I have a very important question for you. Have you started your Christmas shopping yet? I firmly believe there are two kinds of people in the world: those who start Christmas shopping in January and those who start their shopping on Christmas Eve.
In my family, my Aunt Betty was an early shopper. Her gifts were always carefully chosen, and her nieces and nephews were always excited to open her carefully wrapped presents on Christmas Eve. I still have some of her precious gifts more than 30 years later.
On the other side of the spectrum was my stepdad. I adored him, but his gifts were often purchased from the gas station down the road. His gifts were quite … well … unique? We shared lots of laughs over leaky snow globes and T-shirts that were always the wrong size. Great memories, but I can’t say that I still own one of those gifts.
I tell you that story because I want you to know why you may have already received a letter or email reminding you to send a Christmas gift to Compassion kids this year. When you opened that first note, you may have found yourself asking, “Why so early?”
I can tell you exactly why. Because our Compassion staff across the globe definitely shop like my Aunt Betty!
A few years ago, I was able to go along with several groups of volunteers from Compassion centers to do their Christmas shopping. I hope that by taking you along on that journey, I can help you feel even more excited about Christmas with Compassion!
Making a List, Checking It Twice
The tutors were positively giddy as they piled out of the van at a local shopping center in El Salvador. Each one clutched a list of children whom they worked with at the center. By each child’s name was a scrawled list of notes gathered after spending time with each child every week. This child loves toy trucks. That one needs a new pair of shoes, size 2. A teen needs school supplies as she studies for entrance exams.
As the tutors fanned out, I followed along, smiling, knowing that each and every child on their lists was deeply loved. And this Christmas gift was just one more example of that love. I knew that each gift would tell a child in poverty: “I see you, I know you and I care about you.”
Their joy was contagious. The shopkeepers smiled and joked together with the tutors. And it struck me that this Christmas shopping excursion was also supporting their local community. We were helping keep shops open — and, likely, some of those very shopkeepers were aunts and uncles, even parents, of the children we were shopping for.
That day, I watched tireless volunteers spend their afternoon finding thoughtful, impactful gifts for these children whom they had already poured so much of their time into caring for. And I watched a market come alive with hope, with everyone coming together to make sure children felt loved on a day when the love of Jesus overflows.
At another Compassion center, this one in a Tanzanian village far from the hustle of towns and marketplaces, a group of squirming kids lined up in front of their tutors. Each woman held a long piece of measuring tape. They held it up to arms and legs, measured heads, and soon sent the giggling children off to play.
These volunteers were far from the market, so their approach to Christmas shopping was far more involved — and needed to start months before Christmas. They wrote down those careful measurements and then met with local tailors to help make durable clothes for the children. A small group would also take a long trip into town to buy small toys and treats for the children.
Months later, they would lay out the carefully labeled clothes and treasures and hand wrap each bundle. Every step was deliberate, from the pants that were made a little long for extra room to grow to the sturdy ribbons and wrapping paper that moms could reuse.
I hope these two glimpses into Christmas with Compassion do a few things for you. I hope they make you excited to be a part of the Christmas joy that is spread throughout each Compassion center. With each meticulously stitched piece of clothing, every colorfully wrapped present, you are telling a child in poverty that they matter. That someone sees them. And, most importantly, that the gift of Jesus is one that covers each of us.
And, finally, I hope that you know why we are doing that “Christmas shopping” so early! We want to give our volunteers and staff around the world plenty of time to make their lists, take their measurements and do their shopping. It’s a holy task, sharing with children that they are known and loved, and we want to make sure they have plenty of time to tell that message to each child in their care.