Reviving Christmas

Article by Jen Johnson

It’s rarely possible for donors or sponsors to witness the children’s eyes lighting up as they receive their Christmas gifts. These stories will let you peek in on those magical moments at two of our partnerships in Tanzania. Each specially chosen gift not only makes a huge difference in a child’s daily life, but serves as an important reminder that they are “specially chosen” too.

A child at Path of Hope lights up as she stands beside her new mattress during the gift distribution.

Path of Hope

For our newest partner ministry, 2013 was the first year to be part of the Christmas events! Their staff provided Lahash with a list of each child’s needs, and sponsors donated money for uniquely chosen gifts. Quite a few children at Path of Hope are still waiting for sponsors, but the staff was determined that each child would receive at least something small.

Gifts were purchased, sorted, and marked individually with the children’s names. Out of concern that the children might lose their gifts or have them stolen as they walked home, the staff also got bags for each child to gather and conceal their items.

Director Jeanette Nyakyema expressed sincere appreciation for the personal interest Lahash takes in each child, even when it comes to gift-giving. However, it made her staff a little nervous that there would be questions about “fairness.” On the day everyone gathered for the celebration, the kids were simply thrilled to enjoy a festive meal and receive their special gifts one by one. Very few questioned why the gifts were different, and those who did easily accepted the explanation. The entire event was filled with joy and gratitude.

One particular child received a mattress as his gift. “He’s a little boy that is usually very calm and not very excited, or doesn’t get involved too much and doesn’t give an expression. But when he got this mattress, he lit up like a light bulb! It was just an exciting thing to see that,” Jeanette shared. This boy, like most of the children, either slept on the ground or on a sleeping mat made of leaves. Lying on a mattress for the very first time probably left him too excited to sleep!

Other children received things like socks, shoes, clothes, or dishes and utensils for their homes. None of them had ever owned any of these items brand new before! Thanks to the generosity of sponsors and other donors, and the hard work of the Path of Hope staff, their first Christmas celebration became an event full of many special “firsts” for the children they serve.

Before bringing his gift home, Emanuel stands proudly with his new metal roofing sheet.

Grace & Healing Ministry

The Christmas gift distribution has become one of the most treasured events of the year at Grace & Healing Ministry. The money is donated during the holidays, so it can’t be spent until January. That means the “Christmas celebration” takes place in February! According to Program Director Esther Muhagachi , it doesn’t dampen their enthusiasm at all:
“It kind of revives them, all those who did not get any gift (on December 25). We say, ‘This is now your Christmas Day!’ We even cook different food, we buy them the drinks that they don’t often get. We say, ‘While others have forgotten Christmas, we are reviving it!’ So, it’s kind of exciting… They are very happy, and they all receive those things cherishing each other.”

Esther was especially excited to tell us about a gift they initially had doubts about. Funds came through for a boy named Emanuel to receive one “iron sheet.” These pieces of corrugated metal are ideal for roofs because they allow the rain to run off rather than drip through. But the family needed at least two in order to be leak-proof. Esther was prepared to exchange the single iron sheet for something more helpful. But Emanuel wouldn’t hear of it. “I need that iron sheet! I was praying to get at least one, now I have got it! Even if it is only one, it is going to help me. I will put it on one side… this will help me to work more to get another one!” That single sheet of metal encouraged the whole family, and jump-started some long awaited home repairs.

The staff at GHMD pray over the Christmas gifts before presenting them to the Lahash sponsored kids

Through these two ministries, Jeanette, Esther, and their staff members count it a privilege to transform monetary donations into tangible celebrations for the kids. Esther reminds us all, “These are the children who don’t have anybody to care about them on Christmas Day… they see other kids get the new clothes, get the new shoes, get the gift from their parents. So whenever you think about this, please buy a little gift for your sponsored child. When you buy anything for them, they will be encouraged that ‘there is somebody somewhere thinking about me.’”

Brightening Christmas for a child who would otherwise feel forgotten is a meaningful way to honor God for sending the Light of the World into our darkness. We may not be there in person to see each child “light up like a light bulb,” but knowing that our small gifts can remind them that they are loved and special is a gift in itself.

See how these unique gifts are changing the lives of vulnerable kids. Watch the video at lahash.org/christmas!