KENSINGTON - While many wake up Christmas morning in their decorated homes filled with presents and a Christmas tree, the holiday will also arrive for those living under bridges and in tunnels surrounded by graffiti, concrete, police sirens and littered streets.
Even on Dec. 25, someone will be searching for his next high and the girl down the street will be looking for her next customer.
Life does not stop just because it's Christmas.
Prostitutes and drug addicts will get a Christmas meal in the Philadelphia area this Dec. 25, provided by the hands of Christians representing the River Church in Mifflintown. They will also receive something they know little about - hope.
Sixteen individuals are leaving Juniata County at 7 a.m. Christmas morning, ready to spend their day on the streets of Philadelphia.
River Church has been cooperating with Victory Outreach Church in Philadelphia for the past few years, taking groups of people from this area to minister four times a year.
This is the first time members have taken a Christmas Day trip. Chelsie Sellers is a regular missionary to Philadelphia; and according to coordinator Renee Williamson, Sellers suggested "it would be a great opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus on Christmas Day."
Sellers recounted the moment she felt the leading of God to take such a trip in an email:
"I remember on our last trip to Philly. I had a man come up to me and ask why we were there, and when I told him that God sent us to answer their prayers, he just couldn't believe that we would take time out of our schedules to come be with them. After that trip I was reading a book about a family who every Christmas would make a big breakfast and take it out into the streets of their town to feed the hungry, and I immediately began thinking of the man that I had spoken with on the last trip. What better way to show people the love of God than to do as Jesus did and become a servant and put others before ourselves? Only through God can we lay down ourselves, our hopes for this Christmas and what we envisioned we'd be doing (eating a big meal, being with family, opening presents, etc.) and go out and serve others instead. I felt called to test my obedience because it would've been very easy just to say 'Christmas is just too busy for me' and not go. As important as family is, salvation is an even greater gift, and I felt that is what we were to be focusing on this Christmas. "
Besides Sellers, Williamson, and Sellers' mother, Tina Walters, have been arranging the trip and in contact with the Rev. Joe Bishop, the associate pastor at Victory Outreach.
Eleven people from River Church signed up immediately filling one van to head out on Christmas Day. Five others have since agreed to go along.
"We will serve a traditional Christmas meal of turkey, filling, mashed potatoes, corn and of course cookies from noon until 3 p.m.," Williamson said.
Victory Outreach has been handing out and hanging up flyers in Kensington to let people there know there will be a place to go that day. Church vans will be going into the Kensington area to bring folks back to the church for the meal.
And just as Jesus dined with tax collectors and prostitutes, the Christians involved in this mission are looking to serve those no one else will approach.
"We will be specifically targeting drug addicts and prostitutes at this location," Williamson said.
Walters shared the last time the group visited the area, the church served 500 hot dogs. This will be different, she shared, because individuals will be served a hot, full-course meal.
"As with every other trip, first and foremost, it is to share Jesus with those who are lost and feel hopeless. Also to show love to people who feel as if no one loves them," Walters added.
After the meal, the group from River Church will head into the areas where homeless men and women seek shelter in subway stations and city parks. They will hand out hats and gloves and blankets.
"We are not taking 'presents' but are giving the necessities to people and that is the gift of Jesus Christ, food to nourish their bodies, and clothing to help keep them warm. We will also be taking Bibles and tracks to hand out," Walters said.
The ladies expressed their desire to bring honor and glory to God during this day of ministry.
"The most important gift that we will be taking is the love of Christ. We, as sinful humans, expect to be honored on our birthdays. I truly believe that the best way to honor Jesus on his birthday is to serve others," Williamson said.
Anyone interested in donating necessary items to be taken to the homeless individuals in the Philadelphia area may contact River Church at 436-8507 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.