by Sam Martinez ✠ Member of the SML Board of Directors, Member of the SML “CAN” Team, and Volunteer Extraordinaire
One of the three goals set forth by the St. Mark’s missions and outreach team was to support the local charity groups in the Spring Branch area, support other local missionary groups such as LINC, and to provide assistance to people suffering from human sex trafficking. An opportunity developed to partner with LINC through their Christmas outreach program, “Toys for Joy.” This was St. Mark’s way of answering the question: “Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World?” A challenge came from Pastor Scott and the St. Mark’s Church to provide 498 gifts for the boys and girls in a couple of LINC communities; and to use this opportunity to reach out to people who may not know Jesus and start that conversation both at the church level and in their homes.
Thanks to God’s blessing of the St. Mark congregation, they exceeded that challenge. I think some people were skeptical of being able to meet such as large gift quota, but it was amazing to see how our congregation opened their hearts and gave that extra bit to help reach so many people. Jodi and her daughter Dorothy Byerly, Christina Tilotta, Daniel and Pastor Heitshusen, and I were excited about traveling to the LINC partner congregation, Casa de Oracion (“House of Prayer”) to deliver a portion of the gifts that St. Mark had donated. Upon arrival, we joined their fully attended congregation and participated in their Spanish worship service. Though we didn’t fully understand what was being said, we all recognized the hymns that were sung, such as “Angels we Have Heard on High” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” It was amazing and a cultural shift to see how so many people worshipped and praised God. We also joined the children for an animated movie that explained, in great detail, about how Jesus is the reason for Christmas and not just receiving a bunch of presents. The movie took all of us on a journey back to when Jesus was born and that He is God’s gift to us. It also showed how the gifts of the three wise men to this little baby Savior is the practiced tradition we uphold today. The church leaders asked questions to all of the boys and girls throughout the movie to make sure the message was well received.
Afterwards, we adjourned to the gymnasium where the gifts were separated out by age so that each child each received one gift and was instructed not to open the gift until they got home. Then they were instructed to ask their parents about Jesus to start the conversation about God’s love, and hopefully start attending church services regularly.
It was great honor being asked to assist with this ministry and I am blessed that God chose me to be a light to so many boys and girls.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” – Titus 2:11-12 (NIV)