WINDSOR, Colo. (BP)–The girls went from rack to rack, searching for the right size, color and look. One girl held up sweaters next to pants. Another found turtlenecks and jeans. A dress and matching tights lay neatly in the basket. Refusing to buy items that required special care, the shopping squad focused on practicality and price. They did, after all, have to work within a budget.
At the end of the shopping spree, the Girls in Action group from Hillside Baptist Church in Greeley, Colo., left the department store with nearly $200 in clothing, all at half price. None of the Gas, however, will wear the clothing they bought. Instead, the girls wrapped them in bright Christmas paper for Chelsea, a girl they may never meet. Chelsea is one of 700-plus children served by the Christian Activity Center in East St. Louis, Ill., whose Christmas depends on the generosity of missions volunteers.
The Girls in Action group has participated in the Christian Activity Center’s Adopt-a-Child Christmas Program for so many years the leader can’t even remember the first shopping trip. “I think we started back in the early ’90s,” Karen Thomason recalled, “after I wrote a unit on Chet Cantrell [the center’s director] for Girls in Action.”
In November, Margaret McCurdy, director of the Adopt-a-Child Christmas program for the past 14 years, sends a child’s name and Christmas list to volunteer shoppers. She makes sure each list includes some necessities and a special-wish item. Chelsea’s list included a coat and hair accessories. Most lists include a toy, shoes and clothing.
Each year’s shopping trip for the GA group begins the same way — by counting money. “We’ve never, ever, run out of money,” Thomason said.
Sometimes God provides in unexpected ways.
One Christmas, a young GA named Alicia brought all the money she had saved to get her ears pierced. Last year, Madison gave a gift card she had received for her birthday. Church members also give to help with shopping and shipping.
One year, the group was in the store, voting on which items to buy. Their enthusiasm caught the attention of a nearby shopper who wanted to know what was going on. When a leader explained that the girls had saved money to buy the only Christmas presents a child would receive, the woman insisted on giving $10 toward the purchase.
Even after girls are too old for Girls in Action, they ask to attend the GA Christmas shopping trip. Genesis and Roxanna are former GAs who still participate. Their mother, Yolanda Aleman, credits the project for helping her children gain compassion for others. She believes they will continue ministry efforts as they become adults.
Madison’s grandmother, Linda Thomas, said: “I feel that missions work helps my granddaughter understand God’s heart towards those in need and helps her understand that we are God’s hand that He uses to reach out to others and show them His love through real-life experiences.”
Making sure Christmas is a special time for the child the group adopts is important to Madison. She goes beyond giving her birthday money. “I pray for her on Christmas every year,” she said.
When Thomason considers the children the Girls in Action have helped over the years, she says, “Small groups can do big things for God.”
Claudean Boatman is a freelance writer and a GA leader at Hillside Baptist Church in Greeley, Colo.