Giving to Gatlinburg

December is a busy month for everyone, and at PT it was no different. At Antioch, our kids were beyond excited because they knew the end of the semester was going to be special. They began asking me about Christmas presents around October, so you could say they were struggling to be patient. For a few weeks we talked about what Christmas would look like at PT. I told them on the last night we would have a Christmas-themed Family Fun Night, and the day before was a Christmas party. It is no surprise that kids love receiving gifts at Christmas, but we did not want to miss the opportunity to talk about the importance of giving as well. The recent wildfires in Gatlinburg gave us an opportunity to do this.

One afternoon instead of doing Young Explorers like usual, I explained to the kids what happened in East Tennessee. There was a fire and many people lost everything. I asked, “What do you think we should do?” Then I was amazed. One by one kids raised their hands and shouted out ideas. We could make cards, talk to the President, raise money, try to put out the fires, or collect something. As a group we decided collecting items was the most attainable. “But what should we collect?” I asked next. We made a list on the dry erase board, then voted. Pillows. They wanted to collect pillows and they were PUMPED about it. Kids wrote letters to anyone they thought could help- Pastor James, our homework volunteers, parents, teachers, interns, church members, even me. We made a video to show in church that Sunday. I was amazed by their excitement and genuine desire to do something.

Now, the focus wasn’t on what they would receive for Christmas, but what they could give. As pillows came in and our pile grew bigger and bigger, so did their excitement. I was so proud, and they did it all on their own.

These kids have the sweetest hearts. I see so much hope in them and the way they see the world. I see hope in the way church members support our cause and contribute more pillows than I can fit in my car. I see hope in the way church members and volunteers rally together to get Christmas gifts for every child. I see hope as kids sing “Emmanuel” in both English and Spanish in front of everyone at our Family Fun Night. Project Transformation has given me hope and I continue to be amazed by the way God works in this ministry.

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Erika Allen, a recent graduate of Florida State University, serves as Fellow at Antioch UMC. 

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