LIHU‘E — Residents of the Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was killed had a special Christmas, thanks to the efforts of children and teens of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Lihu‘e.
Members of the church — including the youngest keiki — repaired cattle fences and donated their own toys and time to raise funds for Muslim and Christian children in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The plan to help started in October, when the Rev. William Miller gave a sermon on the shooting of Malala Yousufzai, a 15-year-old Pakistani girl who, along with two classmates, was shot on Oct. 9 for trying to go to school. The girls are recuperating from their injuries, and were reportedly targeted in a Taliban effort to destroy schools that educated girls in the Swat Valley.
“We decided to do something,” said Miller, “rather than just bemoan the evil in the world.”
Perhaps it was divine intervention, or a chance occurrence, Miller said, as the day following the sermon, he received an email from the Rev. Riaz Mubarek, the Vicar of St. Luke’s Church in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Mubarek, also an Anglican priest, has mutual friends with Miller as the two attended the same seminary in the United States. Miller said the email was an outreach effort to help provide gifts for poor Christian and Muslim children of the area.
“This seemed like the answer to my prayer,” Miller said. “I approached youth and adult leaders who basically said, ‘Yes, they were interested’.”
The church collects funds for relief efforts locally and around the world, but this was different, he said. This was direct outreach ministry, however, and involved putting youth to work in support of youth their own ages.
Bridgette Orsatelli, Director of Youth Ministries, said she started by asking the teens in her group what they wanted for Christmas. They told her everything from iPads to designer purses and cars.
Then she showed them the meticulous list sent by Mubarek. Around 100 children, some their own ages, were asking for simple toys; educational supplies including pencils and erasers; tooth brushes and tooth paste; even a small bag of candy.
“They just looked at me,” Orsatelli said. “It was a very humbling moment for the kids.”
It would be easy to just pay out-of-pocket or get their parents to offer some money, she said. Instead, the group decided that they would earn the money and donate it to the effort.
The church is associated with a local ranch that agreed to pay kids for their work after school and on weekends. They worked in all weather and learned to do chores from animal husbandry to repairing fence-line.
“When they got all the money put together, there was a real sense of accomplishment that they were helping someone in a far-away place,” she said.
Orsatelli said there was a meaning of love and peace in this gift, and that the youth appreciated that their efforts would somehow let other know that someone cares about them and not to feel alone.
It was good personal motivation and a joy to watch the children that are doing something for others that involved loving and caring, Orsatelli said. The kids are now talking about becoming “church warriors” who take on jobs that need to be done for other people.
“Christmas is supposed to be about the holidays and yet they worked in the hot sun for hours, got lunch and went back at it again,” she added. “There was no complaining.”
Another unique aspect to this project was that it involved the youngest keiki. They donated their own toys for a sale where proceeds went to the Pakistan fund.
Sue Macklin, director of Children’s Ministries, works with the youngest kids, and said she introduced the idea to them in general terms that they could understand. She basically said that it would help children their own age celebrate Christmas in a place where they are not able to worship freely and with safety.
“The kids came up with idea of a toy sale,” she said. “There were a lot of toys and I was really touched by the support from the congregation and the community.”
Macklin said the project has people talking about doing this again next year on an even bigger scale. They are looking to see if they can help in other ways than at Christmas.
“I think that many of our children were surprised that those kids just couldn’t come to church freely and celebrate the life of Christ openly,” Macklin said. “Many times in a free country we don’t think about that, and hopefully we can look for other ways to help them do that.”
The goal was to raise just under $600 to match the request. They sent an $800 Money Gram on Dec. 19, according to an email from Linda Beer.
“We hope that all of the children at St. Luke’s Church will enjoy their Christmas party,” Beer said in the email.
Mubarek was ill with a cold but managed to reply with a thank you note to St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church members on Dec. 23. He said his church was able to hold its youth rally thanks to their generosity.
Mubarek said his Sunday school coordinator and her assistant were especially grateful for the support. He said the efforts of the Lihu‘e church staff and of the young parishioners was highly appreciated.
“We are again thankful to you for all of your great Christian love,” Mubarek said in the email.
“Fr. Mubarek said he was able to purchase the toys and educational supplies,” Miller said. “They bought all kinds things from candy to calculators and pencils and erasers, to Christian story books.
There are many things that we take for granted but this was a priceless gift for the children over there,” he added.
• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or firstname.lastname@example.org.