Church Raises Funds, Renews Faith at Christmas
God moves in mysterious ways, and sometimes something as simple as a charitable Christmas campaign – and a surprise visitor from Lebanon – can remind people of their faith and help to create change around the world. That’s what happened in London, Ont., this past Christmas season.
During Advent, the worship services and especially the sermons at Talbot Street Church in London, focused on one large outreach effort.
Called the “Warm Homes Project,” the congregation’s Advent effort aimed to raise funds for World Renew that would be used to help Syrian refugees living without warm clothing, blankets, and heaters as winter arrived in Lebanon.
“During this season, we always try to focus on one project. When you have 40 different causes, there is this sense that we have to do everything,” explained Talbot Street lead pastor, Rev. Steve Dozeman.
At the same time, the church wanted to do something meaningful during the season. “After all, Christmas isn’t your birthday; it’s Jesus’ birthday, and he’s told us what he wants for his birthday – a gift for ‘the least of these,’” Dozeman added.
At the request of World Renew Canada, Talbot Street Church decided to focus on Lebanon this past year. While the church’s annual Advent effort builds energy and encourages members to give generously, this year’s cause was different in some ways. As the "Warm Homes Project” got under way on the first Sunday of Advent, there was an “amazing God moment,” said Rachel Brouwer, Hospitality and Outreach director at Talbot Street.
“On the first Sunday of the series,” said Brouwer, “a man named Richard, who lives right next to our building, felt drawn to check out our church even though he hadn't set foot in a church in nearly 30 years.”
While that in itself is noteworthy, added Brouwer, what was particularly startling was that the man is a Lebanese immigrant to Canada who grew up Catholic during a devastating civil war that pitted Christians against Muslims – and he still has family living in Lebanon.
After church that day, Dozeman met Richard, and they spoke for a few moments. Later that week they had coffee together, and Dozeman asked Richard if he would like to come to church on the next Sunday to talk a little about his homeland.
“He was gracious enough to share about Lebanon in our service,” said Brouwer. “We were so blessed by his participation, and, in turn, he was blessed to learn about Christians who gave so generously to people they don't even know.”
Dozeman and Richard, sitting on plastic chairs at the front of the sanctuary during that next Sunday service, had a short conversation. A businessman who travels internationally, Richard said he never imagined he’d be sitting in front of a Protestant church talking about his life.
“But I guess God is a fast-tracking guy, and he put me here. I couldn’t say ‘no.’”
Richard riveted his listeners by sketching the horrible time of civil war during the 1970s and ’80s when he was growing up and his father served as an officer in the Christian army.
“I grew up in a middle-class family. We were Catholics,” he said. “The time was very destructive, and we had a bloody war. . . . Later, it was even worse when the Syrian army took over. It was a devastating experience. The Syrian army was barbaric, especially to Christians. We were in the eye of the storm.”
Richard recounted a time after the war when he, at the age of 13, drove his family, including his father wearing civilian clothes, from Beirut through many dangerous checkpoints to reach their hometown to visit their relatives.
He had had to be very careful, he said. Any wrong move, and he could have ended up like the more than 15,000 other people who simply disappeared when they came up against authorities after the war.
Richard ended the conversation by painting a picture of life in Beirut today. Lebanon is a failed state, he said, there is no rule of law, and its economy has been shattered since a massive explosion at a Beirut fertilizer storage plant in 2020 killed hundreds, injured thousands, and left about a half million people homeless.
Responding to this dire picture, Dozeman pointed out that Christian churches, like the ones the “Warm Homes Project” aimed to help, are trying to make a difference in Lebanon.
“Churches are helping the church be the church in a really profound way. They are helping Syrian refugees, but they are also helping Lebanese who are suffering too,” said Dozeman.
Richard nodded and asked if a photo that had been shown earlier could be displayed again on the screen. It showed a refugee mother, her eyes full of fear, holding her wailing child in her arms. Police surrounded her.
“As hurt as we are in Lebanon, we are inspired by this photo of a mother and her child. When you look at it, it is simply a mother and her child. This mother could be any of the ladies who are here today. That child could be our child,” said Richard.
That woman and her family need to eat today, said Richard. “They need shelter today. They need blankets and clothing to stay warm.”
And the church he happened to walk into the week before, and whose members he was speaking to that morning, added Richard, should be supported in the project they have taken on. Whatever they are doing, he said, it will make a difference – however small, but definitely necessary – in his homeland.
Richard’s words may have indeed made a difference.
Together, said Brouwer, Talbot Street Church was able to raise just under $100,000 for the “Warm Homes Project” – more than they had ever raised before.
“We were completely blown away,” said Brouwer. “We challenged and encouraged those in our community to match whatever they spend on Christmas and to donate that to the ‘Warm Homes Project.’ We're not a huge church, but had high engagement that we believe stemmed from intentionality and focus that God used to inspire generosity in his people!"