What Urban Missionaries Do

Here we were neck deep in Christmas, working every day from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. from Saturday, December 7 to Monday, December 23. With volunteers working tirelessly to fill bags, hopefully matching that special gift with that special child. Then, a request comes to help. Not just your ordinary, “Can you help me with the rent this month, or can you help me with heat this month.”  No, it was can you help five Karenni high school students earn a monthly stipend!

Our friend, Mr. Steve Devincent, had come up with an incentive plan to fund a program to motivate these students by giving them a stipend of $30.00 per week for three hours service work or training in English or computers as long as they maintained a B average or better. My first reaction was, “Heck No! We don’t have time for this. Everyone is already working at their maximum effort – how can we take this project on?” As I started to think about it, however,  I thought maybe we could squeeze it in using a shoehorn.

I decided that if the students’ schedule was flexible enough we could use them at the LittleStore or Saint Oscar Romero food pantry at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. “Hmmm,” I thought, “This may work out.”

I responded to Steve and told him about my ideas for managing this program, how and when the students receive their stipends, and the B average requirement.  He agreed and we decided to have an introductory meeting with all the students, Kathy, Steve, and myself. 

At the introductory meeting, we introduced the students to what we do at Urban Missionaries and how we thought we could be of some help to them, if they wanted to avail themselves of it. We found out that they were Myanmar by culture and Thailanders by birth. Their first ten years of life on God’s good earth was spent in a relocation camp awaiting relocation to another country that would accept them. Their schooling was totally unlike our schooling and they all had to learn English once they got to the United States. They are painfully shy to the point where we need to address very explicit questions to them to find out any information. A tough jump to make for anyone.

We then laid out the ground rules for how they would get paid, what their work schedule would be, and how we would get them to Saint Oscar food pantry. We also spent some time trying to figure out what kind and how much computer training they would receive. We found out they knew very little about computers, but they showed interest in learning more. We decided that we would spend one hour a week on computer and eEnglish issues.

We are now a couple of weeks into the program and as expected we have hit a few bumps on the road, but everyone pulls together and we work our way out of the situation. The students are getting comfortable interacting with the clients at the food pantry. They have taught us that they are fast learners and very hard workers. So please keep the program, The Student Incentive Program, in your prayers and if you are so moved as to make a donation, please make a note designation to The Student Incentive Program. 

Christmas 2019 Recap

Christmas 2019 has come and gone like a thief in the night! Like all of its sister Christmases past, it had its high moments and its low moments. When all is said and done, 1,900 children received a wonderful gift of charity from people who they don’t even know. We can only imagine the smiling  faces and the sound of joyful giggles from these children when they saw what “Santa” had brought them. It only matches the smiling faces and joyful giggles of our Christmas volunteers when they “found the right gift” for a child whose bag they were filling. It brings  a smile to my face every time I think about it!

What about that anonymous gang of about 7,000 people who take a tag or two or three and head into the shopping frenzy to find the “right” gift for a little boy or girl whom they only know by their first name, their age, gender, their coat size and the requested gift. To them, Christmas is a time to worry about the other, be they big or small, black or white, Christian or otherwise, whether they live in my town or far away.  It’s not a time to quibble about our differences, it is a time to show the love God has for all his creation.  When I think about them, I pause whatever I am doing and say a prayer that God will bless their work. 

This year, we were able to sign up 891 families with 1,883 children which works out to about 12,000 gifts. We were blessed to have a few families sign up to volunteer December 22 and 23, 2019. This allowed us to process another 33 families to receive Christmas toys! Because of the generosity of everyone who contributed to our Christmas appeal we were able to waive the $5.00 donation fee for 41 families. Another interesting Christmas fact for you to ponder is that from December 16th to the 23rd we had 169 families sign up. This is startling because we started taking names on October 5, 2019!

So with all this good Christmas news, let me tell you how the season ended. It is December 24, 2019 and it is 11:58 A.M.  I had dismantled all of the computers and packed away all the partitions we use to create a data entry space in the shed, packed up all the heaters, shut off the gas to the building, neatly arranged the gift bags for the 18 families who had not yet claimed their gifts and I had just finished bagging the cash register we use for Christmas to protect it until we need it again next year, when there was a knock on the door! “I can’t believe it,” I said to myself in complete despair. Whenever this happens it is never good. 

I opened the door and a young mother said, “I am here to pick up my gifts.” “A little late,” I thought to myself. “But I don’t have my paper.” she said. “Well, “ I said, “Without the slip of paper (by the way this is the receipt we give at sign up and it has the identifying family number on it so we can identify which bags belong to which family.) I can’t find your gifts. “Well,” she said. “Can’t you look it up?” “No,” I said because everything is shut down. All the computers are dismantled, the offices are all closed up for the holidays, and I am on my way home to be with my family.” “Are you sure?”  she said angrily. It was then that I took a good look at her and noticed that she was “high” on something and my defense mechanism kicked in. Was she really going to give the kids their gifts or were they going to be sold for more drug money? So I told her to come back on Thursday after Christmas and bring her slip of paper and we would be able to get her gifts. This way I thought the kids might have a better chance of getting the gifts even if it was after Christmas.  She took a step back and just looked at me for a few seconds and without another word turned and got into a car and left. Here it is well after New Year’s Day, and I still haven’t seen her. This still haunts me in the still of the night!