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Discovering the gift of Christmas at City Kidz

Last Christmas, City Kidz, a Hamilton charity, celebrated a successful gala fundraiser with over 1,000 guests in attendance. From a ministry that was founded by Todd Bender 21 years ago, City Kidz now spans three cities and reaches 4,000 inner city children in Hamilton alone, with a message of hope through the power of the gospel.

In December 2013, winter seemed to have come early. I’d recently finished a Master’s degree in Ottawa and moved home to figure out what to do next. I’d heard about City Kidz, so I found myself volunteering there as I tried to discover what God really wanted me to do.

City Kidz’s Gift of Christmas program blessed me as well as the kids. I accompanied Susan Morris, the Director of Fund Development, as she visited participating inner city families in December. It was a bitterly cold evening, growing dark as we went door-to-door. The weather was so cold that some families invited us into their homes to warm up while Susan filled out the children’s wish lists for Gift of Christmas. Girls asked for hair straighteners and Barbies; boys asked for Lego and remote-controlled cars. 

Susan also reminded the children about the upcoming Christmas party. Inside an apartment building, a girl named Madison answered the door. She was holding a beater covered in mashed potatoes, helping her mom prepare supper. When Susan mentioned the Christmas party, Madison was crestfallen. She had a cousin coming to visit that day.

“Ask Susan if your cousin can come along,” said Madison’s mom. Susan handed Madison a second invitation for her cousin, and her face lit up.

Along with other volunteers, I wrapped hundreds of gifts, each labeled with a child’s name. Madison’s gift and all the others were dropped off at their homes over the following week. An only child, Madison had no one to play with after school. Her present, an arts and crafts kit, would keep her busy building things for weeks to come. 

When the day for the Christmas party arrived, snow blanketed the city of Hamilton. The party was rescheduled for the following Saturday. That morning, the Sherman Avenue theatre was decked out in coloured lights, and red City Kidz buses dropped off excited children at the door.

The party was a lively event filled with music, games and prizes. It included a reading of The Grinch, accompanied by a drama and a story of how the Grinch realized that Jesus was the greatest Christmas gift. As the program drew to a close, Santa himself paid a visit! And yes, Madison was there with two of her cousins.

Our modern-day version of Christmas is all about tangible gifts, wrapped in paper and bows, placed under a Christmas tree. Jesus’ birth was marked by gifts, too: wise men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh, gifts worthy of a king in that era. Later, after he rose from the dead, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to give us spiritual gifts.

Where we’re supposed to be – helping others
City Kidz’s Gift of Christmas program demonstrated to me, again, that the gifts are less important than the message they bring: God loved us enough to give his own Son. When we give ourselves to the Lord, he shares spiritual gifts with us – ways we can inspire others, encourage them, teach them and care for them. I didn’t really know where I was supposed to be last Christmas, but I found out that no matter where I was, I still have spiritual gifts I can use to help others. 

Gifts are of no use if we keep them to ourselves; our spiritual gifts can’t be used in isolation. We need to use them to strengthen each other, to become communities bearing witness to Christ’s love. Giving is the expression of love. The City Kidz mission statement says, “Because of God’s love for us, we love children regardless of race, ability, religion or economic status. We believe that to increase resiliency and inspire dreams we must demonstrate unconditional love through nurturing personal relationship one child at a time.”

That statement is followed by these Bible verses: “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13: 7, 8). Though not from the traditional Christmas chapters, these words fit my City Kidz experience.

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