The Voice of The Salvation Army in Canada and BermudaView RSS Feed
Dec23WedFrom rural Saskatchewan to balmy Bermuda, The Salvation Army brings joy at Christmastime. December 23, 2015
“Welcome to Hotel Dean”
- Filed Under:
BY CAPTAIN ED DEAN
Corps officer, Maple Creek, Sask.
On December 26, 2009, I received a call from the RCMP to help someone on the highway who had hit a deer and could no longer travel because their vehicle was damaged. I went to respond only to find out that it was a family of five—a mom, dad and three children. All of the hotels in Maple Creek were closed because of the Christmas holidays, and they had no money. Now, what do you do when someone has no place to go? You find a place for them. And so they came to “Hotel Dean” at three in the morning on that Boxing Day.
They stayed with us for four days and we shared Christmas with them. We always do turkey and stuffing, so we introduced them to some of the traditions we do with our leftovers. (I'm from a big family, so it's nothing for me to get a 12- or 14-kilogram turkey.) We shared bedrooms, we shared food, we shared a little bit of everything.
But within the first day of their staying with us, I picked up through the children that things were not right. They told me that they had been forced to leave their home in Alberta by their father. They were new Canadians—English was not their first language and they didn't know anybody here. So the next day, I sent him on a bus back to Alberta, while the mother and children stayed a few more days. I wanted to protect the family and make sure they were safe. Then I sent them in the opposite direction, to a Salvation Army shelter in Ontario. I followed up with her about six months later—she had an apartment, was working, and was getting the family established again.
My encounter with that family really hit home because, when I was a child more than 40 years ago, The Salvation Army brought Christmas dinner to my family—long before I was ever involved with the Army. My parents had just separated, and we would not have had Christmas without the Army's help. To me, Christmas is a very important time of the year. If I have the opportunity, I'm going to make the best Christmas I can for anybody who's around me.
BY BEVERLY DANIELS
Executive director, Bermuda Community Services, Hamilton, Bermuda
The beautiful island of Bermuda—known to residents and visitors alike as the paradise isle. But with poverty on the rise, it's far from paradise for many of the people who live here.
I had a conversation recently with a man named Gregory Peers, who no longer sees Bermuda as the paradise isle. Gregory is a 39-year-old single father with three children under the age of 13. He is a regular client at our food bank and has been the recipient of a Christmas hamper for the past three years.
Before coming to the Army, he found himself constantly borrowing and returning money to friends who came to his assistance when he was a little short. It was one of his friends who directed him to the Army. He told me that the Army has been a lifeline for him, a resource that he feels has helped him to keep from losing hope.
Gregory is a man with an impeccable work ethic, so he believes that it is important for him to do as much as possible to support his family. He sees The Salvation Army as a partner in ensuring that there is sufficient food for his children's lunches and for the evening meal that he prepares for them when they are in his care.
Gregory told me that he has never felt devalued or shamed when he has come to us for assistance. In fact, he began to look forward to special occasions such as Christmas, Bermuda's annual Cup Match and back-to-school, when particular efforts were made by the family services team to make each bag of items unique to the family being helped.
For Gregory, receiving a Christmas hamper for the first time was an unforgettable experience. With excitement and gratitude in his voice, he told me about the DVD and the toys he received for each of his children, making it possible for all of them to celebrate Christmas in style. The turkey and other fixings were like icing on the cake.
With the changing economy, Bermuda is no longer a paradise. But I hope that Gregory will always be able to keep his head up high and have hope, knowing that The Salvation Army will be there to help him and his family.
An Unforgettable Gift
BY MAJOR LORRAINE SHEA
Assistant executive director, community and family services, Strathroy, Ont.
It was at our Christmas hamper distribution day, last year. In the lead-up to Christmas, we received an anonymous donation of some brand-new bikes. We didn't know how we were going to distribute them, but we wanted to be fair to everybody, so we categorized the bikes by age and drew names. When that family came to pick up their hamper, we would inform them that they were a recipient of a new bike for their child.
One of the recipients ended up being a mom who had come to us for assistance earlier that fall. She almost didn't register for Christmas assistance—she was embarrassed to ask for assistance in the first place, and she didn't know if she qualified for a Christmas hamper. But when we looked at her circumstances and saw how much she was struggling, we encouraged her to register and she did.
When the time came and she came to my table, I said to her, “You're going to receive a bike today.” She couldn't believe it. “Are you sure?” she asked, and I said, “Yes, I'm sure. We have a bike for your child, if you're willing to take it.” And at that point, she started crying. “You don't know how much this means to me,” she said, “because I can't afford these things, and I know how happy my little girl is going to be when she sees a bike for her on Christmas.”
When I looked around the room, all of our staff and volunteers were in tears, too. In that moment, I realized that, no matter what happens, God is in control. He led this woman to us, and we were able to provide assistance, even though she felt unworthy of it. She has come back to us since, and she still speaks about the bike she received for her daughter.
Giving Hope on Christmas Eve
BY CAPTAIN ANNE-MARIE DAGENAIS
Corps officer, Sherbrooke Community Church, Que.
Giving hope today! That is a great slogan for our territory—one that means a lot to me personally. But what does it mean in Sherbrooke, Que., on Christmas Eve?
As the local Salvation Army officer, it means waking up to a wonderful phone call, letting me know that we've received a donation of apples and oranges just in time for Christmas. By 7 a.m., I am driving the corps van, enjoying the smell of fresh fruit, and thanking God for providing this blessing for the people we serve, so many of whom would have nothing to celebrate Christmas. I arrive at the office with the fruit, happy to give it all away later that day.
Then I head to the kitchen, where we begin dinner preparations—turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, pie and more for 125 people. Volunteers set up tables, creating a lovely festive atmosphere, and before we know it, it's 4 p.m. and the Christmas party begins. We have a band—piano, drums and violin—greeting people with music, and the room is filled with smiling faces.
Before the dinner begins, a choir sings a few Christmas songs. Decked out in red and green, most of these choristers are people who come to our soup kitchen. Then we share the gospel and a prayer and the dinner begins. The volunteers serve the people one by one and wish them “Merry Christmas.”
While our people are enjoying this delicious meal, I take a volunteer with me and go out to deliver Christmas dinner to people who are not able to leave their homes. I knock at one door and an elderly man answers. His small apartment is nearly empty. With one hand, he takes the dinner from us, and with the other he holds up his pants, having no belt. He thanks us for the food, and as we leave, begins eating his dinner by the window.
We go back to the church, hand out gifts and clean up before closing for the night. I go home and, as I reflect on the day, begin to cry—not because of sadness, but because this is what it means to give hope today. I remember the elderly man we served, who was alone in his home on Christmas Eve—on that night, God provided food and hope to him. And I am reminded of Hosea 2:15, which says that God is the only one who can make a valley of trouble into a door of hope.
All the Little Children
BY LIEUTENANT KRISTEN JACKSON-DOCKERAY
Corps officer, Niagara Orchard Community Church, Niagara Falls, Ont.
Every year, we do a Christmas musical at our church. We invite children from the community, as well as the corps, to get involved, so we end up with a spectrum of ages and abilities, churched and unchurched.
One of the children who participated last year was a young man named Joey, who attends the church with his family. Joey was 14 years old, but due to developmental disabilities, his level of function is similar to that of a toddler. His parents had come to The Salvation Army after being turned away from a number of churches and Sunday schools because of their child's disability. So when it came time for the Christmas musical, we wanted to make sure that Joey would be included.
The theme of our musical last year was 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, and Joey was so excited to be a part of it. Dressed as a gingerbread man and holding title cards with the first and last lines of the poem, Joey walked across the stage to open and close the show. It was an important moment for our church, and for Joey and his family, when he was recognized as a valued member of our congregation, with the capacity to tell the story of Jesus in a way that perhaps none of us do, a way that is new and fresh. It was a moment in which we said, not only, “Joey, come and be a part of us,” but also, “You have something to teach us.”
Joey's mother told me that, despite being excluded from other churches, she took comfort in Jesus' words in Matthew 19:14: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Jesus said, let all of the children come to me, including those with disabilities. When Joey walked across the stage last Christmas, that truth was a reality.