Bend, Ore., is a winter wonderland this time of year. When I visited in December, there was a fresh blanket of snow.
Temperatures were dipping below zero degrees Fahrenheit.
All across the country this Christmas, churches ordered a Hope Tree box from Food for the Hungry (FH).
They set up a Christmas tree with ribbons, a tree topper, and—most importantly—packets with the faces of vulnerable children who needed sponsorship as ornaments.
They un-decorated (took child sponsorship ornaments off) the tree week after week, celebrating as children were sponsored. At Antioch, the packets on the tree represented Ethiopian children who are more than just faces to the church – they are real children in a place where the church’s members have chosen to partner.
Antioch Church took the opportunity to tell stories from the mission trip to Kenya and Ethiopia that several of their members took recently. A church member named, Heidi, shared the details of the trip, thanking the church for their support.
Another member, Jen, told of the powerful experience of watching her teammates meet their sponsored children. She told me later that when she had seen the power of child sponsorship, she had started sponsoring a child herself.
Alia spoke powerfully about the trip to Africa that she had waited 20 years to take. When she finally went, she found herself beautifully broken. “Jesus taught that He was always present,” she said, “not only with the poor but in the poor.”
After the church service, the team members stood near the Hope Tree and told their stories to those who approached the table. Many church members sponsored children, un-decorating the Christmas tree.
I was grateful for the opportunity to visit Antioch Church and experience this special occasion with the congregation. Pastor Ken Wytsma’s vision for justice, combined with the mission team’s passion for vulnerable children in Ethiopia, created a very memorable Hope Tree weekend.