Kansas City

As we wrapped up our tour in at the Crestwood Shopping Center, I took note of the special opportunity I’d been gifted the past two weeks in travelling to six of the tour stops across the US. I have to admit that I am honestly humbled to have been welcomed into so many communities to celebrate the birth of Jesus. From thousands of miles away, I had the opportunity to draw near to people who have very little in common with me, yet somehow we found the time to gather together to spread the good news of Christmas.

Our partner church, Country Club UMC accommodated is with volunteers ranging from toddlers to elderly folks who understood that seeking closeness during this season of advent is more valuable than standing in lines at the mall.

Pastor Keith Morgan’s brass ensemble filled the air with the bright sounds of the season ringing all across the shopping center. The nearby store owners decided to stay open just a little longer so they too could enjoy the community and concert taking place.

After many cups of cocoa, tons of pictures at the photo booth and a dozen puppy visits, we packed up the truck and called it a night. The folks from our partner church weren’t done quite yet, though. After the event a group of them poured into the restaurant next door to keep the party going and continue enjoying each other’s company.

All in all, it was a privilege to spend some of my Advent with the folks from Kansas City.

Thanks to everyone who came out!

Merry Christmas,

Paul

Salt Lake City

I love the interruption that our little tour provides. Many of our tour stops are in places of commerce–places where people are engaged in some of the busiest activity of the holiday season. It’s refreshing to engage with people are so focused on the task at hand that they’ve momentarily lost track of the true focus on Christmas. It happens to all of us.

In this kind of environment, a simple free cup of hot cocoa is a tremendous interruption. It’s often startling to recipients. This seemed especially true as we handed out cocoa outside of Rancho Market in Salt Lake City. Rancho Market is primarily a grocery store, with a few other boutique shops attached. People come there to take care of the necessary business of life. Really, they’re coming there because they need to get something, not because they want to shop. So it caught many people off guard that we wanted to give them something.

The presence of God–which is the very thing we seek to acknowledge at Christmas–often reveals itself to us in a similar manner. We don’t necessarily see it when we’re planning to see it. Instead, it catches us off guard in the liminal moments of life. It’s startling, but it’s not unwelcome. And the more we expect it, the more we tend to see it.

I got to see the presence of God in Salt Lake City. I really got to see it in the young people from Tongan United Methodist Church. They were so joyful to be with each other and to engage with people at Rancho Market. I think God takes similar in interrupting our instances of narrow focus and broadening our awareness to the people around us.

–Ryan Dunn

Phoenix, Arizona

Service. Advent is a time to serve one another, that’s what the abundance of volunteers from the Desert Southwest Conference showed the world tonight.

 

We setup shop in Kierland Commons in Scottsdale, AZ where hundreds of folks were getting their Christmas shopping out of the way and double-checked lists completed.

 

A song was in the air all night from Pastor Andrew Devereaux, who shared the story of Christmas through his gift of music with the strangers passing by. By the time he’d wrapped up, an 8-member bell choir from North Scottsdale UMC rang in the advent season with glorious music anyone could hear all across the mall. To say our event was a showcase of talent is an understatement!

 

Big shout out to our host church – North Scottsdale UMC, our partner churches – Desert Mission UMC, Red Mountain UMC, Cross in The Desert UMC, Velda Rose UMC. And last but certainly not least, a sincere thank you to Christina Dillabough, Desert Southwest Conference Communicator who made this entire event a major success.

 

I’m not sure if the entire valley was changed because of this event, but I do know that Scottsdale was a better place on Monday night.

 

Blessings to all,

 

Paul

Shreveport, Louisiana

The meaning of Christmas was spread far and wide at the Boardwalk Outlets this evening. Our ambassadors practiced a special tradition of bringing gifts from door to door by visiting each storefront and offering cocoa to the employees who wouldn’t be off work until after our truck had left.

 

To top it all of we even had a light dusting of snow in the mall which drew all of us even closer together.

 

Thanks for being amazing hosts on December 6th, Bossier City and Shreveport!

 

Blessings,

 

Paul

 

Columbus, Mississippi

After 4-hour drive from our last stop, we found ourselves in a town right near the Mississippi – Alabama state line: Columbus, Mississippi. The tour team was met with a very warm welcome in “The Friendly City”. Something about small towns always makes me feel so loved and welcomed.

Since the weather was nearing the 30’s this evening, our hot cocoa hosts decided to go full postal, and deliver cocoa to each and every storefront on Main Street. It was a beautiful sight to see folks who weren’t quite off work yet able to partake in the fellowship outside.

In the Bible, we know that Jesus’ life was centered fellowship. As a newborn baby He was already gathering people from far away lands and diverse backgrounds to a single place where they could all partake in the miracle of His birth. He invited people to the Kingdom of God, a space where (and when) all are truly equal and experiencing grace. The Kingdom of God can definitely be experienced in Columbus, MS. So many genuinely kind people call this town their home, and our team was sad to say “goodbye.” Our volunteers were a blessing because they demonstrated intentional kindness to extend a season’s greeting in the Leadership Plaza. Even if the air was chilly, the hearts of our volunteers and guests were warmed with love and acceptance.

Thank you so much to everyone at First Columbus United Methodist Church who made this event the talk of the town.

Peace,

Paul

Baltimore, Maryland

Christmas was not given to us to be a burden. The advent of Christ’s birth was initially proclaimed using words like joy and peace. That Christmas has become something that makes many of us tense up in the shoulders is a relatively modern development.

I thought about that first Christmas night quite a bit while we handed out cocoa and joy in Baltimore on November 29.  Continue Reading

Columbus Ohio

We’ve been conditioned to be skeptical of free. That’s conditioning is probably the biggest barrier we face in dong events on the True Meaning of Christmas Tour. Nobody really seems bothered by our Christmas imagery or music. They aren’t turned off by our blessings of “merry Christmas!” People are simply weirded out that we want to give them hot cocoa.

There has to be a catch, right? Continue Reading