By: British Hyrams

Among the people I polled, their descriptions of Christmas 2017 included the following: Wonderful! Out of the ordinary. One of the best! On par with ALL of them (emphasis added). Of particular note is that these volunteers were referring to their time spent serving our homeless neighbors as a part of the Room in the Inn (RITI) program hosted on Christmas night at our church.

On Christmas Day, just like many other days of the year, there are children of God in our midst who don’t have the opportunity to celebrate. They don’t have the fundamental privileges of sharing a meal with family and friends, opening gifts, and falling asleep on a warm couch with a full tummy. Yet, for these 15 men, the spirit of Christmas was alive and well that evening as they talked of their youth and fond memories. As one volunteer noted, “Christmas is about the gift of love. What better way to show it than by giving to those who have been hurt by life?”

On Christmas Day, volunteers chauffeured our neighbors back and forth in the church vans, cooked and served a complete traditional dinner of turkey and dressing with all the trimmings, spent time with and gave their undivided attention at the dinner table fellowshipping with our guests. In addition, the men were given tangible gifts of love in the form of gloves, hats, underwear, toiletries, and sweet treats. The men were appreciative; and the extravagant meal and gifts reinforced the love of God as expressed by our church community.

For some volunteers, participating with the RITI on this important Christian holiday meant shuffling other commitments with their own families. One volunteer worked hard to squeeze in time earlier in the day with family members who had driven in from out of town. For others, their service with the RITI filled an empty holiday on the calendar that was just waiting on the possibilities that God would provide. They were delighted to be able to share the love of God in such meaningful circumstances.

One family of siblings gladly filled their first Christmas after the death of both parents by serving together in this program. RITI provided the perfect opportunity to share the love of Christ on the day we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. Another volunteer spoke of the difficulty breaking the news to her young grandchildren that she would not be able to spend Christmas Day with them. The boys were disappointed, but what a moment of witness and fulfilling one’s purpose! Surely this memory will contribute to shaping their faith as they reflect on this act of sacrificial servanthood in years to come. Finally, one volunteer said it best. “This was an easy decision. These friends need help and understanding, and it is our privilege to provide what we can.”

Many of us cherish the Christmas season because we take for granted the ways in which we get to celebrate the birth of Christ. Our circumstances blind us to those with vastly different situations. For others, we are poignantly aware of the loneliness, pain, fear, and need that exists for men, women, boys, and girls all around us. Spending time providing for and serving our brothers and sisters is formational to faith (ours, theirs, and others) and a method of worshipping God our creator like no other.

British Hyrams is the associate pastor at Central Steele Creek Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC.  She is also a volunteer at the Room in the Inn program, and a member of the APCE Advocate ministry team.