Shortly before Christmas, a group of children from the neighborhood gathered in the Rev. Mark Lauer’s home to wrap gifts. They talked and laughed as they filled empty cardboard shoeboxes with small toys, school supplies, hygiene items and accessories like a hair clip or baseball cap.

“We had a lot of fun doing it,” Mark says. “We also shared a snack and some games together.”

kids-wrap-presentsThe children worked hard to pack and wrap 18 gift boxes, but they weren’t your average Christmas gifts given in hope of reciprocity. The children knew they weren’t getting anything in return—and that was the point.

For Christ the King Anglican Church in San Jose, California, this year’s Christmas outreach was about helping its community serve others. To focus on the meaning of the Incarnation, Mark chose two unique twists on gift giving. First was the children’s event held at his home, a service project for Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse that provides simple shoebox gifts to children in poverty around the world. Every child sitting in Mark’s living room—churched and unchurched alike—knew the magic of opening a special gift on Christmas, but it was their first time to give a gift to less fortunate children across the world.

Its impact was unmistakable. Before the children left Mark’s house, one girl asked, “Could we have church at your house?” Her sweet words confirmed that Christmas “service” is the church’s mission all year round, because it creates a bridge to the love of God.

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“Launching a children’s neighborhood initiative is one of my strategic priorities for next year,” Mark says.  “I hope to have something that looks like Sunday School or a toned-down VBS planted in the neighborhood. We will do kids’ ministry there where the kids are, and then reach out to the parents.”

Christ the King’s second service project was partnering with Angel Tree, a program of Prison Fellowship that reaches out to the children of inmates and their families with the love of Christ. Christ the King agreed to provide Christmas gifts to 20 children with incarcerated parents. As a way to welcome them and exchange gifts, Mark invited the families to come to Christ the King’s annual Christmas party. As it turned out, the families were unable to come, so Christ the King delivered the gifts separately. One of the Angel Tree families came to worship with them on December 22, and expressed that they felt very welcome and would return in January.

“They were very grateful and surprised by the warmth of the church,” Mark says.

Both service opportunities allowed Christ the King to organically share their holiday celebration with those who are struggling or do not yet have a church home.

“We chose to serve and to give,” Mark says. “It was both wonderful and awkward– a slice of real life. But I am convinced that for our own members, giving to others at Christmas was an enriching experience. I think for those who received, they will be influenced in ways we may never know. We will move forward trusting that it is better to give than to receive.”

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