Russia (MNN) — For many families in North America, Christmas joys are growing dim and decorations were packed away weeks ago. But, for a SOAR International team just back from Russia, Christmas memories are still front-and-center.
In recent days, a small team of SOAR International Ministries volunteers returned to the U.S. from Russia. The team was helping partner churches celebrate Christmas at local orphanages, handing out stockings and Christ-centered joy as part of SOAR’s “Stuff a Stocking” project.
As the name implies, hand-sewn stockings are “stuffed” with hygiene items, school supplies, hats, mittens, candies, and toys. A children’s Bible and a personal letter expressing Christ’s love, typically written by a SOAR donor, are also included.
Approximately 1,200 gift-filled stockings were distributed during the trip. But, the visits to orphanages and stocking deliveries were about more than dropping off presents.
“It shows them [orphans] they’re not forgotten,” explains SOAR International’s Greg Mangione. “It shows them love. This project is more than just a gift project. It’s an opportunity to share the Gospel and give needed gifts.
“We just had a great time working with some of our church partners and distributing these Stuff a Stocking gifts.”
The SOAR team primarily worked in the Ryazan region of Russia, located just southeast of Moscow. However, the team also spent some time with partner churches in the Moscow and St. Petersburg areas.
“You hand these gifts to them, and [you] see their eyes light up…. The gifts that are given out are…something that they wouldn’t normally receive from anyone else,” Mangione says. “A lot of the excitement to us…is it helps further the ministry of the local church.”
Now that Christmas is over, SOAR and its partner churches are gearing up for the coming Easter Holiday.
“In Russia, the religious significance of Easter is similar to our Christmas. Their Christmas is a big deal, but not as big a deal religiously as Easter,” explains Mangione. “So, it’s a great time for churches and ministries in Russia to go out again at Easter time with gifts and share the Gospel.”
SOAR’s “Baskets of Hope” project is very similar to the “Stuff a Stocking” project. Children are given “baskets” filled with items similar to those found inside the Christmas stockings. But, as with “Stuff a Stocking,” the focus isn’t on the present. It’s on the Giver of life: Jesus Christ.
If you’d like to help in a “hands-on” way, click here for bulletin inserts, media files, and more general information about the “Baskets of Hope” project.