Christmas in Bethlehem and at Summerset Apartments

Dec 19, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Helping Hands, Tom Sims

by Tom Sims

The Gift Cluttered Parlor
The world is dark
As a gift cluttered parlor on Christmas morning
Before the children awaken from their restless sleep.
Grace steps in softly on tip-toe.
We know its heart and soul
A goal, a light, an arrow in the sky
Why should any flee or resist
Insist on proof, bold and aloof and cold?
The old, the young, unsung and poor
A door to truth, a way to find.
Kind words are not enough
The stuff of delusion, confusion, and appearance,
A clearance sale, a give-away
Grey to bright, sight to insight
Flight above the clouds and stars
Jars of life, boxes of love, packages of joy.
The piracy of our privacy
Invades the darkness and redirects our thoughts
To a manger gift
And lifts our lives beyond ourselves
To God.
© 1997, 2004 Thomas B. Sims

What sort of gifts make Christmas truly Christmas?

This week, Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries wrapped hundreds of presents for neighborhood children in preparation for its annual Christmas party. During the same week, Christmas came a little early for the residents of Summerset Village across the street. After weeks without heat or the ability to cook, the gas came back on for over 1000

Christmas came earlier than that conclusion. It came when someone reported to Zack Darrah, Executive Director of Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM), that the gas in this 220 apartment complex had been shut down for a week and a half. That was a week before Thanksgiving. It would stay off until last Saturday night.

Christmas came when Zack called City Councilman Clint Olivier and FIRM’s army of volunteers was joined by volunteers from all over the city and even, the state. The media became involved. City government rallied. People gave with their hearts, time, and money.


California Southern Baptists and Community Volunteers

Now, there is a new resolve in the city to rid Fresno of slumlords and create a community where there is room in the inn and the inn is a decent place to live and raise children.

Zack Darrah said it well in his newsletter this week (with permission):

“There are so many different things that I could write about with regards to the Summerset Apartment situation. The gas is now back on and the work is far from finished, but one thing that struck me more than anything was the amazing community response to support the over 1,000 residents that were left in the cold. Individuals, churches, community leaders, private organizations, City of Fresno leaders, emergency response groups and more came together to meet an incredible need. There is no possible way that I could name them all, but a few that I wanted to recognize in this article are listed below. There is also no possible way that FIRM could have responded in the way that we did without them!”

“So I would like to appreciate and recognize everyone who helped at some point through this journey! However, here are a few that really stood out and helped us in ways that were truly incredible!”

• Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Response Team (Don Hargis and team)
• The American Red Cross (Katrina Poitras, Barry Falke and team)
• City of Fresno Councilman, Clint Olivier (District 7)
• City of Fresno Mayor, Ashley Swearengin
• City of Fresno City Manager, Bruce Rudd
• National Hmong American Farmers Executive Director. Chukou Thao
• New Harvest Church
• Pacific Gas & Electric
• Fresno Housing Authority
• Wells Fargo
• University Presbyterian Church
• The Well Community Church
• Mid Valley Southern Baptist Association
• Son of General Vang Pao, Chi Neng Vang
• The California Endowment
• Former City of Fresno Councilman, Blong Xiong
• Regency Properties President, Brad Hardie
• Stone Soup Fresno Executive Director, Lowell Ens
• Fresno County Department of Public Health Division Manager, Joe Prado
• Fresno Fire Department Deputy Chief, Tim Henry
• Fresno Fire Department Fire Captain and Emergency Officer, Jeff Guynn
• San Joaquin Memorial High School
• Local News Media, Channel 24, Channel 26, Channel 30, Channel 47, Hmong USA TV, KMJ, The Fresno Bee, Univision and more!
• People’s Church
• Wathen Castanos Homes
• Every Neighborhood Partnership Executive Director, Artie Padilla
• Volunteers, Heather Fenton, Mai Chai Yang, Ken Peck, Gabrielle Wong, Jessica DeJager, Diamond Vang, Angela Whitney, Chan, Nichole, Khanthaly, Chin, Cheng Xiong, Ingrid, Chef Steven , Molly, Mai and about 600 more!
• The Many Generous Donors From The Community!

“All I can say is thank you and thank you just simply does not say enough! This is just a small list of everyone who came together to do something about this situation. I am sure that I have missed some on this list, but please know that it does not mean you were not noticed or that your investment into this situation was not appreciated. Please know that the work has just started and we look forward to a day when refugees in our community all live in safe and healthy housing conditions!”

How is this about Christmas? It is about incarnation – being there, with the people, sharing life, and bringing light and hope.


Volunteers at Summerset

A volunteer with FIRM and Care Fresno, Gabriel Wong, lives among the people of Summerset in one of the apartments. She shared her impressions in FIRM’s newsletter:

“We are experiencing a new way of loving our neighbors. Living in community and sharing life with those we serve who are our literal neighbors is a big part of why my roommates and I were planted in Summerset. A lot of truly awful things have happened and there have been many frustrating, annoying, and exhausting moments and hours these past few weeks. There have also been moments where I have seen God work, moments that remind me that I’m right where I need to be. I believe that God led my roommates and I to move to Summerset at this time, knowing that we would be present for this man-made disaster and available to serve as each step unfolded.”

“As we approach Christmas, I have been pondering how profound it is that God Almighty came to be with us. Emmanuel, God with us, took on human form to eat, dress, and sleep with us. Emmanuel, God with us, also came to earth to be hungry, cold, and hurt with us, enabling Him to say, “Me too,” when people are hurting. Because Emmanuel came to be with us that first Christmas, we experience how far God came to show us His love. In response, Care Fresno missionaries have been placed throughout Fresno to be with people we likely wouldn’t know otherwise, living alongside them to point them to the God who wants to be with them too.”


Delivering blankets

Now, let’s go back …

Peering eyes barely opened, recognized his mother from a bed of straw. He squirmed, tentatively exploring his world, not knowing it would so soon reject him or that for it, he would lay down his life. Yet to discover what in eternity he knew, that he was the Savior-Sovereign, he whimpered as any infant would and cried out for suckle. So vulnerable was the Son of God, so frail the Son of Man and we did esteem him stricken, smitten, afflicted by God.

Crucified from the foundations of the earth, he emptied himself of glory. Yet, glory pursued him. He took on the form of a servant as angels stood by awaiting his slightest summons. He subjected himself to temptation, but shunned sin. He walked among men as a man, but his divinity could not be hidden. He prayed as we must pray and taught us in so doing to embrace the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. There he lay, a bundle of need who had hitherto known no need. Packaged in his person, the potent possibilities of reconciliation and redemption.

Here lay an offering, wiggling beneath swaddling clothes, wrapped up and carefully placed under every family’s tree.

Here lay the concentrated reality of all God’s love for humankind.
Here was a promise fulfilled, a hope realized, a purpose unfolding before our very eyes – and we esteemed him not.

How we have marginalized this child. How we have assigned him but a season of sentimental reflection and generalized good wishes. How we have misunderstood, misrepresented, or misappropriated the meaning of his coming. God manifest, he was and is and nothing less. Emmanuel – more than a pleasant sounding melody – is the miracle of incarnation. God is, absolutely, irrevocably, undeniably, and unambiguously, with us.

A child – weak and hungry, he was born into a world without incubators or Pampers or formula. He was born into a world of high infant mortality with an elevated threat on the Herodian horizon. For each who welcomed him, there were companies of soldiers seeking to snuff out his life. Soon to be on the run, a fugitive from his own people, he would return again and again and ultimately in a final show of death-defying atonement.

He is the Lord we laud, the Master we magnify, and the Savior we salute on this night of nights. We have no gold, frankincense nor myrrh to bring as acts of homage. We bring empty hands extended toward him that he might fill them with his own gifts. We fall down before him and worship with broken and joyful hearts, celebrating the power of the pregnant paradox – they that sow in tears shall reap in joy.

Gaze upon him in wonder this night. Sing to him a lullaby of praise. O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

It’s Still Christmas
No tree is stronger than its roots.
The heart of each of our pursuits
Is truth, raw and unrefined,
Longing for more, love inclined,
Centered in the blessed incarnation,
In the fertile soil of God’s most gracious invitation
Come to the manger.
© 2005, Thomas B. Sims

To contact FIRM:

To Contact FIRM Board Chair, Tom Sims and 4141 Ministries:

You can find more of Tom’s columns here. Keep up with all of Tom’s writing by following him on Twitter @tomsims

Tom Sims is a local pastor (and Grandpa!), writer, and blogger. His congregation, “The Fellowship of Joy,” is part of a larger collaborative called “4141 Ministries,” of which he is Executive Director & he is an active Toastmaster. You can also find him on Facebook.



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