A Christmas Story #1: Sue

Note: Names have been changed to protect the identity of these individuals since this is a real story.

Monash Carols by Candlelight @ Jells Park

Knowing that Sunday 11 December 2016 was the day of the Monash Carols by Candlelight event at Jells Park, I convinced my group of friends that we should not just go to the Carols, but head there a little earlier to beat the crowds. When I say earlier, we ended up arriving ~2:30pm which was super early given the kids activities at the sponsor stalls only began at 4pm, the pre-event Kids Show began at 7:15pm and the main program at 8pm!

When we arrived, we had first pickings – literally:

We decided to set-up our area next to the Sound tent. Slowly but surely the whole place filled up with people with rugs. Two young girls in front of us came complete with pillows and a sleeping-bag blanket. In the late afternoon a lady arrived with her pram and three young children, Michael (the eldest), Melissa, and Matt (the youngest.

During the course of the evening, the kids ran around and invariably, because of the proximity, started interacting with my group of friends. All of us in my group, with one exception, are not at the stage of parent-hood or marriage. The one person who is both father and husband has been here in Melbourne, Australia whilst his daughter and wife remain back in South America. This long distance of separation is only partially mitigated by the wonders of technology like Skype. In some ways, meeting the needs of the young children also served a dual purpose in meeting the needs of this father who is geographically separated from his own child.

During the 7:15pm kids pre-show, the daughter tugged at the hand of one of the girls in our group, wanting her company and adult supervision in going to the very front. Minutes later, after the kids’ show was nearing completion with an upbeat song, the eldest son tugged at my hand wanting to join his sister.  In being able to help Sue out with baby-sitting her children, we had the opportunity to bless Sue. At many times during the evening, with all the three kids being taken care of by my friends, she was able to join us in enjoying the open air atmosphere and concert – I suspect she really appreciated having the down-time and opportunity to just relax.

Even though the program of the Monash Carols occupied the full two hours from 8pm through to the 10pm fireworks, all three kids were well-behaved. Kids being kids, I had to hide our collection of glow-in-the-dark sticks in order to save them for the appropriate moment/time during the concert when the audience was asked to pull out their candles. During the hunt for dinner, I had also taken the opportunity to buy a fun-looking Santa hat, which in part was a draw card in attracting the kids’ attention. While I was able to salvage and retain the hat, the glow-sticks effectively became toys kept by the kids. All in all, the whole evening experience was enhanced, in my opinion, by having the kids there in close proximity. It was definitely a talking point afterwards that when the kids sat on our laps, their presence was a welcome source of heat to mitigate the coolness of the night. This fact was observed in the way my girlfriend attempted unsuccessfully to get Matt, the little one, to sit in her lap but he preferred to sit with me…

Post Event Initial Connections

With the crowd masses dissipating and leaving Jells Park, our group got the chance to converse and introduce ourselves properly to the young mother and learnt her name was Sue.

While exchanging basic introductory details, we mentioned how the connection between each of us that formed our group of young people was through our church.  It turned out that Sue attended one of our church’s ministries as well. A number of girls in our group swapped contact details to continue and keep in touch. As we all packed up and walked towards the car park, we also learnt that Sue was going to attempt to return home via Uber. Given the expected long wait times, one of my friends offered to help transport her and the kids home since the friend lived near her.

The Morning After

As part of the tail-end of the evening’s outing, I spoke to one of the leaders at church about our experience. We learnt that it was a small world indeed. Sue was a young single mum who had various needs, and it turned out that there were various groups at our church of varying ages who were helping her out as well. It turned out that the previous 40 Days of Community program that Clayton Church had pursued back in August-September had seen one life-group donate food to help Sue out. Some of these food products were still being stored at church awaiting Sue’s collection.

It turns out that Sue has been receiving a lot of support across our church and from two other churches. In her position, being relatively young and looking after the children, she needs all the help she can get.

A God-based Confirmation

Since Sunday, three of us had connected with her so as to keep in contact and explore future opportunities to build a relationship and help support her. My group from Sunday are merely the latest in multiple avenues of support from our church – a previous life-group and the ongoing support that she receives for her kids all help to reinforce the point that God is reaching to Sue and the kids.

Sue has faced many hardships, and she has already faced a life experience no woman/mother should have to undergo. It is a testimony to God’s faithfulness that He continues to provide for her in so many ways. With food and a sofa ready for collection from church, multiple people willing to help her out with learning to drive, look after the kids and generally support her, God is surely working in her life. For me, at the time, at Jells Park, I did not see as clearly how God’s hand was upon her and how He was working through the few of us. It was only in sharing part of the story that one friend commented:

Oh wow!!! Out of 20,000 people, God orchestrated where we all would sit. Amazing!

As I have learnt, God tends to speak through multiple complementary forms. One friend in my group has her own needs of accommodation. It also turns out that Sue also has a need to rent out some of the rooms in the house she occupies now. Could it be that my friend and Sue could meet each others’ needs? The timing could not be more perfect and the opportunity for a mutual beneficial outcome to me is quite intriguing.

On Wednesday 14 December, as part of my life-group holding a farewell dinner and prayer session for one of our own, we invited Sue and the kids to join us. The main reason is that the guy we farewell is the same father character who spent time with the kids on Sunday at Jells Park. As a one-off event, this was another opportunity for the larger life-group to gather, meet in person Sue and the kids, and collectively bless them.

Our discussions and passion to live our God’s love has also been tempered by the need to take a longer-term perspective on the situation. Whilst we do not want to hinder God at work, it is important to acknowledge that we are considering the long-term implications, such as what impact we have on the kids beyond this Christmas time of celebration. It is truly humbling and enriching to think that we can show love in this very practical way to a family in need right now, but it is also important that we consider a sustainable relational basis moving forwards into 2017. It is often a tragic when people help others in need in a short space of time, only then to disappear and potentially undo the good work. With this in mind, I offer a cautionary approach whereby expectations should be minimised and we start small, in order to ensure the proper long-term outcome is achieved. Ongoing opportunities for support exist in the form of future babysitting and a more timely assistance with driving lessons. By no means is this story over, and time will tell where and how God allows this to develop further.

18 December Update

Since the original publication of this story, we have had continual contact with Sue and she is clearly getting support from multiple sources across the community of faith. God looks like He is blessing the family in multiple ways in spite of their situation. 2017 will no doubt be challenging but even in these trying times, God is faithful and working. I pray that when people experience hardships, they will still be able to stop and recognise that God is there in their situation. During this Christmas time, let us all remember the gift of Jesus, the reason for the season, and the hope and blessing He represents to each of us.