Embracing vulnerable neighbors right here in our own communities has been the mission priority for CBFNC and our churches for over five years now. Especially during Advent, it’s quite common for CBFNC staff to field questions from church leaders across the state looking for alternatives to some of the larger, more well-known Christmas mission opportunities.
Our Welcome House Community Network (WHCN) partners have done just that—initiated an alternative. Taking inspiration from a mainstream, international gift model, they did what they do best, flipped it around and started the Welcome House Christmas Gift Bag Mission Project.
Surpassing their initial goal of 50 gift bags, the Welcome House team set out to provide Christmas gift bags to refugee and immigrant families and individuals who have been served by Welcome House-Raleigh this year.
The concept is simple.
Start by providing a large, reusable bag. Include a Christmas card with a Christian message. Fill the bag with necessities and small gifts such as :
· gift cards
· cleaning supplies
· toiletry & items
· pantry staples
· paper products
· writing utensils (pencils, crayons, colored pencils)
· activity books for children
· stuffed animals
· board or card games
· outdoor toys
The Welcome House team also includes a DVD about the Life of Jesus in every bag, which is offered in multiple languages. “This is so all our friends may hear the good news of Christmas, many for the first time, in their heart language,” said Marc Wyatt, WHCN co-founder and CBF field personnel.
As usual, CBFNC churches stepped up with overflowing generosity to provide gifts of welcome to foreign neighbors now living in NC. Churches from as far west as Mars Hill, to as far east as Wilson supported the project this year.
Participating churches include Crabtree Valley-Raleigh; First-Greensboro; First-Pinehurst; First-Raleigh; First-Wilson; Forest Hills-Raleigh; Greystone-Raleigh; Mars Hill-Mars Hill; St. John’s-Raleigh; Tabernacle-Raleigh; Trinity-Raleigh; Wake Forest-Wake Forest; and Westwood-Cary. Welcome House Advisory Team member, Bill Baxley, also secured a grant for the project from the NC Baptist Foundation.
Individuals, families and children were excited to give and share God’s love.
One supporter, a Welcome House ESL teacher in Mars Hill, shared, “When I saw the post from Welcome House about Christmas Bags, I saw an opportunity to share tangible reminders of God’s love with others. Combining two joys – missions and Christmas shopping! That joy was multiplied when I found out that I could personalize the gifts for the families of my dear friends – my ESL students. The shopping was fun but the best part was imagining the faces of my students as they enjoy pulling the items out of the bag and sharing them with their family members. Imagining the wonder that some anonymous Christian cared enough about them to purchase these gifts. Imagining the pride they feel at being able to read the message of God’s love written in English on the Christmas card.”
The Weaver family in Raleigh, who have participated for the past four years, said, “When Jesus was asked about the Greatest Commandment, He said that we are to first love God and then our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:28-34). The Welcome House ministry has provided a prime opportunity for our family to be able to share a practical token of God’s love to refugee families who arrive in the U.S. with very little in the way of belongings. While we have not had the opportunity to travel the world, this ministry brings the world to us and allows us an open door to international ministry. It provides an opportunity to share God’s love that welcomes all to His family as these new families begin to reside and assimilate into a new setting, completely foreign from where their journey began.”
Rev. Tyler Ward, associate pastor of Missions and Adults at Forest Hills-Raleigh, says, “In times like these, hospitality and hope are perhaps the greatest gifts we can share with others. Through the simple act of assembling and sharing Christmas gift bags, we know that the hospitality and hope of Jesus Christ is finding its way into the homes and hearts of those who need Him the most.”
Kim Wyatt, WHCN co-founder and CBF field personnel, says that along with the generosity, joy is also overflowing. She shared an example of when Leah Harlowe, minister of Youth and Missions at Wake Forest Baptist-Wake Forest, and her three children arrived at the Wyatts door during the first week of Advent bearing 10 gift bags for refugee neighbors.
“Little did we know how much Advent joy they would bring to us as we received them on our porch all masked up to greet one another. The children were so excited about the gifts that would be shared with others. Then all three children lifted up a prayer for the families that would receive the bags. Our hearts were so full to begin Advent in the shape of a young family joyfully sharing with others this Christmas,” said Kim.
Marc adds, “We are, once again, humbled by the tremendous support and generosity of these churches and families toward their new NC neighbors. Including the DVD of the Life of Christ is a significant component. We know from mission experience that internationals whose religious affiliation isn’t Christian welcome the DVD. This is because they are keenly interested in what the Christmas holiday means to Christians. They are often confused by all the hype about Santa and elves.”
The Welcome House Christmas Bag project is a remarkable success this year. The Welcome House team and CBFNC staff have a vision to expand on that success and include gift bags for vulnerable neighbors in communities across the state who are served by the entire Welcome House Community Network.