Christmas in August Update

As a kid, Christmas Eve was a day I looked forward to all year long! Christmas Eve was when Santa would stop by our house and bring us presents. Every year, I was so excited about what was to come that I’d voluntarily put myself to bed extra early with hopes that the morning would come sooner. I would not sleep under the covers on Christmas Eve. You see, my mother had a rule that we could not leave our rooms each morning (including Christmas morning) until our beds were made. So, on Christmas Eve I would sleep (if I slept at all) on top of the covers so that I could prevent the 2–3-minute delay of getting to my presents!

I often wonder if that’s how Christmas in August missionaries feel as they approach WMU’s focus on their ministries. Are they excited? Curious about what to expect? A little concerned about how many RAs, GAs, or CAs might give in support of their work? More than likely, there’s a mix of emotions going through their minds as they wait for Christmas in August to roll around.

Are you familiar with Christmas in August? A little history might be good at this point.

The first Christmas in August was a project of the Sunbeam Band (now Mission Friends) of the First Baptist Church of Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1927. Elizabeth Ellyson Wiley was speaking in that church on her first furlough (now called stateside assignment). She and her husband served at the University of Shanghai in China. She spoke of her desire to witness to the illiterate women who worked as servants in the university community. She mentioned their children and her desire for these children to know the joy of Christmas. Mrs. Guy Via, who led the Sunbeam Band, asked if their church’s children could send gifts. There were 100 gifts that first year, and a tree was set up in the university chapel. Christmas entertainment was given for the servants and their children.

Since there were 400 mothers and children to be provided for, Mrs. Wiley wrote other friends in Virginia, telling them about the project. Eventually, Virginia WMU adopted the project for Sunbeams, and gifts were sent to the Richmond office and shipped from there. As there were more gifts, other projects were set up: Christmas trees for the children of faculty members and a Christmas tree at Yangtee Poo Social Center maintained by Dr. Wiley’s classes.

In 1937, the box of gifts was lost in shipping due to the war. It seemed unwise to ship any more items to China because of the war, so Virginia Sunbeams sent their gifts to home missionaries (now called North American missionaries).

In August 1949, World Comrades (WMU, SBC, magazine for children—Sunbeams, GAs, and RAs) had a feature story about the Sunbeams of the First Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, entitled “A Christmas Tree in August.”

Since those early beginnings, Christmas in August has now spread to churches across North America. Mission Friends, CAs, GAs, RAs, Acteens, Youth on Mission, and Challengers participate each summer, learning about selected missionaries and collecting items they need for their ministry.

Each year, as Christmas in August comes to an end, we hear from many of the missionaries who were featured in our publications.

This year, we’ve heard from Bob and Brenda Boberg, national coordinators for Church Renewal Journey. So far, they’ve heard from 90 churches! They even had children visit their home and ministry site to bring gifts and cards. The Bobergs have been able to reconnect with friends from years gone by, and they’ve made many new friends, all because of Christmas in August.

We’ve also heard from Andy Haynes, a campus minister in the Northeast. Andy wrote to thank everyone for their prayers, support, and kindness shown during this year’s Christmas in August focus. Here’s a little of what Andy had to say: 

“ . . . I have been opening packages with tears in my eyes because of the generosity of the children and the churches they are part of. What a blessing to see their notes, gifts, and encouragement. All of our ministries in New England will benefit from their generosity (that’s touching almost 30 college campuses!). Their gifts are helping us to meet new students, get to know students, share the gospel, and make disciples. Their prayers and notes are so encouraging.  

“Here’s one practical way you’ve helped. David is a student I met a few weeks ago. He’s only been to a Catholic mass a couple of times in his life. He overheard me talking about the Bible with another student and approached and asked several questions. I shared the gospel with him and arranged a follow-up meeting where we discussed the gospel in depth. He has come to church twice, attended two Bible studies, and spent a recent Sunday with my family asking questions and getting answers. He has since expressed a desire to believe, yet he is struggling with some doubt. Students like David are being impacted by the generous gifts we have received for ministry.”

So, as Christmas in August 2017 comes to an end and as we approach Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, take a moment to thank God for the thousands of children who participated in Christmas in August this year. Thank God for the countless ways their prayers and gifts have uplifted and encouraged North American Missionaries across the United States.

It’s not too early to start thinking about Christmas in August 2018! The missionaries have been chosen, and our writers are already working with them on telling their story and figuring out ways to support their work.

M. Steve Heartsill still gets excited about Christmas. Now, his joy is found more in how he can surprise his wife, Tonya, and his 9-year-old son, Evan. 

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