| by Anne Abayasekara
(December 26, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It was Sandra (who is like an extra daughter to me), who made the startling suggestion over Christmas lunch last year, that we should desist from exchanging gifts at Christmas.
|Tuesday Club kids busy preparing for today’s celebrations|
We looked up in surprise. We were an intimate group of family and friends at the table and we had always given one another Christmas gifts. There were some protests, but Sandra’s contention was that none of us really needed more presents as we were already reasonably well-endowed with worldly possessions and the money would be better spent in providing a treat for the needy.
She had a point. Paddy said, “Oh come on! We don’t go in for expensive gifts, only little tokens of love given at this season.”
Another observed that it wouldn’t feel like Christmas if we didn’t give presents to those we loved. Yet another reminded us that the idea of giving Christmas presents originated when the three Wise Men from the East laid their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, at the feet of the Christ-Child as they fell down and worshipped Him in the manger where He was born.
I expect we shall, once again, be giving each other our tokens on Christmas Day this year too. However, the reminder that it is Christ’s birthday we celebrate every December, brought home to me that our gifts, first and foremost, should be offered to Him. And what can we give Him?
There is Christina Georgina Rossetti’s carol which concludes with these lines:-
“ What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part –
But what can I give Him?
I’ll give Him my heart.”
If we give Him our hearts, we would do what pleases Him most, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year. He made it quite clear in so many of His utterances, beginning with His exhortation that when we love God with all our hearts and minds, our love must flow out to our neighbours, which meant to anyone in need, as shown in the immortal story of the Good Samaritan (St.Luke 15: 11-32)..
At a carol service I attended earlier this month, the Bidding Prayer recalled the Final Judgement contained in St. Matthew Ch.25. “And because this would rejoice His heart, let us remember, in His name, the poor and helpless, the cold and hungry, and the oppressed, the sick and them that mourn, the lonely and the unloved, the aged and the little children……..”
He said, “In as much as you did it for one of the least of these my brothers, you did it unto Me”. Of particular relevance is His saying that instead of inviting to a meal those who will invite us back, we should ask the poor and needy who will be unable to return our hospitality (St. Luke 14: 12 -14.).
We can praise God that there are many of His followers who serve Him in such ways even today. Those who, on a regular basis, visit the sick and those in prison, the elderly and the orphans, the poor and the lonely, and who at Christmas take time to plan a special treat for these forgotten people.
Young volunteers in my church have run a street children’s programme for years, but to me, the most significant thing they do is that on Christmas day, they hold a festive lunch in the church hall for all the children and their parents and they sit down with their guests to share the meal, foregoing the pleasure of sitting at home with their own families for lunch on this special day. Members of our Youth Fellowship will go to Mullaitivu this season, taking parcels of dry rations for distribution to needy folk. More loving deeds than we know of are quietly performed anonymously, away from the limelight.
I look forward eagerly to attending our carol service on Christmas Eve, and then on the 25th morning there is the exhilaration of raising my voice in church with a few hundred others in singing the opening hymn. “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant……………..” and in listening again to the familiar but always stirring story of Christ’s birth in a manger in Bethlehem. Later on, the customary small gathering of family and friends will meet round my table and we will exchange our tokens of affection.
I have no doubt that Sandra too will arrive with her usual quota of gaily-wrapped presents for everybody! This is a day for loving interaction with our loved ones and also for reaching out to others who are not kith or kin.
Christmas is a recurring miracle. It kindles the hope that the deepest desire of human hearts for lasting peace on earth and goodwill among all people, need not be an impossible dream if we would but unite to work together to make it come true.
“What shall I give?” you ask as Christmas days draw nigh,
“What can I do for those I love? What present can I buy?
What shall I give my feelings to express and to convey –
For the Festival of Love we keep on Christmas Day?”
“What shall I give?” said God, “unto my children there below –
Struggling in the dark? What gift of joy can I bestow?
“I will go Myself,’ He said, “as one of them to be;
I will visit my creation – they My face shall see.
“This will I do to prove my love and teach them how to live –
More I cannot do for them, and more I cannot give.
I Myself will be the gift within a human frame –
I will give them Christmas to remind them that I came.”
It’s Christmas for them too
This Christmas, as most of us sit down to a special lunch with our loved ones, rejoicing in that feeling of family togetherness, a small group of volunteers will be sharing lunch with some 60 children, not of their own families but whom they have come to care for as their own.
For the children from the poorer neighbourhoods of Kollupitiya, it is a much awaited Christmas celebration; in the past weeks, they have made their own cribs, cards and decorations and in the fun and laughter they enjoy today, the gifts and greetings they receive and the chicken buriyani they share, they too know what it is to be special- for they along with their families are the special guests at this Christmas gathering.
This Christmas lunch is not a on-off affair, rather part of an ongoing effort by a committed band of people who have been silently reaching out to children of a different community for years. It all began when a member of the Kollupitiya Methodist Church Youth Fellowship felt the need to help the children and families who lived in the Colpetty slums around the church.
Inspired by a prayer by Bob Pieree she had read ‘Lord break my heart with the things that break yours heart’ she gathering together a few friends and they decided to invite the children to come and spend an afternoon with them. The Minister of the Kollupitiya Methodist Church at the time, Rev. Norman Taggart was supportive and Methodist College’s Scott Hall commandeered for what would grow into the Tuesday Kids’ Club.
The children were given food, taught some songs; they played a few games with them. Nothing very big, just sharing time and an effort to reach out to them.
That was in 1989.
Last week entering Scott Hall, by the side of the Kollupitiya Methodist Church, the cheerful hum of voices reaches us. In an upstair room, the children were of all ages and sizes. The little ones clustered around one volunteer relating a story to them, the bigger ones painting and pasting intently at a table while a group of mothers and grandmothers chatted comfortably in another corner.
“It was started to show love,” says Romaine Jayewardene, a volunteer, explaining how the Tuesday Kids’ Club has grown to be an indispensable part of many of these children’s lives and indeed of the volunteers’ too. They come in every week to learn, to have fun and also to share their problems.
It may have begun as a once-a –week effort but the volunteers’ efforts have stretched far beyond now. Through the years, they have become deeply involved with the children and are all too aware of their constant struggles, the broken homes and difficult circumstances they come from and how this weekly gathering provides solace and support for ones who have precious little guidance in their own lives. They now are welcome visitors to their homes as well.
“Many of the children tend to drop out of school,” says Hiranthini de Silva who heads the volunteers now, speaking of how they try their best to support them with their studies , buy their school books and uniforms and encourage them to stay in school. Their efforts don’t always succeed, she says candidly, recalling how some girls elope at an early age and then return, a few months later pregnant. Help and support are still given- she was there, with one young mother at childbirth, caring for her.
There are countless ways the Tuesday Club members provide support, from finding older ones jobs to costumes for a school play, celebrating birthdays and even providing them loans to stand on their own feet. Self-esteem is something most lack and Hiranthini feels that one of their biggest contributions has been to be a strong shoulder for them to lean on. Many of the children confide in them, whether it’s about problems in school, at home or even with boyfriends and they try to guide them to make the correct decisions in their best interests. “They all go to school,” she says, mentioning with pride one boy who had passed his O’Ls. “None of them beg now.”
In the group are young mothers who themselves were once members of the club, now happy to bring their own children to benefit from the Tuesday Club.
“I was praying for a chance to serve the Lord,” says Hiranthini, adding that she got involved with the group in 2002 when one of the other helpers left, and finds her outlook now drastically changed. “This is actually Christmas,” she says, speaking for the group, “when we see the joy on their faces.”