Gwinnett County Corps shares Christmas story with Angel Tree families, virtually

By: David Ibata

As The Salvation Army in Gwinnett County, Georgia, prepared its annual Angel Tree gift distribution, it faced a quandary: How to share the Christmas story with families, when perhaps they’d be the most receptive to hearing it, during a pandemic that made one-on-one conversations inadvisable?

“We were talking about how we could still present the Gospel message and the WHY of what we do, and we realized it would be much more challenging this year because everything would be drive-through – there’d be no face-to-face contact,” said Captain Paul Ryerson, corps officer in Gwinnett.

“We decided, let’s produce a video.”

As staff and volunteers prepared Angel Tree gift packages for 1,500 children from 700 families, Captains Paul and Analese Ryerson recorded a video of Christmas greetings and an invitation. Their secretary, Sue-Ann Jeffrey, edited the video and posted two versions to YouTube – one in English, and the other with Spanish-language subtitles. The videos can be viewed here.

A QR code was created that, when scanned by a smartphone, automatically opened and played the video. The code was printed on a flyer, in English and Spanish, that wished all a “Merry Christmas” (“¡Feliz Navidad!”).

Volunteers handed the flyers to families as they arrived Saturday, Dec. 19, and suggested they watch the video in their vehicles as they waited in line for the Angel Tree gift distribution.

“We want to take a moment and share with you a few things while you are waiting for your gifts to arrive,” Captain Paul says in the video. “The gifts you are about to receive were given to us by local families and companies specifically for your child. … Even in a year such as this, the generosity of this community has once again made sure every child on our list has been provided Christmas.”

Captain Analese says, “The real gift of Christmas is Jesus. The gift you are receiving will all eventually be outgrown and put aside, but Jesus is a gift that is everlasting. He can give you hope, especially when hope seems so far away.”

Captain Paul: “Do you know Jesus? You are loved by God, the creator of the universe. So much so, that he sent his son Jesus to this world that whosoever believes in him will be saved. Do you know Jesus? If not, we would like you help you find what the Magi found that day: Hope.”

The captains invited viewers to read the Christmas story of Luke 2:1-20, printed in English and Spanish on the back of the flyer; welcomed them to attend worship services at the corps; and asked them to text “Ready” to 24251 if they wanted to have someone pray with them and answer any questions they might have about Jesus.

Angel Tree applications were taken online this year, and the corps now has participants’ email addresses. Captain Paul said they may follow up with a post-Christmas video message.

“There wasn’t much face-to-face interaction with families this year,” Captain Paul said. “That’s why we came up with this idea, to have some kind of touch in a touchless world.”