So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. John 13:34-35 (NLT)

Though the name sounds self-explanatory — Christmas with the Sailors — the impact of this important outreach is not quite as obvious. Michelle Bychowski, one of the event’s organizers, shares the ins and outs of this opportunity to love our military service people.

IC: How is Christmas with the Sailors serving a need?

Michelle: The sailors, this year we’ve invited a battalion of 80, are all recruits in basic training boot camp. They have been isolated for weeks and are only allowed out because of the Christmas holiday. They have been isolated from all civilization for weeks: no television, news, radio, and no contact with family. Many of these recruits are very young (the average age is 18) and have never been away from home for Christmas before.

IC: What is some of the feedback you’ve gotten from the sailors?

Michelle: Usually we receive several letters expressing their thankfulness for our willingness to spend Christmas with them and make them feel at home. Some have said they were not sure what to expect when they discovered they were coming to “a church” but were pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the entire day.

MerryNavyWe send Christmas letters home for their families with a group photo and individual photo. This generally results in parents writing us back expressing their thanks for spending the day with their child. They usually let us know it made them feel better knowing they were not alone and they were able to talk to them or see their child via Skype. I love that this extends past us serving just the individual, it serves their families as well.

IC: What is your favorite part of the day?

Michelle: My favorite part is meeting these young men and women and watching the interaction with everyone. There have been different stories each year that are so memorable. For example, one year a young man walked around rubbing his face with Kleenex saying, ” you don’t know what we wipe with in the barracks!” Another time, a young girl cried when she saw someone’s baby and thought the baby looked a lot like hers.

I love seeing their excitement when they get to talk to their parents or their loved ones throughout the day. It is enjoyable watching them play games and just relaxing and enjoying food all day.

IC: What are your current volunteer needs?

Michelle: We could still use a few turkeys and more stuffing. We are in need of more appetizers and side dishes. I usually recommend that if you are making something special for your family, double the recipe and bring the rest over. I have often heard a sailor say, ” my mother makes this every year!” and it may be something different like enchiladas or Puerto Rican rice.

IC: How has this changed Christmas for your family?

Michelle: For our family it all began hoping our children would not be so wrapped up in the opening of presents and realize that it is better to give than to receive. We have seen that play out many times. One Christmas, their Christmas presents were still under the tree several days later and I had to tell them to open them. For days they will talk about stories they shared or fun things they experienced. They look forward to going to gurnee mills after graduation to see if we can find any of our guests. They also know they will not be getting many presents anymore the focus is on Christs birth and then serving others. They were given the option of going on vacation when we switched churches and unanimously all the children expressed they wanted to have Christmas with the sailors. That same weekend Immanuel announced “ICU” and my husband and I looked at each other with the understanding that Christmas was back on! The day is long lived in our hearts and minds; my children are forming memories and I am pretty sure it will be passed on to their families to not be so self focused at Christmas.

To volunteer for specific tasks, stop at the Info Circle this Sunday or call the church office for more information.

100_1824Laura Forman is married to David and they live in Gurnee with their five children. She is a fitness instructor, freelance writer and can be found at church or www.lauralisaforman.com.

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