Blog: December 2018

Monday, December 24

Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts.... 
–Matthew 2:11

"Every year we get this charming donation for the Christmas store," shared Sio, our talented children's ministry director.  "Two matching outfits for girls. I mean they're quality. High end, boutique store quality.  Really adorable." 

The Christmas store is an important tradition at UrbanPromise. Rather than handing out gifts to families--an action than can often be disempowering and humiliating--our leaders create a store where parent can come and choose quality gifts for their children.

"The matching outfits are usually scooped up by a mother or father who has two daughters," continued Sio. "It's always a popular item for our families." 

Sio was intrigued by uniqueness of the gift. After all, why would someone go through the trouble of donating matching outfits every year? There had to be a story. So, after a little research, Sio discovered that the mystery gift was always packaged and mailed from Charlotte, NC.

"So last year when I visited Charlotte my curiosity got the best of me," chimed Sio, "I went to visit the person who sends the matching jumpsuits."

To Sio's surprise, an elderly couple were behind the gift--"a wonderful, sweet couple" who love our work and mission. Sio questioned the woman about the reason behind the gift.

"I always wanted granddaughters," confided the women. "We just never got them. So it brings me such joy to envision a couple of sisters dressed in those matching outfits."  Beautiful. That's a story.

The way people respond to the circumstances of their lives intrigues me deeply.  For some, not having grandchildren might lead to resentment or bitterness. For others, this absence or void becomes a motivating force leading to acts of generosity, thoughtfulness and beauty. Same situation--just a completely different response. Our friends from Charlotte filled their void with kindness to strangers.

In the Christmas story the Magi come to the Christ-child bearing gifts. Gifts were the only appropriate response for what they were experiencing. Words were not enough.

And that's why many of us will give gifts this Christmas. Gifts are powerful. They are our attempt to materialize the deepest intentions and feelings of our hearts for others.  May we give thoughtfully, reflectively and imaginatively.

Bruce Main
Founder & President

Questions:

  • What is the most meaningful gift you have given?  Why was it so meaningful?
  • When did you receive a meaningful gift?  What did the gift tell you about your relationship with the person?
  • Reflect on a gift God has given to you this week.
Sunday, December 16

"Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God."
–Luke 1:30

A beautifully wrapped box leaned against my office door. Whoever left it there had taken great care to neatly fold the paper, ensuring exact creases. A complimentary silver bow juxtaposed the black paper, pronouncing a level of quality.  This was a grade up from the Dollar Store.

What struck me was the weight of the gift box as I hoisted to my hip. Rocks? Paper weights? Lead pellets? It was heavy. 

I opened the card first, tearing a small hole and sliding my index finger along the top. As I pulled the card from its holster, a neatly folded piece of paper feel to the floor.

I picked it up and read:

"Principles of Embalming--final grade, A-minus." I looked again, double checking the document. "Funeral Service Pathology--final grade, A."  Evidently I was viewing a transcript. No ordinary transcript. A transcript for being a Funeral Director.

"Dear Bruce," began the note. "UrbanPromise made a difference for me, once again, so I could finish the spring semester. Your gift didn't just encourage me to finish the semester, but it reminded me that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Love Chivon."

God use people--you and me--to remind others that they have potential, worth and favor.

For a moment I pondered. Then remembered her SOS email. It came one cold morning six months earlier. Chivon, a young woman who grew up at UrbanPromise, had run out money and needed $300 to stay enrolled in her Funeral Services degree. I was able to call a friend and get the money. Apparently it made the difference. Not only did she finish the degree (and not only will I get embalmed at a discount!), but it reminded her of God's faithfulness and gave her the confidence to believe that her life could be extraordinary.

Extraordinary lives don't just happen by accident. They are often the result of choices. Some strategic. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time, prepared and ready to take advantage of the fleeting opportunity that drops in our lap. But sometimes it's having a friend, a counselor, a family member, a pastor, even a stranger intervene at a critical moment who reminds you that you have found favor with God. God uses people--you and me--to remind others that they have potential, worth and favor.

"So why mortician school?" I innocently asked.

"When my grandmother died I didn't have money to pay to get her hair done," she reminisced. "So I asked the funeral parlor to let me make up her hair and prepare her for burial. It was a meaningful and healing experience for me.  I've decided I now want to minister to grieving people during this period of their lives." 

Advent is truly a season of sharing hope and light. It was no accident that inside Chivon's heavy gift box were three large candles.  I am humbled to be part of a ministry that sends ambassadors of hope, like Chivon, into the world.

Bruce Main
Founder & President

Questions:

  • Reflect on a time when someone has intervened in your life during a critical moment. What did you learn from that experience?
  • What opportunities do you have to bring hope to someone who needs encouragement to persevere this week?
Monday, December 3

I'm going to send you what God has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with the power from on high. – Luke 24:49

"Where did the name UrbanPromise come from?"  That's a question I'm asked all the time. It's a great story.

Years ago a group of missionaries gathered in a musty church basement in East Camden. Our task was to find a name for our growing ministry. Before us: a blank chalk board and caffeinated minds full of ideas.

Over the next few hours we spontaneously wrote names and phrases on the board--an old fashioned brainstorming session! By the end of the session there were 100's of words scribbled. But nothing was clicking.  We were stuck.

"I just read this article," shared Gina, one of our pioneers. "It was based on Luke 24:49. The writer talked about staying in the city and waiting for God's promise of power from on high."  She continued to share how the disciples, with just a promise, were directed back to the city–an urban community. "There were no guarantees," she revealed. "Just a promise!"

Then it clicked. Out of the hundred's of words on the dusty black board, two jumped out--"urban" and "promise".

Everyone in the room unanimously agreed. "Urban" reminded us of our daily commitment to the city. "Promise" reminded us of God's faithfulness to provide and guide our efforts.

As you are well aware, our world is full of broken promises--the impact on children is acutely profound. Parents break promises. Politicians break promises. Educators break promises. Religious leaders break promises.  Broken promises can lead to broken lives. The world desperately needs places where promises are kept.

That's what we try to do at UrbanPromise. For 30 years you have helped us keep our promise to the children of Camden. Every gift, every prayer, every volunteered hour helps fulfill our promise keeping mission.

The name UrbanPromise continues to grow in meaning and recognition. For our children, families, staff, volunteers and donors UrbanPromise is a place of hope, opportunity and love--year after year. It's a place where people experience the faithfulness of God embodied in a community of people. That's power. That's a promise.

Bruce Main
President & Founder

Questions:

  • Reflect on a time where a promise has been made to you and kept?  A time a promise was broken?  How did each impact your faith?
  • Have you ever made a promise that required more of you than you could have anticipated?  What did you learn about yourself in the process?
  • What is your promise to your community this advent season? 
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