I promised you a Christmas story. This one is a Christmas story in several unique ways. It’s a story about God’s grace not as a distant ideal but as an embodied, tangible, very personal encounter. And it’s a story about how God makes God’s home with those who are most aware of their need. This magical thing, when it happens, has the power to stop violence in its tracks. The ceaseless striving for more in the world around us? The warring in our own hearts? For at least a moment they find rest. For at least a little while they are obliged to stop their violence and pay homage to the God who has been born in their midst. This story is about just this sort of miracle. It is about how God met one ordinary woman in the place of her deepest need, and transformed her own, very personal war into a love that saves.
Meet Pastor Rosa. Rosa had a son. One day, Rosa’s son, a bus driver, was shot to death by a couple of inner-city teenagers. Albert T. Mills became yet another casualty of the war on our streets, a young life full of promise prematurely snuffed out by one meaningless, random and irreversible act of violence. His killers? They were young lives, too, the only difference being that their only teacher and mother and father had been the dead-end reality of drugs and gang violence in a blighted inner-city neighborhood.
Pastor Rosa in her inconsolable pain and grief had a choice. Her Christian faith had taught her to forgive. But what did forgiveness look like in her circumstances?
She decided to minister God’s love to children who came from the very same neighborhoods as her son’s killers. That resolve led her to found in honor of her son the Albert T. Mills Enrichment Center, a holistic, pre-school environment for the poorest children from Atlanta’s inner-city homes. For thirteen years now, Pastor Rosa has sacrificed even a salary in order to find and rescue these most vulnerable of children, providing for their most basic needs, equipping them with an education and investing in their spiritual development.
Recently, a friend of mine learned that many of the children at the center are without even coats or blankets- in apartments that are often without heat. She and her friends managed to marshal a large donation of jackets and blankets, so that each and every child received their very own coat. Since that time, God’s provision has made itself known in a string of similar “loaves and fishes” moments: “On Thanksgiving, a group of women decided to do Thanksgiving baskets for all the families. On Monday, they had 42 baskets. Our goal was one for each of the student’s families and the staff – or about 60 baskets. So we were 20 short. On Tuesday, additional folks started coming up with baskets and turkeys and volunteers and the long and the short of it is that they ended up with 74 baskets! Plus some extra turkeys on top of that. Truly a loaves and fishes moment,” my friend wrote in a recent e-mail.
I would have to agree. And this, I suspect, is the very sort of thing Christmas is about. The tangible abundance of God’s provision in our neediest places. The nearness of a Love that really can empower us to make love not war.
To learn about how you might get involved in the work of the Center, either by financially giving or volunteering, contact Pastor Rosa at firstname.lastname@example.org.