CHARLESTON, W.Va. (BP)–Only one year out of 11 have Norm and Debbie Cannada run out of toys and gifts for the underprivileged residents of Charleston, W.Va., at Christmastime.
“I walked out to the waiting area with tears in my eyes and stood on a chair to tell a hundred people that we didn’t have money to stock the shelves that year,” Debbie recounted.
For more than a decade the Cannadas have been stuffing stockings and placing presents under Christmas trees for families who otherwise would have nothing to give their children on Christmas morning.
That year, the worst that could happen did happen, but God provided. As she stood in her chair to announce the bad news, Debbie also told the people that they would pray for a miracle. In three days, more than $27,000 rolled in.
“On Christmas Eve there were so many gifts coming in from individual donations that we had nowhere to put them. I prayed ‘God, please stop,” she said. “We were able to minister to those families even more because they had seen us dependent on God and had seen God stand and deliver.”
Debbie added, “The worst that I could possibly imagine has already happened so there’s nothing that I’m afraid of now.”
That was five years ago. The Christmas Store that the Cannadas run in Charleston continues to offer a meaningful Christmas morning to dozens of families.
As North American Mission Board church and community ministries missionaries in Charleston, Norm and Debbie serve in an area rife with gang activity, unemployment, poverty and drugs but burgeoning with the hope that God has a plan for the city.
Through the ministry, mothers have come to Christ and given up crack, gang members have softened to the Gospel, and local churches have had an opportunity to reach the families who’ve benefited from the ministry.
The Cannadas work through local charitable organizations to find families in need, and each November they take applications. In December they shop at the local Kmart and other places to stock their store with the latest toys and other gifts for kids.
After parents are finished shopping at The Christmas Store and while volunteers are wrapping Tickle Me Elmo Extremes or MP3 players, parents meet with counselors to hear the Gospel. With their permission, their contact information is passed along to a church near their home, which follows up within a few weeks.
“If we just provide toys, we’re just nice people,” Debbie said. “But we don’t want to be just nice people. We want to be Jesus people.”
Throughout North America this Christmas, Southern Baptist missionaries, on mission Christians and their churches are providing merry wishes along with tangible acts of kindness and community.
In the religious activities building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, snow falls with threats of 8 inches looming, but Shelley Webb, the MIT campus minister and a Mission Service Corps missionary, has gathered with a group that has little idea what it means to have a white Christmas.
Few of those who’ve gathered grew up in a culture where Christmas is celebrated, as they come from China, Taiwan, Turkey and other countries. But they’ll learn Christmas carols and dine on potluck dishes from the different nations represented.
In addition to pictures with Santa for students’ kids, the international community gathered for the Christmas party at MIT will learn the Gospel message represented by a candy cane as well as the message of Christ behind the Christmas carols. They’ll also see a Gospel presentation through a dramatization of the Christmas story.
Webb said she’ll have the best Christmas gift.
“One of our students a couple of months ago said she would be baptized by December,” Webb said. “She kept her word. This Sunday, Hellen will be baptized at a local Chinese church.”
Those in the military who are based in Norfolk, Va., can’t avoid the kindness of First Baptist Church. Members sent packages of fleece blankets and Christmas candy to the deployed soldiers and sailors who’ve had contact with the church. Also, church families are hosting dinner for the countless military members stationed in Virginia far away from family.
“The military can’t just shut down and send everyone home for the holidays,” Gary Sanders, minister of military missions at First Baptist Norfolk, said. “So many of our families are hosting a number of military without family nearby for holiday dinner.”
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.