During a Difficult Season, NCC Churches Share Hope
Churches throughout the Northern California Conference found numerous practical ways to inspire hope during the Christmas season—hope that people in their communities carried into 2021.
During a giveaway at the Stockton Mayfair church, 183 people—aged two to over 60—received a bicycle for Christmas. “I feel grateful,” said one young teenager. “I’ve been wanting a bike. God did great things!”
During the event, the parking lot was full of hope as participants waited for their number to be called to choose a bike. “It was a joy to bring smiles to faces and to engage with the parents,” said Pastor Rudy Peters.
One mother said she looked forward to being able to ride with her son. “Now that we have [his bike], we can work on being healthy,” she said.
The project was partially funded by a grant from the North American Division, which has sponsored bike giveaways at other locations. To promote the event, members distributed fliers in the neighborhood, Peters appeared on a local television program, and the church spread the word through social media.
The event will make a difference in people’s lives for years to come. “So much comes along with [having a bike],” said a father as he lifted his small daughter onto her new bicycle. “Being in her life, being there to teach her how to ride it—it’s one of those moments that you have with your child. It’s a forever bond, a forever memory.”
SACRAMENTO CAPITOL CITY
For more than a decade, the Sacramento Capitol City church’s Angel Tree program has provided presents for community members, and this year it helped give 250 people a hopeful Christmas. “I have a passion for this ministry,” said Carol Herbert, the church’s mission council leader. “I just keep doing it by God’s grace, and He blesses every time.”
Younger children received presents designed to spark their creativity, such as craft supplies and building blocks, while teenagers received gift cards. The church also gave gift cards to families to help them purchase food for Christmas dinner and other holiday items.
Herbert and her team distributed the presents during an afternoon drive-through event at the church. Afterward, three mothers wrote to express their thanks:
“We want to thank you, my children and I, for giving each one of them a smile this Christmas. May God bless you and fill you with blessings.”
“Thank you very much for the gifts for my kids. They are very happy with their toys. They were very special for this time because I am not working. We appreciate it very much.”
“I am very grateful to you for the toys. This Christmas will be very happy. Many thanks! You all are angels of God.”
When a sheriff’s car pulled up to the Orangevale church’s drive-through Christmas celebration, participants were startled. The event had been carefully planned to fall well within the county’s safety guidelines. But the officers surprised the church members. “They stopped by to say thank you to us,” said Pastor Jon Cicle. “They told us, ‘We are so glad you are doing this. Thank you for doing something positive for your community.’”
Although the event was advertised on a huge banner and on social media, a number of community members discovered it by accident as they were driving through the neighborhood hoping to see Christmas lights. About 100 cars came through the various stations, including a manger scene with live animals. Music was provided by Orangevale SDA School teachers and students, and there were prepackaged refreshments and small gifts, including soap made by students.
The church invited attendees to participate in a canned food drive, and people brought enough to fill 40 shopping bags. They also donated $300, unsolicited, for the church’s food closet, which brings hope to at-risk community families.
“Our hearts are full and grateful to God for the opportunity to serve our community and bring a little cheer into the lives of those that joined us,” said Cicle. “We wanted to be a blessing.”
Throughout December, the Napa Community church invited people to a series of drive-in Friday evening vespers programs designed to inspire faith and hope during the Advent season.
At each program, 60 to 80 people gathered in their cars in a parking lot at Napa Christian Campus of Education in front of a stage decorated by the school community. Broadcast over FM radio, the programs featured family groups singing carols and Senior Pastor Nate Furness speaking about the events leading up to Christ’s birth. To encourage busy families to come, the church served prepackaged meals, such as pizza and burritos. One evening, the group celebrated communion together, led by Furness and Principal Justine Leonie.
Although technology provides access to a huge variety of worship services from all over the world, Furness emphasizes the importance of the neighborhood congregation’s ministry to its members and community. “I believe strongly that people need a spiritual presence in their lives from their local church,” he said. “Now more than ever, people are becoming more aware that they need Jesus. Our faith in Him pushes us to see the world with new eyes.”
During 2020, members of the Gracepoint church in Rocklin made a nearby apartment complex the focus of their outreach efforts, and they finished the year by helping to provide a joyful Christmas for 60 families.
Each family received a stocking with gift cards, homemade bread (safely made), a bag of oranges, a copy of The Messiah, and a prayer request card. All of the children in those families—44 total—received a Christmas present. With the apartment manager’s help, the church had invited residents to submit their children’s requests, and members shopped for each one.
Residents were grateful for the gifts and curious about the givers. “When volunteers brought the stockings, people asked, ‘Who are you? When can we come visit? When will the church reopen?’” said Marlene Rodriguez, associate pastor.
Several people filled out the prayer request cards and turned them in to the apartment office for the church to pick up. During the gift delivery, one mother asked a volunteer to pray for her and her family.
The church looks forward to bringing more hope to their neighbors throughout 2021. “I believe there are people in those apartments who are seeking Christ, and our job is to direct them to Jesus,” said Rodriguez. “We want to meet their spiritual need.”