Thomasville First UMC is transforming lives through Advent Revolution
By Kara Witherow, Editor
Justin was 3 years old when his parents were killed in the Rwandan genocide.
Homeless and hopeless, he didn’t have anyone to take care of him or anywhere to go.
That is, until someone told him about Village of Hope, a group of homes built because of Thomasville First United Methodist Church’s Advent Revolution and members who decided that Christmas should be about compassion, not consumption.
Now in its sixth year, Advent Revolution focuses on remembering why Christmas is celebrated and on making an eternal difference in the world.
Every year since 2007, Thomasville FUMC has challenged its members to spend less during the Christmas season and put the money saved towards a mission project. They’ve met their $20,000 goal each year, and with the money have built eight homes that house 28 Rwandan orphans, built a water well that gives nearly 500 students access to clean water, built a roof on a church, provided scholarship money so children can continue their education, hosted dozens of Christmas parties for their local food bank clients, and have funded the start of Thomasville’s Backpack Buddies Foundation ministry. This year they plan to launch a vocational training and microloan co-op for widows in Rwanda and remodel Vashti’s recreation room.
“Advent Revolution helps remind us that Christmas is not about us,” said Chris Goff, Thomasville First UMC’s director of missions and discipleship. “It helps us focus outward during Christmas. If Christmas is all about God leaving His security and the comfort of heaven and entering into our world of difficulties, pain and suffering, wouldn’t He want us to celebrate His birthday in a similar way?”
Goff is quick to point out that Advent Revolution is not a fundraiser, but a calling to celebrate Christmas differently.
“We’re not asking people to give something extra – we’re asking them to spend differently at Christmas,” he said. “If everybody would choose to spend a little less on gifts for themselves and take what they’re cutting back and use it for this instead, it will allow us to do this.”
Advent Revolution is not just about shopping differently – it’s also about spending time differently.
“We also encourage people to give of themselves in some way during Christmas. It’s not just about giving money, but time and talents.”
Goff’s family has participated each year. He and his wife Pam sit down with their three children and talk about what they’d be willing to do without so that they can help make a difference in Rwanda.
“We have cut back on what we spend on gifts so that we can give, but we’ve also tried to ask ourselves, ‘with what we do spend on gifts, how can we spend it in such a way that it’s going to be giving our presence instead of our presents,’” he said.
In addition to giving towards Advent Revolution, the Goff family uses some of the money they would otherwise spend on gifts to go on a vacation after Christmas so they can have quality time together as a family.
Stephanie Nicholson is passionate about using her time and talents to help others.
The Thomasville First UMC member is in charge of decorating the church’s bus barn for the 12 Christmas parties the church will host for its food bank clients. More than 1,000 people visit the church’s food bank each month, and each of them receives a personal invitation to one of the parties.
She has also gone on three mission trips to Rwanda, spending 10 days in the country each time. The people she’s met have become like family, and her children have learned the importance of giving and serving.
“It’s been really exciting to be a part of the trips, and my kids have been able to see me going to Rwanda,” Nicholson said. “They get that connection between the money that we’re able to share and the people that we now have relationships with. They see how we’ve made a difference in their lives.”
The Nicholson family has also cut back on what they spend on gifts so that they can give to Advent Revolution causes, and the gifts they do give are ones that matter, she said.
For the past few years, they have gifted chickens, other animals and handmade goods from around the world to friends and family members and in their honor. Bought through ministries like World Help, these “Gifts of Hope” and the money raised through them are given to help families in need in places like Rwanda, Guatemala and Thailand.
“We’ve changed the actual gifts that we give, too. We’re not just not giving them – we have changed the way we shop and are trying to buy things that help others,” she said.
Juliette is one Rwandan woman that has been helped by Advent Revolution.
A widow because of the genocide, Juliette is raising three orphans in her mud hut and has a tough time making ends meet. The volunteer children's ministry leader at her church, Juliette has no way to earn money to feed, educate or support her family, and relies heavily on her church.
With funding provided to the church through Advent Revolution, Juliette attended vocational school and was trained to be a tailor. But without a sewing machine or the money to buy one, she still wasn’t able to earn a living.
Last year, during Thomasville First UMC’s annual trip to Rwanda, mission team members learned of Juliette’s need and decided to buy her a sewing machine.
“For $130 we were able to buy her a sewing machine,” Nicholson said. “That is nothing to us. That’s a trip to Publix, but it changed her entire life and the lives of her children, and she’s now able to put food on the table.”
With her new sewing machine, Juliette was able to start her own business sewing and selling handbags.
“That’s one of the best investments I’ve ever seen in my life,” Goff said. “We don’t want to just hand out funds and create dependence, we want to help them.”
Through this year’s Advent Revolution, the church plans to join with their Rwandan partner, The Church of the Blessed Mango Tree, to establish a co-op that would grant microloans to Rwandan widows like Juliette. The hope is that the loans will help them learn a trade and then provide them the equipment to begin new business ventures. As funds are repaid to the co-op they would then be available to assist others as well, making this an ongoing ministry, empowering women to meet the needs of their families instead of creating dependence.
Advent Revolution’s local focus will be to help remodel the Vashti Center for Children and Families’ recreation building, turning it into a fun and comfortable place for mentors and students to spend time together. Vashti is a faith-based ministry providing residential treatment and community services for children and youth, and many of the church’s members volunteer there.
Nicholson, Goff and others at Thomasville First UMC are teaching their children that it’s better to give and serve than receive.
“We’re just a conduit for God to give us the blessings to give to other people,” Nicholson said.