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Dec21FriOfficers, employees and volunteers are the hands and feet of Christ during the holidays. December 21, 2018 by Kristin Ostensen
As December 25 approaches, celebration is in the air—it’s a time of great joy for many people. But for those who are experiencing poverty, homelessness, health concerns or other challenges, the season is not always so merry.
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At the Grand Valley correctional institution for women in Kitchener, Ont., Christmas can be particularly blue. That’s why staff from The Salvation Army’s Ellen Osler Home in Dundas, Ont., make a special holiday visit. They bring small gifts—something the women may want, instead of just something they need. They sing Christmas carols led by a Salvation Army band, who are always more than willing to take requests.
“The power of these moments can be seen in the joy reflected on the faces of everyone involved,” says Cassandra Pollard, director of operations and residential services. “This experience teaches us, year after year, that at the end of the day we are all just people being people together.”
This ministry is only one example of how The Salvation Army is making spirits bright across the Canada and Bermuda Territory each Christmas. Here are five more:
BY SHELLY McCREADY
Community ministries co-ordinator, Saint John, N.B.
Last November, during Christmas registration, a Kenyan woman named Keziah came to us for the first time. She was apologetic about even accessing our services. She and her husband were university students, taking business programs. They were planning to stay in Saint John, N.B., with their children, after they graduated.
Darlene Jones, our family services worker, put Keziah at ease and prayed with her that God would provide for her family’s needs. Later, Keziah told us that she was stunned that someone would stop and pray with her. “I came for toothpaste and I received prayer,” she said.
"This was the happiest Christmas we’ve ever had."
Shortly after, I was approached by an accounting firm that wanted to sponsor a family for Christmas. We immediately thought of Keziah’s family. This was their second year in Canada but the children had all outgrown their winter clothing from the year before and they were in real need.
In the end, the company delivered the gifts and food themselves. Our contact at the firm told us, “I hope they are ready to be blessed—I can’t even fit it all in my SUV!”
After Christmas, Keziah came back to The Salvation Army to thank us. She told us that a few months before the Christmas season, she had prayed that God would take care of them. Money was getting tight. She saw that her children’s clothing was too small and she was worried. But when the sponsor came, it was as if they had walked through their home and made a list of what they needed—the specific items the accounting firm provided were the ones they needed most. Keziah said her faith had grown through the way God answered her prayers.
We couldn’t let her leave without praying with her once again. We asked that God would be their provider, that he would protect and guide them, and that 2018 would be a year of prosperity for them.
Keziah thanked us again as she left and told us, “This was the happiest Christmas we’ve ever had. I even Googled how to cook a turkey in the Canadian way!”
“Do You Remember Me?”
BY MAJOR SEAN FUREY
Sault Ste. Marie Corps and Elliot Lake Hope Church, Ont.
A few years ago, I was on kettle duty at a Canadian Tire in Dartmouth, N.S. I was right next to the exit and a bitter wind was blowing. Feeling cold and miserable, I hoped my replacement would arrive soon.
The next person who approached the kettle was a beautiful blond woman. She pulled out her wallet to find some change, but then she stopped, looked at me and asked, “Do you remember me?” I couldn’t recall meeting her so she filled me in.
Three years prior, she had been living in a Dodge Caravan with her 12-year-old daughter when she came to The Salvation Army to see if we could wash her clothes for her. Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, she was travelling from province to province in search of a doctor willing to take on her hopeless case. My volunteers and I spent that week finding her an apartment and all the things she would need to fill it. We made arrangements for her to get the pain medication she needed, and people at the corps even paid for the prescriptions. Next, we found a lawyer who helped her make her final arrangements so that her daughter would be looked after when she passed away.
“I wouldn’t be here without the people at The Salvation Army.”
After Christmas, I went to visit her, but she was no longer living in the apartment we found her and I assumed that the cancer had won. I said a prayer for her daughter when I returned to my vehicle.
But here she was. Long blond hair instead of a bandana covering her bald head. Vital and healthy instead of haggard and exhausted. Dressed immaculately instead of wearing unwashed clothes. Managing an apartment complex in Halifax instead of living in her car. Full of hope and potential. Cancer three years in remission. She showed me her engagement ring and asked if I would perform her marriage in the summer.
“You’ve come a long way since I saw you last,” I said.
“I wouldn’t be here without the people at The Salvation Army,” she answered. She put $20 in the kettle, said a bright “Merry Christmas,” hugged me and ran to her car.
That’s why we do the kettles, I thought to myself. We’re raising money so that one less person has to live in their car, so that one more person can have a chance at a new life.
The Act of Giving
BY COLLEEN HOLDEN
Family services supervisor and caseworker, Cornerstone Community and Family Services, Courtenay, B.C.
About 10 years ago, a retired couple approached us about sponsoring a family at Christmas. After experiencing the joy of the season in this way, they decided to extend the act of giving by sponsoring a family year round. Every month for the past 10 years, they’ve made an anonymous donation of a $50 gift card through our community and family services. They would drop by to meet with me, and I would then arrange for the young mother to come in and pick up the donation.
How special it was for that single mom to know that someone in her community cared about her and her family, not only during the Christmas season, but also throughout the year. In addition to the responsibilities of raising her daughter, this mother struggled with major health concerns, marital separation and her own schooling.
It has been a blessing for me to meet regularly with both families, to be a part of their lives for the past decade and see how those lives have been transformed. We have just celebrated the graduation of the mother (from college) and the daughter (from high school), both of whom are contributing to their community. The retired couple is now sponsoring another family, hoping that others would consider doing likewise at Christmas and throughout the year.
What Is Most Important
BY MAGGIE BAKER
Mat shelter supervisor, Community Services Centre, Fort McMurray, Alta.
It was a chilly morning on Christmas Day, although we didn’t really feel it, having warm thoughts about giving our patrons their Christmas gifts. I pictured the 35 men and women still sleeping as we took the elevator down to the floor that houses the mat program at The Salvation Army’s Community Services Centre in Fort McMurray, Alta. This program supports those who come each day to have their basic needs met: respect, food, clothing, a bed and support for their struggle with mental illness, addictions and more. We hoped they would like their gifts and were excited to be involved with the gift giving again this year. For many of our patrons, Christmas is a difficult time of year. We always try to make it as special and personal as possible.
First, we laid a Christmas stocking next to each person for them to find when they woke up. Then, as we served them a hot breakfast, we called each of their names to come and get their gifts.
“Thank you for blessing me today.”
I gave a gift to a man who was new to our shelter. He smiled at me and said, “Merry Christmas and thank you.” When he looked at the gift he became emotional and started to cry.
I approached him and asked if he was OK. It was a few minutes before he could speak. Finally, he revealed the reason behind his response: “I’ve never had a gift with my name on it before.”
He took a few steps away, then turned and said, “Thank you for blessing me today.”
As with other Salvation Army ministry units, the Community Services Centre is extremely busy during the Christmas season. But even in our busiest moments, God has a way of reminding us of what is most important. Encounters like the one I had with that man are like whispers from God that reveal the true meaning of Christmas.
Comfort at the Kettle
BY MAJOR LORRAINE ABRAHAMSE
Divisional integrated mission secretary, Newfoundland and Labrador Division
In 1994, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Surgery was followed by six months of intense chemotherapy, which was completed in December 1994. I was cancer-free for 13 years but in November 2007, the cancer returned in my lungs, my lymph nodes and down my chest cavity. In January 2008, I had more surgery and started taking medication. When I had a scan three months later, my oncologist couldn’t believe the results. The cancer was reduced to zero in one lung, reduced in the other lung and there was less cancer in the lymph nodes. I said to my oncologist, “I don’t know if you believe in God but I do, and I truly believe that he performed a miracle!”
Since 2007, the cancer in my lung has metastasized to my second lung and liver. I have a CT scan every three months.
Over the years that I have been on this cancer journey, there have been many times when I hated having this disease. But there was one day last Christmas that I was actually glad I had cancer. Let me explain.
While I was manning the Christmas kettle, a woman came up to me and started a conversation. Noticing my head was covered with a red scarf, she asked me if I was undergoing chemotherapy treatments. I replied that I had just finished.
She proceeded to tell me that her daughter had been diagnosed with cancer a few months before but, sadly, had passed away in October. We had a brief conversation before she continued on with her shopping.
God can bring good out of a bad situation—at Christmastime or any time.
After she left I started praying for her. (With my eyes open, of course—after all, I was on the kettle!) A short while later, the same woman came back to the kettle. As she gave a donation, she said to me, “Christmas will be difficult for me this year.”
We had another brief conversation after which I told her I would pray for her. She thanked me and gave me a hug.
I couldn’t help thinking later that if I wasn’t living with cancer, I would not have had this particular conversation with this particular woman on that day. My having cancer drew her to me. Perhaps she felt I would somehow understand something of what she was feeling.
As I reflected on that day, I was humbled at how God can use a cancer patient to bring comfort and encouragement to someone else who has been deeply touched by this dreaded disease. He can bring good out of a bad situation—at Christmastime or any time.
“Dear Lord,” I prayed later that evening, “you know this woman and her heartache. Please speak into her life bringing comfort. And, if I was able to speak into her pain and loss as a means of giving comfort and encouragement to her, then, yes, I am glad I have cancer on this day.”