Paying it Forward: A Christmas Blessing

Mary McQuagge, Children’s Minister

In the weeks after Hurricane Michael countless churches within the United Methodist connection came forward to help Bay County and surrounding communities in our time of need. This year the city of Lake Charles, Louisiana was hit with not one, but two major hurricanes. In the aftermath, God led our church to opportunity to pay forward the kindness we had been shown through a partnership with University and First United Methodist Churches in Lake Charles. We are so thankful to God for using us to provide a Lake Charles Christmas Blessing!

Members of First and University United Methodist churches pray over the toys and gifts donated by members of Lynn Haven UMC.

Our members graciously donated toys for approximately 120 children, $25 gift cards for 85 young adults, and gift bags for 140 children who attended the University UMC pre-school that was destroyed by Hurricane Laura. Additionally, generous contributions from our members allowed us to give $5,000 to both churches, distribute 300 copies of the devotional book “The Christian New Year,” and give 200 pre-lit Christmas trees to families who lost their tree in the storm or are living in campers or temporary housing due to their homes being destroyed.

Christmas is a time for joy and wonder. When you’re picking up the pieces after a hurricane destroys your community, it can be hard to feel festive. That’s how we felt after Hurricane Michael and yet numerous churches came to our aid to share the love of Christ and the hope of Christmas. These churches brought things we wouldn’t have thought to ask for – like toys to put a smile on our kids’ faces (and take a bit of worry off our minds), handmade quilts, meals served in our parking lot after worship, and cash resources that allowed us to keep all our staff on the payroll and meet other needs, both small and large.

We were so blessed to spend time with our new friends from University and First United Methodist churches in Lake Charles, La. who this year experienced devastation from not one, but two major hurricanes.

I was thankful to be part of the effort to pay it forward while spending time with our new friends at First and University UMCs on Monday, November 30. Both churches had people there to help us unload and set up the toys. They cooked a delicious Cajun lunch for us to enjoy as we sat and chatted with their staff.  Together, we transformed the First UMC worship lobby into a festive toy pick-up zone with tables full of amazing gifts and walls filled with thoughtful signs from our friends at our partner school, Southport Elementary. 

While we worked we talked about all the joy these gifts will bring as well as how  it can be difficult to accept blessings in hard times when so many are in need. That was a sentiment many of us felt after Michael. Sure our homes were damaged – many destroyed entirely – but others were experiencing much greater suffering. We were all reminded that when a blessing comes, it is from God. To accept it gratefully and joyfully is an acknowledgement of his goodness and love. Not to mention, there will ALWAYS be an opportunity to pay it forward!

Members of Lynn Haven UMC pray over the toys and gifts with members of First and University United Methodist churches.

The highlight of the day for me was when we all gathered to pray over the room and the gifts.  We all took turns and what I kept hearing was that these gifts and the hands that gave them are the light of Jesus shining at the end of a dark tunnel for the people in Lake Charles.  They were so very thankful that God brought our churches together in a time when encouragement and love was so desperately needed.  Our team from Lynn Haven was so thankful to be able to pay forward the many blessings that were bestowed on us two short years ago in our hour of need. 

The encouraging and festive signs were decorated by our friends at our partner school, Southport Elementary.

The community of Lake Charles has a long way to go to get things back on track – a familiar story – but they are looking forward to “Lake Charles, better than before,” a saying that is posted around their community. 

God has blessed our church with so much and we are so thankful to be a part of a fellowship of believers who are always looking for ways to share our blessings with others near and far.