One of my favorite Gate of Hope activities is the Christmas Exchange. For those of you who do not know, for the past few years, Gate of Hope has partnered with families and churches to host a Christmas gift exchange. In this exchange, families from the East African refugee community across Louisville are supported with the purchase and exchange of Christmas gifts. The program was designed to address two needs. First, we wanted to build relationships and foster brotherly love between long-standing Louisville families and their new neighbors. Second, we wanted new refugee children here in Louisville to feel included in conversations with their peers about their Christmas gifts. We found that there were many children in our community whose parents could not afford to buy Christmas gifts for them, and we wanted to ensure that they were not left out during the holiday season. We used the opportunity of gift exchange to talk about God’s gift of incarnation (God becoming a man for our salvation and His glory).
Before the pandemic, the gift exchange would happen over a Christmas dinner hosted by Gate of Hope where the recipient families would cook for Christmas (potluck) dinner featuring traditional African food at a banquet hall to thank the sponsor families. During this gathering, all those involved were able to share a meal together and mingle as their children played together. We found that through this program, friendships go beyond the exchange. The sponsor families continue to assist their recipient counterparts to adapt to a new life in America. However, the 2020 Christmas celebration was organized considering the reality of this global pandemic.
2020 was a tough year for many Americans. As a community, we had to adapt to both a global pandemic and an economic crisis, both effects that are still felt today. There were so many things that threatened to steal our peace this past year, yet, as we entered the Christmas season, we were reminded as Christians to keep our eyes focused on the hope of Jesus Christ. As a community, we were able to safely gather and celebrate the joy of the Christmas season through our annual Christmas gift exchange.
Last year, the pandemic threatened to delay those plans. We were not sure if we could get enough sponsor families given the economic impacts of the pandemic and we struggled to find a way to still host the much-need and much-appreciated event while also respecting social-distancing and limited-gathering rules. However, we knew that we would need to look into every possible option to make this program a reality as it would bring the community to the forefront during the holiday season. Then the idea came, rather than a gift exchange we would organize a Christmas Trunk Exchange. Thanks to Gate of Hope board members who worked hard preparing the event. To host that event, we partnered with Southeast Christian Church, Evangelical Church Winning All, and other local families.
We kept the traditional concept of having sponsors and recipient families meet to exchange gifts. However, this time we did not meet indoors to eat, sing, and play games together. We just had each sponsored family bring the gifts and have the recipient family join them outside in the parking lot, safely mingling for a while, and exchanging gifts, before returning back home.
Despite the challenging year 2020 with its Covid-19, Gate of Hope Ministries International along with its partners were very pleased to be able to safely share the joy and hope of the Christmas season. This year 2021, We hope to return with an even bigger Christmas Gift Exchange. We are in the process of revamping the program to allow for even more enthusiastic participants and a more sustainable model. If you are interested in signing your family up to participate, feel free to send an email to [email protected]. It is never too early to celebrate the hope and joy of Christmas.