This month, in the spirit of joy and giving, GraceWorks hosts our largest single outreach to Neighbors. The Manger is a Christmas shopping experience created to provide our low-income Neighbors with gifts for their families; especially their children. Over one thousand volunteers join us to serve nearly one thousand families at this event. The Manger is a vibrant, beautiful, large-scale picture of GraceWorks’ mission statement, “Neighbor serving Neighbor” at work!
This year, I wondered afresh why this gift giving event was called the Manger. I wished I had asked its founder, Susan Thornton, when I first met her three years ago. In the meantime, I looked up the meaning of the word manger to gain some clarity. Of course, I found the common definition: A manger is a trough or feeder used to hold food for animals. But I was fascinated to learn that this word comes from the French manger meaning “to eat.”
As I reflect on the definition of a manger as being a place where hungry animals come to eat, perhaps the name was chosen so that the Manger could be a place where needy people can come to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Imagine wondering how you will provide a Merry Christmas for your children and then walking into a large fellowship hall filled with toys, gifts and bikes provided just for you. The magnitude and relative extravagance of the Manger makes it a visual feast!
But we don’t just give toys, bikes, stocking stuffers and such at the Manger, we also provide hope, encouragement and tangible reminders of who God is and who our Neighbors are and can be in Him. One way we do the latter is to invite all our shopping Neighbors to a separate quiet room where we sit and pray for them as well as give them a gift of a Bible or devotional.
It is in the prayer room that I met a grandmother who more than toys or other gifts, needed the gift of hope and a fresh reminder of God’s goodness. She had just lost her daughter a few short days ago. Her daughter had registered for the Manger a month earlier, thinking she would be here in December to shop for her own daughter. God had a different plan. Instead He called her home.
So, this grieving grandmother came to the Manger to shop for her granddaughter in her daughter’s place. The daughter had scheduled her shopping time for Friday, but this grandmother was there on Wednesday because on Friday she had a different appointment—one where she was scheduling the funeral arrangements for that same daughter. I am so honored that this grandmother would trust us with her fresh grief and thereby give us the opportunity to comfort her and provide for her a reminder of God’s love and of His goodness as we also provided tangible gifts of toys for her dear granddaughter.
Often people walk through the doors of GraceWorks at the end of themselves. The Manger is no exception. People come hungry for hope and hungry to know there is a good God who loves them. Thank you for all you do to provide a feast that answers our Neighbors’ need, whether it is a feast of tangible things like food, rent or utility assistance or a feast that richly meets their spiritual or emotional needs. Your gifts of time, prayer, financial gifts, and yes toys, are what makes the Manger a place where our Neighbors can indeed come and “taste to see that the Lord is good!”
Have a blessed and Merry Christmas!
Valencia A. Breckenridge, CEO