By Beverly Secrist
Sidewalk Sunday School Christmas Project Coordinator
This past December, Sidewalk Sunday School’s Christmas Project saw over 1,000 children in The Desert Southwest Conference have a little brighter Christmas in addition to learning the Christmas story. Some of these children have been coming to Sidewalk Sunday School for a number of years while others are new to the weekly worship service.
Billie Fidlin, Director of Outreach for The Desert Southwest Conference began Sidewalk Sunday School in 1999. Billie brought with her the desire to see all children receive at least one gift for Christmas, to show them about God’s love, and to let them know that others cared for them. Most of these children live in impoverished areas and the gift they receive from Sidewalk may be the one of the very few Christmas gifts they receive, if any.
Sidewalk’s mission is to help unchurched children, youth, gang members, homeless people, and family members hear that there is a someone who loves them, who wants and desires a personal relationship with them, and who considers them God’s most precious child. This unique outdoor worship, often held in parks or parking lots, is for those who have yet to hear, who have already heard, and who need to hear again the name and love of Jesus Christ.
When the Christmas project began, churches were asked to fill men’s tube socks with small gifts for the children. In 2010 the switch to gift bags made filling easier and at the same time all the teens began receiving $20 gift cards so they could do their own shopping for themselves or someone else.
There are currently 12 Sidewalk sites in our Conference, each sponsored by a different United Methodist Church. The size of the sites vary from a dozen children to over 200. Christmas usually brings out a few more children and teens than those who attend regularly, but if just one new child who doesn’t know God is reached and he/she returns to Sidewalk in the future, we’ve done our job.
I was able to visit two of the sites this year when they had their Christmas party and gift giving. It was a delight to watch the children’s faces when they received their filled bags or gift cards. Smiles galore! Even the toddlers seemed happy to receive a stuffed animal to cuddle.
Churches make commitments between August and the end of October to fill bags and provide other items. Several of the churches make this an ongoing project. As soon as one year is over, they sign up to participate again the following year. Once the filled bags, gift cards, and other items are delivered to the Methodist Conference Center, on the first Monday in December volunteers process the gifts and prepare them for pick up by the site directors. Commitments from the churches, or groups within the churches, range from 10 to over 150 filled bags. No commitment or donation is too small.
This is the first year that the requests for gift bags from the site directors exceeded the commitment from the churches. My biggest fear with this ministry is that we won’t have enough bags to give to all of the children. Would you and your church consider partnering with us and provide gifts as we reach out with love and compassion to these kids?
To see pictures from the 2013 Sidewalk Sunday School Christmas event, check out the slide show at http://desertsouthwestconference.org/sidewalk-sunday-school .