Christmas stockings in Russia provide hope, hugs, and more.

By December 14, 2012

Russia (MNN) — The stocking is as symbolic of Christmas as the tree. So have you ever wondered where the idea of the stocking came from or what it represents?

Popular legends attempt to tell the history of this Christmas tradition. The gist of the story deals with the poverty of a family, the practicality of hanging socks to dry by the fireplace or on a bedpost, and having a kind-hearted St. Nicklaus fill them with needed items.

The tradition carries through in its various forms today. It's also one way used by SOAR International Ministries to get its foot in the door at orphanages in Russia.

SOAR Director Dick Page notes, "Our real focus is to assist the Church in Russia in completing or accomplishing the Great Commission;" however, that's been one of the obstacles. He goes on to explain, "One of the real problems has been [churches] being welcomed into the orphanages and areas where the street kids shelters are. By going in with our projects, we're able to take the Church in as a partner, and then they're welcome to come back."

One of those projects comes into play at Christmas. SOAR International Ministries, in partnership with Russia Inland Mission, created the "Stuff a Stocking" project, reaching out to one child at a time. $40 sponsors a stocking with goodies, hygiene products, small clothing items, and the Bible. "The orphanage directors are thrilled to receive the hygiene items and things the kids normally wouldn't get."

The "Stuff a Stocking" project is the result of prayer and research into ways of overcoming the increasing expense and nearly impossible red tape involved in importing gifts and aid into Russia. What's more, says Page, "That opens the opportunity then to share the Gospel message and for the churches to come back."

Sponsors are encouraged to write a letter to the child. Although they won't know who gets a stocking, Page says, "It's amazing to watch the kids' faces when they get a letter from a complete stranger that cares about them. We have translators then that read those letters to the kids." The touch point reaches deeper than most people know, says Page. "These kids will keep those stockings hanging on their beds for years afterwards. It does truly impact their lives."

Letters have the Gospel printed on the back in Russian, and the kids get the Russian Children's Bible, too. Most importantly, says Page, "We actually try to track the letters so that we can at least get the name of the child and even a picture back to the person that sponsors [him or her,] so they can start praying for that child."

There are also ways to hand-deliver stockings and meet the kids face to face. Page explains they've formed a team to head to Russia in time to celebrate the Orthodox Russian Christmas, which is January 7. "This year, it will be January 8-20, and we'll be taking a team over there, traveling from orphanage to orphanage, to shelters, and children's hospitals to deliver [the gifts]."

The children look forward to the visit, and they yearn for the attention they get from team members, says Page. "You pick them up and hold them, and then you have to peel them off like Velcro because they crave that love."

Team members will stay busy. There will always be more need and more love to give. "We're always overwhelmed with requests from churches. We'd like to take 20-30,000 [stockings] if we could, but our goal this year is 5,000."

If you can't travel, but you can sew, SOAR still needs your help. Somebody has to MAKE the stockings they're giving away. Page says, "We have volunteer ladies' groups that sew stockings for us to take and stuff. We have patterns and instructions, if there's a group or individual that would like to participate in that way."

The "Stuff a Stocking" project is a unique opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child in Russia. Because it will bring joy to those who have no hope, plant seeds of faith, and show them God's love in a tangible way, it will become symbolic of much more to the kids in Russia.

Check our Featured Links Section for ways you can get involved with the "Stuff a Stocking" Project.

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