Welcome to America

by Christopher Wurpts
When I moved to Arizona, I had the opportunity to work at a small church in east Mesa as their Director of Youth Ministries. The youth group was very small – maybe four or five kids – and it hadn’t been incredibly active before I arrived.

One of the earliest ideas I had was to put together a Christmas mission project for our group to rally around. So I contacted the Welcome to America Project, a Phoenix-based non-profit that assists refugee families in the area with housing and other basic needs. They had a Christmas program where groups could “adopt” a family, providing them with things like food, clothes, and toys. It sounded like a manageable task for our small youth group, and we were assigned a family with two grandparents and their two teenage grandsons from Cambodia.

I told the students at our church and they immediately latched onto the idea. They began to bring money in from all sorts of places. One young man stopped going to Starbucks for a few weeks and brought the money he would have spent in on Sunday morning. Another person took on some babysitting jobs. After it was all said and done, however, we still only had around one hundred dollars. Our group agreed it wasn’t enough.

We began to ask the other groups around the church for their support. I went to the men’s prayer breakfast on Thursday morning. A few of our kids got up and made an announcement in front of the church. We canvassed the entire congregation, asking them to help make this a very special Christmas for this refugee family.

Maybe it was because the folks at our church were happy to see our youth active in church again. Maybe it was because the congregation hadn’t done a real Christmas project like this in a few years. Whatever the reason, at the end of the week we counted the money we brought in. And it ended up being around $2,500.

It seemed like too much for just one family. So I called the Welcome to America project again, and asked them if there were any other families that would benefit. There weren’t. Every family had been assigned. I asked them if we could just give some of the cash to the family instead. No, they said, that would be against their policy.

So that next week, our group loaded up the church bus and went to buy $2,500 worth of Christmas presents. We bought clothes and toys and food and shoes and bikes and skateboards and pots and pans and just about anything a family could ask for. We crammed it all onto the bus and brought it all down to a run-down apartment complex somewhere in central Phoenix.

I got out and introduced our group to the family. We began to unload the presents and we brought the presents into the tiny one-bedroom apartment. It was, quite honestly, overwhelming for everyone. There was just so much stuff. And then, at one point, the other refugee families from the complex began to poke their heads into the open door.

And the grandmother, without even thinking, began to hand them the things we were bringing in.

It became this silly cycle: we’d bring stuff in, and as people would arrive at the door, the grandmother would look through the boxes and give them all something. At one point, I noticed her giving away a tablecloth we hadn’t even brought. When it was all said and done, most of the people living around that family had gotten something for Christmas – all because of the generosity of this tiny woman.

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