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It was early in the evening, the second week of November 1982 and I was stopping by to visit a young couple, who had been attending our young adult program for six years. Dave and Sue were 17 and 18 when they became married in 1976 and they now had two children age 2 and 5 . When my son, Scott, and I stopped by I noticed that the living room was filled with lit candles.
“Whose birthday is it?” I asked Sue and she replied, “No one.”
“Well, then, what are you celebrating … with the candles?” was my follow up question.
“No celebration. We’re out of electricity.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. How long have you been out?” I asked.
Sue sheepishly replied, “Since February.”
“February! You have got to be kidding. That’s nine months. What happened?” I was shocked. Dave and Sue had been at our program several times since February. They even went on a camping trip with us during the summer and never once mentioned their financial problems.
Let me tell you something about Dave. He had to be the hardest worker I have ever known. He always had two and sometimes three jobs to make ends meet. But somehow it wasn’t enough. The utility bill mounted and it became over $1,500.00. Now this was 1982 and this was a lot of money back then. With two small children and no electric (which also meant no heat) this family was in peril.
I returned home that night and wrote a letter to all twenty or so members of our young adult group. The goal was to raise enough money to “turn the lights on” for Christmas. Setting a goal of raising half the amount I planned to ask the utility company to set up a budget to pay off the balance. Before the letters were mailed that night a member stopped by, heard the story and before I knew it, a check for $100.00 was in my hand.
The letters went out and in three weeks, we had over $700.00. It was time to call the utility company. A call was made and to my dismay their reply was – “Raise all the money or leave the lights and heat off”. Even with little children in the home!
God has ways of touching harts so that caring people step forward at just at the right time. The coming Sunday, the first in December, our Pastor made an announcement. An anonymous donator had given a gift of $1,000. to help someone in need for the holidays. I had told no one of our disappointment with the utility company yet God had touched someone’s heart, someone who had no knowledge of the plight of this young family. I asked the church to match the youth group’s donation and they gave a little more - $800.00 of the $1,000.00 from the anonymous gift.
Enthused we called the utility company, who still resisted moving too quickly. I dropped off the funds and they stated two to three weeks before the hook up was made. “But it is cold”, I protested, “there are young children!”
“Two to three weeks” was the reply.
Dave and Sue came to our Christmas party a few days before Christmas. Still no lights. We had two left over strands of Christmas lights and gave them to them. “Let’s hope for the best”, I said.
Scott and I took another drive by on Christmas Eve, a few days later. It was early in the evening and my heart almost lept out of me as I drove down their block… there down the block at the house that had been so dark for so long were the two strands of brightly lit Christmas lights we had given the family a few days before. The utility company had been there just a few hours before.
It was the best Christmas Eve I have ever experienced and the finest moment our young adult group had in its twelve years of existence.
Dave and Sue just celebrated their thirtieth anniversary last year and have three healthy and happy adult children. And each Christmas Eve for these past twenty five years I relive the moment when the youth group “turned the lights on for Christmas”. Of the many wonderful moments I have had in over thirty years of youth ministry this one is the best. Let us all find a way to “turn on someone’s lights”, whether they be the actual lights or lighting a spark of hope in someone’s heart, this holiday season.
There are so many moments with the youth that I enjoy. One of the things I look forward to every year is the 30-Hour Famine ... in particular, the food drive at the local supermarket. I enjoy seeing my crew at work. They do it with such enthusiasm ... a little bit of competitive spirit, but even more than that, a chance to do something good the benefits of which they can see immediately. I am also proud of the example they show to others at these times.
However, many of my favorite moments are the times I just get to hang with the kids, informally. I find their company refreshing, and I am touched that they consider me a friend. People who do not get a chance to spend time with young people on a regular basis are really missing out on something special!