that United Methodist congregations are extremely service-oriented, but I am extra blessed, blessed, blessed to belong to a congregation that seems to be over-the-top service-oriented! We have service projects all yearlong, but during the holidays our service opportunities increase threefold! If you are looking for some ideas, look no further. Following are some of the ways I’ve been able to serve in the past week, to help someone else in need. I hope you will find these ideas useful – but, most importantly, I hope these ideas will inspire you to action. (And, please – send me ideas!)
Christmas Stockings for Parent Care Family Recovery Center:Every year my United Methodist Women’s group sews and decorates stockings for this wonderful organization located right here in my hometown. They provide alcohol and drug rehabilitation services for women, mental health services, and preschool and childcare services for affected families. It is extremely rewarding and creative to sit with a group of ladies and create these special stockings. We were blessed to be able to complete 100 stockings for Parent Care this year! You can find out more about this organization here: http://www.vistahill.org/programs/family-treatment-recovery-services/parentcare-family-recovery-center-east.html.
Blessing Baskets for the Good Neighbor Center:
This wonderful organization provides needy families with “drop-in” assistance for things like food, baby formula, food, etc. Every year during the holidays my congregation is invited to contribute “blessing baskets” for families to have an entire holiday dinner ready-to-cook at home. I was extremely blessed to be able to shop this year for an entire dinner for another family – potatoes, yams, jello, etc. – and a gift certificate for a family to purchase a turkey or ham (or a tofurkey if I get my way!!) The “blessing” was for me – not the needy family. I can’t say enough good things about this wonderful program.
Good Neighbor Center Food Drive:
Food security is a problem in many parts of San Diego, and many parts of the U.S.! Unfortunately, it’s an even bigger problem during school breaks, because children who are eligible to receive free or reduced price lunches aren’t receiving those services during the holidays. So, donating food to the Good Neighbor Center is even more important during school breaks. Again, the blessing comes to me much more so than the “needy” family who may receive my donations. You can find out more about this organization here: http://metrocommunityministries.org.
Elementary School Holiday Gift Shop:
My congregation “adopted” a nearby elementary school in an effort to serve some of the neediest students there. We have a variety of projects for the kids there throughout the year, but the “gift shop” is one of my favorites! Church members provide gifts for children to “shop” for to provide gifts for their families. We provide the “gifts” and the “shop volunteers” and the kids get to bring home gifts for the people they love. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to be a “shop volunteer” because of work, but I love shopping for the gifts. I had one heck of a time finding gifts that were made in the U.S. (or otherwise Fair Trade) – so I went with soaps and candies, all made in the U.S. (I see no reason to serve one child by enslaving another person working in a sweatshop elsewhere!)
In addition to the projects above, we also have a sock/underwear tree for children, and a shoe drive for children. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any of these items that were made in the U.S. (or otherwise Fair Trade), vegan, and environmentally friendly. I can’t buy goods that potentially enslave people in China/India/Thailand, etc. or that subject these people to environmentally dangerous working conditions. Next year, my goal is to find goods for socks/underwear/shoes that meet Fair Trade standards!
Remember – greed is NOT, in fact, good. It’s about serving others – not ourselves.
Celebrate the holidays with an attitude of service to others. Blessings on a happy holiday season.
Luke 12:15 (NRSV): 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Serve all with love.
Photo (at top) courtesy of: stocksnap.io