U.S., Russian families discover ‘special connection’ through ‘Immanuel’s Child’ Christmas outreach
LOVES PARK, Ill. — Thousands of Russian families facing a fourth COVID wave will experience a “compassion surge” this Christmas — as hundreds of local churches brave the pandemic and freezing conditions to bring them a gift of hope.
About 800 local churches across Russia and the former Soviet Union will deliver Christmas gifts and the gospel — along with personalized greetings from donors in America — to an estimated 50,000 needy and forgotten children.
“It’s the first time most Russian families have ever had any connection with someone in America, and they can barely contain their excitement,” said Eric Mock, vice president of Illinois-based Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org) that runs Immanuel’s Child, the evangelical organization’s annual Christmas gospel outreach.
Overwhelmed By The Giver
“‘What’s the name of the person in America who’s praying for me?’ is the question the children ask most,” Mock said. “It’s overwhelming for them. It’s not about the gift as much as the giver.”
Immanuel’s Child offers American families a special connection with needy children in 10 former Soviet countries ravaged by poverty and the pandemic. Each child receives a gift, a Bible, and a Star of Bethlehem ornament printed with the name of an individual or family in America — along with the message “God Loves You” and a note they’re praying for them.
Last year, a church team from the U.S. helped a local pastor reenact the Christmas story at a Russian shopping center and hand out gifts to families. “All the parents stood in line to find out how to pronounce the name of the person in America printed on their star and praying for their family,” Mock said. “Many will keep their star for years, often hanging in their room.”
This Christmas, the outreach — that’s brought hope to some 150,000 children over the past 5 years — will be “supercharged” by SGA’s Christ Over COVID pandemic response that distributed enough free groceries to provide about 3 million meals and helped local churches make connections with thousands of families.
‘Unstoppable’ Compassion Force
Right now, as Russia battles a new COVID surge, local pastors and church members from the Arctic Circle to the deserts of Central Asia are determined to reach more children and families with the gospel than ever this Christmas — organizing Immanuel’s Child events at local churches, orphanages, and going door-to-door in temperatures 40 degrees below zero.
“Many have never heard about Jesus or the Christmas story,” said Mock, who spends several months every year in the former Soviet Union, working alongside local pastors as they “share the love of Christ.”
For every three children reached by Immanuel’s Child, local pastors estimate one parent responds to the gospel — and this spiritual spark, Mock says, is bringing hope to communities battling the pandemic, poverty, rampant alcoholism, and depression.
A Precious Gift
The outreach is a launchpad for year-round ministry, helping local churches overcome suspicion after decades of communist rule and atheism. “It opens the way for local Christians to pray with their neighbors and study the Bible with them,” said SGA president Michael Johnson, who started Immanuel’s Child nearly 20 years ago.
It also touches the lives of thousands of individuals in the U.S. who personalize a Star of Bethlehem and pledge to pray for the family that receives it. “It’s precious for me personally to be able to participate,” said Miriam Lofquist, who supports Immanuel’s Child through her local church.
Founded in 1934, Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org) helps “forgotten” orphans, widows and families in Russia, the former Soviet countries of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Russian-speaking immigrants in Israel – caring for their physical needs and sharing the life-transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ. SGA supports an extensive grassroots network of local evangelical missionary pastors and churches in cities and rural villages across this vast region.
Photo Cutline: CHRISTMAS ‘COMPASSION SURGE’ AS RUSSIA BATTLES FOURTH COVID WAVE: Thousands of Russian children and families facing a fourth COVID wave will experience a “compassion surge” this Christmas — as hundreds of local churches brave the pandemic to bring them a gift of hope. The annual gospel outreach — Immanuel’s Child — is organized by Illinois-based Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org). Watch the video here.