I work with children at a church in a poverty-stricken area of Cincinnati. The children there come from homes where heating and cooling are luxuries. I work as transportation for the kids, driving to and from these children’s houses and the church, where I also teach Sunday school. Before it got bitterly cold, I went on a “run” with another helper at the church and we delivered sweatshirts to every child (along with a bag of canned goods that was meant to last them a weekend since weekends meant they would not get the free meals provided at school).
These children are devastatingly poor, and if anything, I have learned from them that there are people in my own backyard, born to different families, but living in another world. I come from an oblivious middle-class town, where we don’t have to worry about anything that these young children face every day. We don’t even know how lucky we are. They did nothing to deserve the life they have, but the same also holds true for me.
Only a few days after dropping off these food packs and sweatshirts for the kids, I had them in Sunday school, coloring, and ventured to ask the question “What do you want for Christmas?” Typical me, I figured these children would ask for something heartwarming—like their two front teeth, food, or anything else that maybe Tiny Time would wish for. But I was surprised to hear them shout, “An iPad!” “A kindle fire. But on’y one that’s HD.” “An android phone.” “A laptop” Astonished, I replied, “Don’t you guys want toys?” Quickly they objected, “We don’t play with toys!” I continued, “What do you mean? Does anyone here play with Barbies?…Legos?….Stuffed animals?….” “How old do you think we are?” One girl spoke for the rest. “We ain’t three! We grown now.” She was six. The oldest one at that table was in 4th grade. I looked at the other girl who was helping me with the kids, and we shared a look that only said “You have got to be kidding me!”
Of course, at that time, not realizing that these kids had done a lot of growing up for being only in elementary school. These kids can barely afford necessities, how is it that they ask for middle class, if not upper class gifts? They know that they can’t afford much. Heck half of these kids can tell me the exact amount of their mother or grandmother’s paycheck. I struggled with this for a while. Wondering why these children felt this way and what I could do to change it. I realized though, that to them, Christmas was still magical. It was still filled with hope. These children still believed Santa could come down their chimney with phones and things they never could have afforded otherwise. It was that time of year where they could forget their home lives, and pretend to be just like everyone else on TV. That is what a “Christmas miracle” is, right? Wasn’t the birth of Christ a time of new beginning? A time of hope for all the Jews and humanity? Didn’t he bring the ultimate gift, in form of himself?
There is no way we can match that with anything we can wrap up and stick under a tree. No coffee maker in the world, no matter how good it is, will ever bring us forgiveness and grace. But ultimately happiness. These children already look at Christmas as a time of hope, however, hope to them means feeling normal. It means pretending for a brief moment, that they aren’t struggling to only survive. The problem lies in the fact that this world has convinced them that only “stuff” can make you happy and fill that void which makes everything better. We need to show these children what Christmas really means. That it reminds us that we were once slaves in a world without Jesus, and now we are free from the sins that once shackled us. If we could overcome what we did then by the birth of Christ, then these children should find hope in Him to free themselves as well.
I encourage you to find a child this Christmas who needs your help. But rather than wrap up a gift, I’d like you to write them a note, or at least include one in their gift. It doesn’t have to be preachy, just show them that the Jesus in you, loves them. That’s all we can really do. While we might not give these children real meaning and hope, we can at least plant seeds. And one day, just maybe, they can believe in a Christmas miracle other than what they see in commercials.
Allison McAloon is a freshman nursing major from Indiana. She is involved in a Bible Study on campus, alternative breaks, and Emerging Leaders Initiative. In her free time, she enjoys playing guitar, watching TLC, and obsessing over orca whales.