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Stockings of Love and Surprise
As with many Christmas traditions, the origin story of Christmas stockings is heart-warming. The folk tale goes like this - a man, whose wife had just died, could not afford to support his three daughters. St. Nicholas heard of the man's situation, and fearing the young women would be left destitute, he snuck into the home. He found the daughter's socks hanging from the chimney to dry and proceeded to fill them with gold.
Monday, hundreds of stockings were delivered to Lake Charles from D'Arrnaud, Mississippi. These stockings might not have had gold in them, but the story behind their 300-mile journey is priceless.
"Immediately after Hurricane Ida hit south Louisiana, we were compelled to respond," says Rev. Leanne Burris. "We had prepared for the storm to come our way. We knew that a few changes in the weather patterns and the devastation would have been ours."
Burris pastors The Bridge United Methodist Church in D'Iberville, Mississippi, just north of Biloxi, an area that was devastated after Hurricane Katrina.
While the Mississippi coast was spared from Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Ida, the storms are fresh reminders of the long journey that remains for those in Louisiana.
"We saw first hand the miracles God working through small and large individual efforts to restore an entire population literally", Burris remembers. "It took a really long time, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast could not have come back without people traveling from everywhere to help us. In the intervening 16 years, we have not suffered as devastating a storm, but every hurricane that crawls into our Gulf is a reminder of how fragile our restoration is."
After the hurricanes in Louisiana, The Bridge did everything it could to help those impacted in their own community. They supported evacuees who were displaced to the coast, helping some of them move back home, and even befriending a hotel manager whose hotel sits just across the parking lot from the church. It wasn't long before members of The Bridge were cooking and serving red beans and rice to everyone in the hotel one Saturday afternoon.
|Jennifer Jermyn (L) shares her story with University United Methodist Church in Lake Charles.|
"You Can't Negotiate with God"
But church members knew the holidays were approaching, and one member, Jennifer Jermyn, had a vision.
"Jennifer came to us with a Christmas vision," Burris remembers. "She wanted to collect 500 stockings and stuff them with gifts, including hygiene items, toys, winter gloves, and anything else that might be fun to find in a stocking. We believed we could make the dream happen, and we prayed that God would connect our stockings to the right community."
"God kept telling me we had to provide 500 stockings, and I kept wanting it to be 300," Jermyn said. "I kept saying to myself, 'I can't do that.' But God made it non-negotiable, and, well, you can't negotiate with God! Amazingly, we were able to do 500 with the help of friends, family, and church members, who literally became the hands and feet of Christ."
After several weeks of work, the stockings were collected, stuffed, and readied for delivery.
Sunday, the stockings lined the walls of The Bridge before eventually being packed into trucks destined for southwest Louisiana.
"I asked the congregation, after they received communion, to walk past the stockings, praying over each and one of them," Burris said. "Our prayers were that the children who received them would know they are remembered, prayed for, and loved."
Burris set off to find a place of need and wasted no time contacting the Office of Missional Engagement and Outreach in the Louisiana Conference. Before she could blink, she was connected to a local school in Lake Charles, who happily received a portion of the stockings Monday afternoon.
"I Was Simply Blown Away"
Jermyn says this entire experience has been God showing her how she can reach people despite her limits. Earlier this year, Jermyn was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and, as such, has limited mobility. Her current condition has resulted in her confinement to a wheelchair.
"Because of my situation, I was obviously concerned as to just how much I would be able to do with the stockings," Jermyn said. "But I kept reminding myself that God had placed this vision before me and that God would provide the way. God did just that and more!"
In addition to God showing her she, along with community, could make an impact, God was also planning a Christmas surprise.
Last year, prior to her wheelchair confinement, Jermyn had planned to go on a mission trip to Honduras, but her mobility challenges wound up making the mission trip an impossibility.
"I was heartbroken that I couldn't make that trip."
It took a year, a vision of 500 stockings and a 300-mile road trip to Louisiana for God to bring Honduras to Jermyn.
As she was unloading the stockings in Lake Charles at the local school, much to her surprise, she learned many of the children receiving the stockings she helped prepare were from Honduras.
"I was simply blown away," Jermyn said. "I did not know these children were from Honduras! I just kept saying to myself, 'Thank you God!' I mean, it's just unbelievable! God brought the mission trip to me!"
This is the second Christmas since the devastating hurricanes of 2020 in Lake Charles, and still, the needs persist.
Burris knows all too well what it's like to have attention subside.
"The news media forgets, social media forgets, the politicians forget, sometimes it seems like even FEMA and the insurance companies forget," Burris said, "Louisianians are still looking at a destroyed neighborhood, and wondering who is going to remember their plight, who is going to remember to help, who is remembering to pray for you? May the families who receive these stockings know that they are prayed for by the people of The Bridge United Methodist Church."
If you would like to help the survivors of the storms in Louisiana, please feel free to head to this website or text RELIEF to 800-500-5858.
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