What began as a way for John and Michelle Bychowski to teach their kids about the gift of giving and serving others has become a true gift for sailors in the thick of their basic training during the Christmas season.

“If I would have been at base today, it would have been the holiday routine — shining my boots and studying in the barracks,” said Taylor Safford, one of the 44 sailors from Great Lakes who spent Christmas Day at Immanuel for the church’s first-ever Christmas with Sailors/A Merry Navy Christmas celebration.

Merry Navy ChristmasThe Bychowski family began hosting Christmas with Sailors at their former church several years ago along with Kasey and Sharon Hamilton, each year becoming more deeply committed to making Christmas into a special, memorable day for the sailors.

“Many are so young and have never been away from home,” Michelle said. “It’s like taking them out of confinement. They are so grateful for the meal and the fellowship. We even have had one sailor cry over a dish prepared because it was just like his mom made … we have a real opportunity to show them the love of Christ through serving them.”

Marcus from New Jersey was among one of the sailors who grateful for the break, as he was having a hard time being at boot camp.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “My daughter was born during boot camp, and it’s been really hard to be away. Everyone here has been so nice, though, and the best part of the day has been getting to talk to my family.”

Computers were set up in stations around the church so sailors could Skype with family back home and donated-for-the-day cell phones also were available for the guests to call their families.

Brian Rivera from California said being at Immanuel on Christmas Day was the next best thing to being at home.

“Today has been great,” he said. “Everyone here has made me feel like I’m at home. They’ve given us lots of affection.”

Immanuel attendee Scott Compton, who spent the day at the celebration, recalled one young woman who burst into tears after calling her family.

“I could tell those tears represented so many emotions,” he said, “homesickness, happiness to hear her loved one, excitement that she knew it was almost over and she might see friends and family again after two months of very little and primitive communication. I could see that all in just about five seconds of tears. Then a team helper pulled her aside and gave her a hug and some comfort. You don’t realize the impact this event might have on someone until you see it yourself.”

Aside from community and the means to call family, volunteers at Immanuel also provided a large Christmas dinner including desserts and planned fun activities in which everyone could engage including games and karoake.

“We would definitely like to do this again next year,” Michelle said.

To see more pictures and video from the day and read responses from Immanuel volunteers, the sailors and the sailors’ families, check out the Facebook group A Merry Navy Christmas.

If you’d like to be involved with Christmas with Sailors/A Merry Navy Christmas next year, please contact John and Michelle Bychowski at allknowhim1{at}yahoo{dot}com.

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