Giddy anticipation ripples through the crowd of children arriving for the Compassion Christmas celebration. I watch from the window of a barn-turned-church in Uganda, which sits uphill from a child development center where the kids are gathering. I’m recalling Christmas mornings as a child in Colorado, my siblings and I sitting on the staircase waiting for our parents to let us come down and open presents.
The excitement I felt back then must be nothing compared with what these kids are feeling, knowing they will soon open presents and eat cake. Having met and interviewed dozens of sponsored children and families during my years working for Compassion, I know it’s probable that some of these kids have never received a gift or tasted cake in their entire lives.
Behind me, a woman shoos goats from the church and uses a handmade broom to sweep up the dirt floor after them. Could this BE any more Bethlehem? I wonder.
It’s powerful — being in this place that feels so similar to the Bible’s description of where the first Christmas happened, complete with sounds and smells of the recently bounced goats (who are bleating angrily outside and trying to get back in).
Earlier that morning while helping the child development center workers carry hundreds of wrapped presents up the hill to the church, I noticed that each gift included a handwritten name. Each name belongs to one of the children who comes here for meals, tutoring, health checkups, Bible lessons and games. Some Compassion centers serve more than 300 children (with different age groups attending at different times of days or weeks). But even with all those kids in their care, the staff and volunteers are seriously committed to knowing each one personally. They know their names, their family situations, their sponsors’ names, their health issues, their personalities.
While most of the world may overlook or turn away from these children who live in the humblest of circumstances, the caring adults at this humble church do not. And soon the children are heading up the steep hill to the church to celebrate a most humble birth.
Our plan for handing out the gifts to them goes as smoothly as it can, considering there are like 200 kids in a room filled with shiny, wrapped gifts, waiting to hear their names called (there are several workers helping hand out presents). When it’s finally their turn, they tear open the paper and drop it on the ground, inspecting the several gifts inside.
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I walk from one group of kids to the next, watching their reactions. Toy cars, dolls, backpacks, water bottles, candy, books, clothing, shoes … the center director tells me that when the staff shopped for the children’s Christmas gifts, they made sure every child would receive practical items and purely fun ones too.
The unbridled joy in this room is a long time coming. It began months ago, when people like you and me — who probably hadn’t begun thinking about Christmas yet — decided to give to Compassion’s Christmas Gift Fund. Otherwise there would be no way this church could have bought presents for all the children they serve in Compassion’s program.
But thanks to those who gave to the fund, the kids at this Compassion Christmas celebration are filled with joy and candy as they follow their teachers down the hill to the center for cake. Many of these children have sponsors, while others are still waiting. But all of them received a shiny package with their names and gifts picked out just for them. That is an aspect of the Compassion Christmas Gift Fund that leads to one of the most frequently asked questions from sponsors: “What happens when I give a Christmas gift to my sponsored child?” And the answer is different from when a sponsor gives a family gift or birthday gift, which goes directly to their sponsored child or family of the child.
Giving to Compassion’s Christmas Gift Fund works differently than other gift giving. Why? Can you imagine how different this Christmas celebration would look if only some of the children received gifts? What about those whose sponsors couldn’t afford to send a gift this year or who had canceled? That would pose an even bigger problem for Christmas this year, considering the number of sponsors who had to cancel after losing their income because of the pandemic. That’s why all the donations go to one Christmas Gift Fund, so the generosity and hope of Jesus may be shared among every child in Compassion’s program around the world.
As the Compassion Christmas celebration starts to wind down, children are finishing their cake and playing outside. I ask a smiley 10-year-old boy named Andrew, whom I’d met earlier, what he would say to people who gave the Christmas gifts. He says:
I want to say thank you so much for bringing us gifts. We are so happy to receive your gifts.”
Soon Andrew, whose favorite present was a book, and the other children will gather their new gifts and start walking home. Some have miles to walk, but they do it with a smile that comes from the joy of celebrating Christmas with friends and beloved teachers. Or maybe it’s the sugar. Either way, it’s all possible only because of amazing people like you who give to the Christmas Gift Fund!
Give hope and joy to a child living in poverty … give a Christmas gift by Oct. 31! Click the button below.
Photos by Emily Turner and Willow Welter.