By Rosette Mansour, Senior Partner Relations Officer
Why do believers give presents and host Christmas parties? In hard times, it often feels more logical to give bread instead of toys, or to work instead of singing songs.
Throughout the Bible, we see religious feasts as a symbol of remembrance – a time to teach the people about the goodness and provision of God. In Nehemiah 8, Ezra reads the scriptures to the people of Israel. After hearing and understanding the meaning of the law, the people were weeping. Nehemiah swiftly steps in and commands, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Likewise, we see the Christmas season as a time for joy and remembrance. Through the continuous gifts of a faithful partner organization, LSESD has been able to provide “to those who have nothing prepared” in the form of Christmas meals and gifts. The project began seven years ago with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but we’ve expanded it to Lebanese children, given the severity of the economic crisis on the local population.
Mary, a mother of a 10-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy said, “The joy and the messages you are sharing with our kids are so valuable and precious to us, and we wouldn’t be able to do so on our own. We saw the joy on their faces, and the church was full of laughter on this day.”
This Christmas, 20 churches in Lebanon and 25 churches in Syria are receiving gifts, goodie bags with food, and help with event organization.
One church partner said, “We were planning to do an event for 50 children. 150 have registered so far without even knowing that there are gifts, because people are so desperate to see a message of hope! People miss being in a community where they are taken care of.”
Children in other circumstances might take these Christmas events for granted. For these Lebanese and Syrian children, it is a retreat – a safe place to play and be a child again.
An older girl at one event said, “Our childhood was stolen from us. We come to the education center and then we go in the afternoon to work. We don’t have toys; we don’t have time to play. So thank you for thinking of us and for giving us games.”
For others, it’s a chance to imagine their life turning out differently. In one church where they distributed the gifts, and some of the younger children got a toy doctor’s set. The children were so happy, and you could see the smiles on their faces. They were saying, oh, we are doctors! Now we can help people.
We are giving these children not just a toy, but a hope for the future. They can imagine themselves, even at this young age, as an educated person who is able to help their community.
Most importantly, each gift comes with a deeper meaning – a retelling of God’s gift through Jesus, the Light of the World. Through the church partners, each child hears a message of hope. They know that these people are serving them because of the love of Jesus, and furthermore, this same Jesus loves them too.