Monday, December 16, 2013


First of all, thank you, thank YOU, THANK YOU for your entries in the My Christmas List contest. You have inspired me, the judges, and my readers with your stories of helping others not only during the Christmas season, but all year long.

Another huge thanks to my panel of judges. We judges--two from B&H, author Laura L. Smith, my intern (also an Amy :), and of course, myself--all had different favorites, but in the end, we only had one $200 LifeWay gift card to give away. 

That gift card and an autographed copy of My Christmas List goes to [drumroll]:
Kevin Butler, for his submission, Keith, the Traveler. Kevin's entry was not only about reaching out to those in need, but it also helped us all to see "need" in a different light. Congratulations, Kevin! 

Coming in a close second and receiving a signed My Christmas List is Janice Pianki, who submitted Following the Call, an entry that tells how missions can work both ways, forever changing the hearts of all involved.

Third--and one of my favorites because I met this little guy's mommy--is Little Hands Make a Big Difference from Austin Richardson. His mommy had me crying right along with her after I spoke to Austin's school that day.

Mandy Mullinix also receives a signed copy of My Christmas List for honoring her son with an entry: Eagle Scout Inspires a Community. Aiden is such a positive role model for teenagers and a source of hope for the rest of us.

And one final signed copy of My Christmas List goes to Diane Stockard for A God-Sent Christmas Miracle. Although Diane's family had lost everything, she poured her heart into Christmas gifts for loved ones. Coincidentally, Diane received a miraculous Christmas surprise herself.

Thank you so much to these and every other submission for telling us what was on your Christmas lists this year. Together, you've inspired us all to think a little beyond ourselves when we pen our lists for Christmases to come.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Changing the World, One Penny at a Time!

This My Christmas List contest entry comes from a growing church in Kentucky that's teaching its kids how to be "change agents" one penny at a time.

At Vanceburg Bethesda we are missions minded, both our little people and the adults. Our little ones participate in BGMC (Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge). BGMC is a program for kids that instills a heart of compassion to reach the lost through praying, giving, and going. All funds raised go to meet critical needs around the world, such as feeding programs, water wells, Bible schools, curriculum, and whatever else missionaries need in their part of the world.

All month long you can find our kids digging in couch cushions, emptying cup holders and car ashtrays of change, even doing chores to collect as much change as they can to fill their Buddy Barrels for BGMC Sunday. This is a picture of our pastor talking with the kids (and a few dads and grandpas to even out the boys' side) about what BGMC is all about. 

Every third Sunday of the month, our kids bring in their Buddy Barrels they've been collecting change in all month and dump all of the change out on the floor. After a short message from our BGMC Coordinator to remind everyone of why we support BGMC, the "change agents" (kids) race to gather it all up, boys vs. girls. 

This was our first year. Last year at this time, our church had 12 people. We now average around 70. We started BGMC with an annual goal of $250. The kids have been collecting and donating about that amount every month since this summer. 

This Sunday, December 15th, if the girls win, our pastor will shave his beard he's been growing for over a year. And if the boys win, the pastor's wife gets a pie in the face. 

So Bethesda kids are learning to be compassionate givers, one penny at a time! 

Love God, Love People!

Thanks to some great leaders, these kids are learning that no matter how little we are or how little we think we have, we can make a BIG difference in this world. Thank you, Vanceburg, Bethesda!

Following the Call

This My Christmas List contest entry comes from Janice, a mother who always wanted her children to follow God's calling. Then, God came knocking at her own door, and her family's life--not to mention the people of Honduras--was forever changed.

As a mother, I have always tried to teach my children to obey God’s calling. Based on this, I was extremely proud when my daughter began going on mission trips to Honduras every summer. However, the tables began to turn when she would ask me to go with her. For a long time, I argued that it was a medical trip and I was not in the medical field; therefore, it must not be my calling. However, one year the team needed a cook. I had cooked for Army soldiers and large church groups for over 20 years. I could go be the team cook, and this changed everything. That year, I submitted to God’s calling and decided to go on the trip. As a result, my husband and son also decided to go with us. It was a whole family adventure and we were forever changed. 

While on the trip, the team served in a remote village by hosting medical and dental clinics, having tent church services and just loving on people in need. Every day, I cooked with no electricity or running water for over 120 people. After serving the first meal to our team members, I was told to fix plates for our guards. These men volunteered to stay up all night every night to watch over us and our supplies in exchange for only a flashlight and meals! At first, we gave them what we had left after each meal, the leftovers. Plates were loaded with simple meals like hamburger and fries, but you cannot imagine their gratitude.  

Later, I went around the corner to throw out some water and saw a guard feeding his entire family of five from the single plate of food he had been given. As the tears rolled down my face, I thought about the love a parent has for their children. I have shared food from my plate with my children many times, but always because they wanted it-- never because they needed it and definitely not because that was all we had. From that point forward, I began fixing the guards huge plates of food first, every meal, not the leftovers. My heart was broken, and I couldn't eat my own food that trip because all I could see were the hungry families everywhere I looked.

Several years later on another trip, I noticed a little boy was at the gate every day eating the food we were serving, but I couldn't figure out how he was getting the food. My daughter is fluent in Spanish, so I had her ask him. He replied, “This is my daddy’s plate. He gives it to me every time.” Needless to say, that guard got two plates every meal. What a sacrifice that daddy made by giving his plate that he worked for to his son, all the while, not knowing if he himself would eat that day.

These fathers gave everything they had, their own food to their children. Yet our Father in Heaven has given us so much more by sacrificing His Son. Honduras has changed mine and my family’s perspective about anything, but more importantly it has changed our hearts. Even in the comforts of the United States, we now give more than we used to, and we cherish our blessings so much more. My son asked me one day, “Mom, why don’t we take family vacations like we used to?  I think we should go to Hawaii.” I explained to him that we couldn't afford both trips, and we would have to give up Honduras. Without hesitation, he said, “Never mind; it’s not worth it.”

We do make sacrifices to go on this trip each year and to give to missions throughout the year, but the blessings we get back far exceed what we give up. This is our offering of ourselves to God, but it is nothing compared to the sacrifice Christ made for us. During the holidays (and all year), we need to remember that baby Jesus in the manger is God the Father’s gift to us, the ultimate sacrifice given in His great love for us, his children.

It is God’s love for us that compels us to love others. As we strive to do this, I am impressed every year at the way God draws others to serve alongside us through BMDMI and the work they are doing in Honduras. My immediate family continues to go to Honduras every year, but now members of our extended family and our church family are also blessed by serving in this way. Baptist Medical and Dental Mission International (BMDMI) is carrying out the great commission and providing a path for normal people, in all different professions to be the hands and feet of Christ. In fact, Amy Parker’s mother is one of the nurses on our trip each summer.

These stories don't even begin to express the depths of how my life and so many other lives have been impacted by this ministry. Serving the people of Honduras has become my passion. It is my heart and my mission field. My Christmas wish is to have more money to help meet basic needs of people in Honduras, like feeding the hungry and providing medicine to the sick, as a means of pointing them towards Christ.   

P.S. Amy Parker’s mother is one of our nurses on this trip. Thank you, Betty, for giving for this trip.

Thank you, Janice (and MOM!), for being the hands and feet of Jesus, not only to the families of Honduras, but to your own family as well.

Eagle Scout Inspires a Community

This entry in the My Christmas List contest comes from Mandy, the mom of a prospective Eagle Scout. For his Eagle Scout project, Aiden's goal was to send thirty care packages to the troops. But his project inspired a community to do so much more.

Aiden brought the Tiger Cubs on board
to make cards for the troops
I want to share briefly what my 15-year-old son did this Christmas. He was collecting items to create 30 care packages for our troops stationed abroad this holiday season. It was a project with a lot of moving parts, and he was responsible for all parts--from the planning, collecting, sorting, packing, and then mailing.

Thanks to many others in the community, he was able to pack 40 care packages for U.S. soldiers stationed all over the world in the military. That was over 472 lbs. of holiday cheer to active duty soldiers.

I'm really proud of him for this. But here’s the biggest thing that made my heart sing. I wanted him to write up a note to put in each box explaining his project. He told me, “Mom, it’s a better blessing to do something nice, but not to get credit for it.”

Aiden with FORTY boxes,
packed and ready to go
Wow! He’s right. Still, I did tell him we needed to share a note so maybe we can hear back from them (and that helps us know they arrived). He did it, but I’m glad his first response was simple humility. 

Aiden's project even made the paper! Read more about it here. Thank you, Aiden, for being a selfless, serving teenager--a species believed to be extinct until now! 

Sister Schools Show Brotherly Love

This My Christmas List contest entry comes from Mrs. Wade, a kindergarten teacher at Providence Christian Academy. Like the little boy in My Christmas List, these students have Uganda on their Christmas lists too! Mrs. Wade tells and shows us how her "Sweets" are encouraging students on the other side of the world. 

The students made cards for children at our sister school Divine Grace Primary in Uganda, Africa, to encourage them and remind them that we pray for them and care about them. 

The students from our sister school write back usually in a journal form. 

Also, their school leaders visit the U.S. and will visit PCA. Their leaders may lead a chapel at PCA and have a special prayer time with the teachers.

A huge THANK YOU to Mrs. Wade and her students for sharing the love of God with the children of Uganda.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Little Hands Make a Big Difference

This My Christmas List contest entry, from kindergartener Austin Richardson, shows us that we're never too little to make a big difference.

Austin and his little sister
sending shoe boxes
Dear Mrs. Parker,

I am in Kindergarten at The Covenant School. I really enjoyed hearing you read the book during our school's Book Fair. With my mom's help typing, I wanted to enter the contest for the Christmas List. 

Our family helps others in need ALL year long. We help with our church's Room in the Inn program during the cold months. I liked bringing food to feed the men.
This past weekend, our family (with some other friends) helped bring food to families staying at the Ronald McDonald House near Vandy.

On Orphan Sunday and during the month of December, I help my mom and dad at church to sell the Ornaments4Orphans. I like to think about what the money goes to help the kids in Africa.

In November, we sent 2 different shoe boxes through Operation Christmas Child. We can't wait to find out where our boxes went!! Mom attached a picture of us with the boxes to this email.

At Halloween, we sold our candy to a local dentist who sent the candy to soldiers in the Middle East.

I love to give the newspaper sellers (The Contributor) money and tell them to save the newspaper to make more money!!

We always give our toys and clothes that we don't use to the GoodWill.

The lady that cuts our hair, Ms. Heather, her apartment burned down, and she lost everything. We gave her a lot of items that we didn't need any more. Her smile was huge when she saw all the things!!!

Most of all, we like to help send items to my sister's former orphanage in China. We adopted her last year, and we love to help the other kids that are still there. In fact, when my mommy heard you read your book, she started crying when you read the page about the girl in China!! Then, we went to buy your book immediately (and we bought one for our friends who are waiting to bring home a boy from India).

Thank you so much for writing the book!!!  I love the pictures in the book too!!


Austin Richardson

Wow, Austin. You and your family are setting a huge example for other kids and families everywhere. Thank YOU for already knowing what a Christmas list should be.

A God-Sent Christmas Miracle

Today's My Christmas List contest entry comes from Diane Stockard, with a God-sent Christmas miracle from her childhood.

I have several, but the one that always reminds me of Christmas is this one:

When I was around 7 years old, our house burned down to the ground a few days before Christmas. I will never forget standing out there with a blanket around me on that rainy and sleeting night.  People were running around and screaming. I was just standing there watching the flames take our house. That night was a night that I will never forget. My parents were out cleaning buildings and when they came around the corner, they had no idea that our house was the one burning. There were 5 children in that house, and we all got out. This was the first time that I saw my daddy cry.

That week, we stayed with my grandmother. I decided that God had given me the gift of art, so I painted Christmas Cards with the juice from berries or whatever I could make color from. I took old paper bags and I cut them into Christmas card size, and I took cardboard and made Christmas Cards. I took the cards around the neighborhood and sold them, so that I could get my family Christmas presents. I went to the local store on the corner with my little money, and I bought everyone in my family Christmas presents. Things like pocket knives for my brothers and father, little toy jewelry for my sisters, some cheap perfume for my momma, and I made some of the Christmas presents out of wood, because I could carve things. I wrapped them all up in whatever paper I could find and made ribbons out of newspaper. I was so proud of my presents. My Grandmother had a tiny tree, so I put the presents out at night and went to bed.

Early the next morning, I passed out all my presents and everyone loved them, but there came a knock at the door. My daddy went outside to talk to 3 tall vanilla men.  I thought, “Oh Lord, something else has happened.” Then my daddy came in and smiled.  When we looked up, those men were bringing in baskets and baskets of food and presents. There was a present with my name on it, and when I opened that present, my heart dropped. For years I had gone by the hardware store and saw this tall, beautiful plastic doll. I use to say, “I wish I could have a doll like this one day.”  Each Christmas, I would go up to that store and look at the toys and just wish! My family didn’t have much money, but on that snowy Christmas morning, I thought, “Santa sent me that doll.” 

It was the best Christmas ever. I gave to my family, and God gave back to me. . . .

Only one day left to inspire others with your story! Let us know how you're helping others this Christmas by sending your story--in words, photos, or even kid-colored pictures--to

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Children Serving Children

This entry in the My Christmas List contest comes from a school in Murfreesboro that is showing children from an early age how to quite literally impact the world, at Christmastime and all year long.

Participating in Operation Christmas Child is a long-standing tradition at Providence Christian Academy for our Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade students. We kick-off our collection each year with a special chapel service. Over the years, we've heard messages from teachers describing how Operation Christmas Child has impacted their lives, as well as hearing from actual shoe box recipients. The message is clear: the shoe boxes spread the love of Jesus Christ far around the globe and touch the hearts of those packing the boxes here at PCA.

Each year our tree overflows with boxes packed with toys, necessities, and a Bible for needy children. We have collected thousands of boxes since beginning the program over a decade ago. The boxes are distributed through the organization, Samaritan's Purse

This year we collected over 275 boxes. Before sending the boxes off, our PCA students, faculty & parents spend time praying over each box. In addition to collecting shoe boxes, our high school students served an important role in the next phase of the shoe box process. They packaged all shoe boxes for shipment at our local drop-off point. 

Operation Christmas Child is a favorite service project at PCA - and one that we will continue for many years to come! It's on our Christmas List!

Like this idea? Pack a shoebox with Uncle Si: