Christmas Blessings & Opportunities

By Shane Vander Hart

It is hard to believe that Christmas is upon us already.  The year has gone by so quickly.  It looks like here in Iowa it will be a white Christmas.  I can’t say that really excites me, but my kids love it.  I’m at home today writing this since Cheryl is having a tooth pulled and that way I can be at home to attend to her needs.  Since we home school, our kids finished some school work and are taking a break sledding and snowboarding in our back yard (we are on a hill and the backyard is a downward slope).  So they are having a blast.  Snow to me just means shoveling, perhaps one day I’ll find some joy it in J.

I can find joy in other things with Christmas though.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” (Isaiah 7:14, ESV).

      “For to us a child is born,
   to us a son is given;
   and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
   and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
  Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
   to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
   from this time forth and forevermore.
  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this,” (Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV).

We can celebrate that in Jesus we have our Immanuel, God with us!  Charles Spurgeon shared the significance of Jesus as our Immanuel.

“Immanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with Him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendor.”

The kids that SOY works with, in particular juvenile offenders, often times don’t experience joy in this time.  I attended a couple of weeks ago the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives’ National Summit on Prisoner Re-Entry in Los Angeles, CA.  At that conference I learned that with this population of kids:

  • 64% are under the poverty level.
  • 79% come from a chaotic environment.
  • 55% have a parent in prison.
  • 45% have mental health issues (including depression).
  • 49% have drug abuse issues (I’m assuming that is those who are documented, at Polk County Youth Services about 70% of the kids who are detained are found to be drug involved).

I thank God that with SOY we have the opportunity to share with kids the hope present in Christmas.  Not only sharing in words, but also in deeds – I’m always amazed at how the Body of Christ is mobilized to meet the Christmas needs of our kids.  As I write this the Christmas needs for the Polk County Youth Services’ Detention Center and Youth Homes of Mid-America have been met.  I know that Christmas items for the Polk County Youth Services’ Shelter keeps coming in so we look like we are in good shape for that facility as well.

I would like to encourage those of you who are living in Central Iowa to take time to get involved as well.  Some things that can still be done.

  • We are looking for groups to spend time with kids over Christmas break (since they are out of school over Christmas they have a lot of unstructured time) at Polk County Youth Services in the detention center and transitional shelter.
  • Provide baked goods for Polk County Youth Services workers, Youth Homes of Mid-America staff, or Woodward Academy staff as a practical way to share God’s love.
  • You can contact me directly at shanev@serveouryouth.org if you would like to help

If you live outside of Central Iowa I would like to encourage you to contact your local juvenile detention center or facility and see what some of the needs are and how they can be met within the guidelines of the facility.

Me-closeupbwShane Vander Hart is the Director of Ministries & Volunteer Development with Serve Our Youth Network.  He has been on staff since 2002, and has been involved in youth ministry since 1992.  He also blogs at http://shanevanderhart.wordpress.com.

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