It was late morning on Christmas Day 2013 as the Reeds family (my in-laws) took their seats around a pile of more than 80 cheesy Christmas gifts. It was time for our annual game of “Dirty Santa” – a dice game in which contestants roll to see how many gifts they can get from the pile and how many they can steal from other players. The game had been great fun for ten years, but this year was different. Two hours later as we sat buried in wrapping paper and in a Christmas gift stupor, I looked out across the sea of consumerism and asked myself, “Did we really have to spend all this money on gifts none of us really need?” This question began a conversation with our family about the real purpose of celebrating Christmas; it ended with a plan to do Christmas differently the next year.

Early on December 22, 2014 six members of the Reeds family and another five from the Graceway family left Kansas City, Missouri for the tropical island of Jamaica. We joined Brother Bob Weston (Graceway missionary and Jamaican national) and his team for a nine-day short-term service trip. Our diverse group (ages ranging from 18 to 73) had travel experience ranging from first trip out of the United States to seasoned international traveler. Each person could share a story of God’s provision for the trip funds. Our team spent months training, preparing, and praying for God’s guidance, safety, and supernatural will to be done. We packed our bags with hundreds of Christmas gifts (shoes, toys, candy and more) for Jamaican families.

First, we helped prepare, serve, and clean up after a Christmas Day dinner and celebration served to over 500 Jamaicans at the home of Bob Weston. Much of the time leading up to that day was spent gathering supplies, wrapping presents, and decorating Bob’s home. What wonderful people we met in Bob’s team of nationals! They welcomed us with open arms, shared their culture and wonderful Jamaican food, and let us know the Christian mission of “loving well” was as strong in Jamaica as it is at Graceway. Christmas Day was so different than just one year ago! People came from miles around to hear the good news of Jesus Christ; fill their bellies with national dishes like jerk chicken, fruit cake (so NOT the American version), and goat’s head soup (yes, it’s a real thing); and receive gifts from the Americans who chose to spend their Christmas serving others.

Our second role in Jamaica was to share our faith in Christ with all those we met. We visited nursing homes, hospitals, churches, and prisons – making new friends and proclaiming the good news that “Jesus Saves!” With each opportunity, the nervousness of sharing one’s story with strangers melted away, replaced by confidence, boldness, and amazing grace in loving “the least of these”. Our hearts and lives were changed forever by the generosity, love, and warm smiles of the Jamaican people.

Lastly, our group enjoyed personal time to relax, refresh, and renew as God’s creation unfolded before us in Jamaica. We enjoyed sunbathing and swimming on the beach, bus rides into the mountains and through plantations, and shopping at the open-air markets where we haggled for the best price on souvenirs. We climbed a waterfall, ate fresh fruit and fish from the island, and hung out by the pool at our seaside hotel. We had time to meditate, journal, pray, fellowship, read our Bibles, and Skype with family and friends back home.

None of us imagined that the Lord would take our desire to stop receiving useless gifts at Christmas and transform it into useful gifts of service to the Jamaican people during Christmas. The trip was hard work, took us out of our comfort zones, and refused to let us leave without being personally changed. All 11 of us have personal stories of how God grew us during this trip. We better understand how to love those of this world well. This short-term trip to Jamaica was the greatest gift we could have given – and received – at Christmas.

Visit http://visitgraceway.org/category/trips to see a list of Graceway’s short term trip opportunities.