Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write something AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL (10/02/14)
TITLE: The Worth of a Child
By Leola Ogle
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“Do we let babies come?” I asked Cindy, one of the regular volunteers.
“Only if a parent or teenage sibling comes along,” Cindy answered as kids wrapped their arms around her legs. She patted heads, called them by name, and told them to find a seat.
It was my first time to participate in Phoenix Teen Challenge’s Christmas Outreach to inner city children. The Flintstone Kids, a regular ministry of Phoenix Teen Challenge, met every Saturday. Since I worked weekdays, I wasn’t sure what went on. I did know that a hundred or more kids gathered on Saturdays, and they were expecting at least a thousand kids for the Christmas outreach.
We continued to make stops until the bus was filled. Some kids came out clutching edible items I didn’t consider breakfast food. But they all had one thing in common. They were smiling and well-behaved.
Our full bus pulled up where several of our other buses were unloading. Buses would be going out again to pick up more kids. For weeks prior, volunteers had been canvassing the community to pass out flyers announcing the outreach.
The nearby National Guard Armory had donated their building for our use that year. Inside, there were already several hundred children sitting on the floor, their faces eager with anticipation as they whispered and giggled.
“Here.” Joan, our children’s pastor, shoved a sack filled with candy into my hand.
“What am I doing with this?”
“Just circulate among the kids. We don’t punish for bad behavior, we reward for good behavior. Give a piece of candy to those being quiet and still.”
“Uh, Joan, kids hyped up on candy won’t stay quiet for long.”
Joan grinned. “You’re so new at this. They take the candy home. They can’t eat it here. Tell them that as you give them a candy.”
I soon returned to Joan. “I need more candy. They’re all good. And all those sweet smiles and begging eyes…well, you know.”
By the time the program started, the floor was covered with hundreds of kids. The regular volunteers, most of them from a local Mennonite church, always had kids reaching out to touch them, or just to say hi. It was easy to see the love that flowed.
It got noisy – really noisy – as clowns and other workers gave interactive performances. But for the most part, it was a controlled environment. The program included the Christmas story, pantomimes, singing, and an invitation to accept Christ at the end.
During the presentation several of us walked through the crowd and passed out tickets to the exceptionally good children. These tickets could be turned in later for a toy. Also, as they entered, each child received another ticket good for a drawing for a bicycle.
Every year local businesses donated several bicycles and toys. In addition, every child received a stocking filled with candy, toys, and hygiene items provided by churches, businesses, and organizations. Red stockings were for girls and green for boys. We even had stockings donated from a church in Texas, flown in for free courtesy of a leading airline.
The whole atmosphere tugged at my heart. I hoped I could make it through the event without crying. Some of these kids had dirty faces, disheveled hair, no shoes, or torn, too small or too large clothing.
When it came time for the drawing for the bicycles, a hush fell over the crowd. Everyone clutched their ticket, their eyes hopeful. When every bicycle had a winner, a collective sigh of disappointment could be heard from those who didn’t win. But they knew they’d be getting a Christmas stocking, so they were soon giggling and chattering as they left the building.
At the conclusion, Jeff, our Teen Challenge director, approached me. “You know, for many of these kids, this will be the only Christmas they get. So, what did you think?”
“I feel overwhelmed with awe, gratitude for everyone who made this possible.”
This was 1992. I would participate in many more Christmas outreaches. I appreciate all those who donate to the less fortunate. The spirit of giving thrives during the holidays. But mostly I appreciate those who dedicate their lives to helping every day of the week, not just during the holiday seasons.
**Author’s note: Years later, Joan separated from Teen Challenge as her ministry to inner city children grew. It is still a vital, functioning ministry today called PICK – Phoenix Inner City Kids. Google it for more information.
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