It’s Christmas time and undoubtedly many of our minds are focused on our families, holiday preparations, parties and presents. We look forward to the birth of our Savior and celebrate all that He provides. In places around the country and world, especially those affected by disaster, people struggling to have the basic necessities for survival may find it hard to see a reason to celebrate. God has given us generous hearts and at this time of year, thoughts of reaching out with kindness and that generosity strongly come to our hearts and minds.
We work in our communities with and among our neighbors and now we have an opportunity to help in another area–Puerto Rico. Next summer, over the course of two weeks, from July 21 through August 3, a group of mostly adult and some high school-aged volunteers from the state will be working in partnership with Lutheran Social Services of Puerto Rico and serving alongside our Puerto Rican neighbors in their continued process of rebuilding and strengthening communities after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Maria is regarded as the worst natural disaster on record to affect Dominica and Puerto Rico. The hurricane caused catastrophic damage and numerous fatalities across the northeastern Caribbean, with total losses estimated at upwards of $91 billion, mostly in Puerto Rico, ranking it as the third-costliest tropical cyclone on record.
A team of experienced leaders, including Pastor Mark Parker, of Breath of God Lutheran Church, Baltimore, MD is working to bring together the group of adult and youth volunteers from the region. The bulk of work efforts will focus on construction, with a mix of skilled and unskilled volunteers. Our volunteers last year ranged from age 21 to age 70. This summer we will also accept some youth who have already completed 9th grade.
Are You Interested in Being a Volunteer?
If you are interested in being a volunteer, here are a few more details. We will be staying in the Lutheran camp in Maguayo, near Dorado–about 45 minutes west of San Juan. The camp has room for up to sixty volunteers at a time. Volunteers sleep in bunk rooms with twin-sized bunk beds and communal showers–comfortable enough, but nothing fancy. The camp also includes a very nice pool, a chapel, office and storage areas, and a main hall for dining/meeting/organizing/relaxing. It’s a good home for groups like ours.
The general timeline is fly out on Sunday morning/afternoon and fly back on Saturday evening. Volunteers will serve over the course of two weeks from July 21 to August 3. Volunteers may sign up for one or both weeks. Monday through Friday we’ll worked construction doing rebuilding in the morning and the afternoon, with time in the late afternoon/evening for the beach/pool, relaxing and exploring the area. We may have the opportunity to take a half day to head across the island and visit El Yunque, an amazing tropical rain forest or explore in Old San Juan.
Registration opens in January with a deadline of April 1. The first deposit will be due at the close of registration, the second payment will be due May 1 and the final payment July 1. The expected cost is anticipated to be less than $600 for one week and less than $900 for two weeks.
If you are interested in volunteering for this unique and rewarding opportunity, please contact Kelly Thurber, our Mission and Outreach Coordinator. More information–including fundraising opportunities–will be forthcoming, but positions are anticipated to fill up quickly, so please let Kelly know if you are interested so she can keep the regional team up-to-date on our interest levels.
As we get together with our family and friends and share the joy and peace of this holiday season, let us keep those who have suffered loss in our hearts and minds. And look forward to the days when we will have the opportunity to give a broader set of neighbors a Merrier Christmas. Feliz Navidad.
Sermon: “Stir Up Our Hearts”
Prayer: Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming give to all the people of the world knowledge of your salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
The sermon begins after the reading from Luke’s Gospel.
Sermon: “Fulfillment of the Promise”
Prayer: Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection alert us to the threatening dangers of our sins, and redeem us for your life of justice, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
The sermon begins after the reading from Luke’s Gospel.
If you would like to participate in the Angel Tree this year, please pick out a stocking located in the Narthex. Each stocking has the name of a child, age, and gift ideas. We received these names from the Department of Human Services. The families were selected if the family qualifies as low income and receives assistance from the Department of social services. The family filled out a wish list. The items listed are only suggestions so don’t feel compelled to follow the list. We have color coded the list in family groups so you know which children live in the same household. Write your name and phone number on the master list next to your child’s name. The number by the name matches the number on the stocking. Go shopping. Spend at least $25 on the gift(s). Your gifts do not need to fit into the stocking, but all gifts must be together. If you have more than one gift, please place the gifts in a bag or a box. Make sure your child’s name is clearly marked on the gift. Do not write your name on the gifts. They are given anonymously. Please bring your gifts to the church no later than December 16th. When you return the gift, please take the angel ornament with your child’s name on it. If you have any questions, please speak with Diane Hay. –2018
Good Sam Happenings
Dec. 2 [Sunday Theme] “Fulfillment of the Promise”
(Congregational Annual Meeting @ 10:30 am in the Sanctuary)
◊ Dec. 5 Wednesday Advent Church Night
4:30 pm Eat and Play Fellowship
5:30 pm Advent Potluck
6:30 pm Advent Vespers
7:00 pm Discuss Together “Lasting Impact” Intro and Chapters 3-4
Dec. 9 [Sunday Theme] “Stir Up Our Hearts”
◊ Dec. 12 Wednesday Advent Church Night (see schedule above)
Dec. 16 [Sunday Theme] “Sunday School Christmas Pageant”
◊ Dec. 19 Wednesday Advent Church Night (see schedule above)
Dec. 23 [Sunday Theme] “Faithful Lives Always Give Birth to God’s Activity”
◊Dec. 24 Christmas Eve Services
5:00 pm Family Friendly Christmas Eve Service
8:00 pm Traditional Christmas Eve Service
Dec. 30 [Sunday Theme] “Lessons and Carols for Christmas”
Sermon: “Knowing vs Understanding: a Revelation”
Prayer: Almighty and ever-living God, you anointed your beloved Son to be priest and sovereign forever. Grant that all the people of the earth, now divided by the power of sin, may be united by the glorious and gentle rule of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
The sermon begins after the reading from John’s Gospel.
Sermon: “Like a New Day, Dawning”
Prayer: Almighty God, your sovereign purpose brings salvation to birth. Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world, trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
The sermon begins after the reading from Mark’s Gospel.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as a native among you, you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
In a modern world of hotels, motels, and time shares, practicing hospitality by inviting strangers to stay in our homes appears as an exception rather than the norm of Biblical times. Now days, we hide inside our cell phones and behind legal waivers fearing new people, food allergies and law suits. So, to open one’s home to strangers, especially foreign teenagers, seems radical and unnerving. In truth, it is a great blessing and creates lasting friendships which span an ocean and make the world a smaller more welcoming place.
For the last four years our family has participated in the St. Mary’s Youth Cultural Exchange founded by Karen Antonacio Oliver, the Academic Dean at Chesapeake Public Charter School. The SMYCE is a non-profit organization that promotes citizen diplomacy through an exchange program with the Collegio San Carlo in Milan, Italy. Each October, some fifty 8th graders from Milan come to St. Mary’s County for ten days where they stay with volunteer host families and attend classes at Chesapeake Public Charter School located on Great Mills Road. Then, in February, a group of American 7th graders from St. Mary’s County have the opportunity to stay with host families in Milan and attend Collegio San Carlo.
The Rau family and the Slade family of Good Samaritan have experienced both sides of the exchange. My daughter Katie went to Milan in 2017 and Maddie Slade traveled abroad in 2018. Then, October 23rd to November 1st of this year the Slades hosted an Italian student named Isobel, the Rau family hosted Claudia, and the Thurbers fearlessly welcomed two teenage boys, Pietro and Tomaso.
Strangely enough, we were not going to host a student this year. After three years of hosting, I felt like a break, but Kelly Thurber mentioned she was hosting, some families from my daughter Holly’s soccer team were planning to host, and Ms. Antonacio kept sending out emails searching for families. Then one Sunday at church, the message spoke of “Radical Hospitality” and I thought, “Okay God, real subtle!” I remembered how much we’d enjoyed Italian students in past years and how we still keep in touch with our first student, Francesca. I remembered how that time with the Italians actually brought our own family and school community closer together as we made time for each other and planned activities.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Claudia Bertoluzzo was not planning to come to America this year. Collegio San Carlo has 2,000 students and 8th graders get to come here through a lottery. Claudia was not picked and her name ranked several slots down on the waitlist. Miraculously two people declined their spots and the opportunity opened for Claudia. She was placed with our family and sent me an email. She has three sisters and the eldest hosted one of Katie’s classmates in 2017. We soon discovered that Katie actually slept at Claudia’s apartment the last night she stayed in Milan. We had a great time talking about the coincidence of it all on FaceTime and I knew then that it was meant to be. God had friendship planned for our two families.
Our time with Claudia flew by. She and our daughters became fast friends. We shared stories and learned about her family and her life in Milan and she learned about us. We took her shopping, laughed about why Christmas items were out in stores before Halloween, toured historic Annapolis, carved pumpkins, and trick-or-treated. While the girls attended school, Claudia went on field trips to D.C. and St. Mary’s Manor and students attended a picnic and a Halloween Dance. I thought to myself, if I had taken that break I’d planned this year, I would have missed all of this.
We hope to see Claudia again as her mom even offered to host Holly and/or Noelle if they go to Milan in a few years. The girls and I cried when she left us—a great deal of love is wrapped up in hospitality. Thanks to the St. Mary’s Youth Culture Exchange, a group of American and Italian youth has a better understanding of one another and in many cases, lasting friendships that will positively shape their world views throughout their lives.
And also wrapped up in that hospitality is the shared experience the three host families from Good Sam now have in common. The conversations, shared stories and group support have sparked a sense of neighborly or community hospitality—a feeling of closeness fostered by “the Italians.”
For the Thurbers, it was a little glimpse of their future—life with teenage boys. Kelly says, “Running her two Italian teenage boys all over the county, hearing about crushes, navigating the differences and diets, making sure there was enough food and water in the house, getting them to bathe and making sure they put their phones away at night so they actually get slept were challenges she’s hasn’t yet experienced. But along with those revelations, her two boys helped with the gardens at church during Wednesday’s Family Eat & Play, made some Italian dishes from scratch for the family and went to Sunday School with the high schoolers—along with the Slade’s visiting student.
For all, hosting these great Italian students revealed much about our own lives, how we interact with strangers and what it truly feels like to understand and engage in hospitality. Undoubtedly, we are all richer for the experience.
by Martha Rau (with input from Kelly Thurber)
Sermon: “Small is Big” Preacher: Rev. Phil Hirsch
Prayer: Almighty God, you have caused us to come to faith and have not failed to bring to light the risen life of Jesus through our lives. We rise to welcome your love, to grow into its fullness and share its gifts to all whom our lives touch. Sustain us to these ends through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
The sermon begins after the reading from Mark’s Gospel.