The One In a Million Christmas Gift


Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In late August of 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated the golf coast, killing 1833 people and causing an estimated $108 billion worth of property damage.  Around 800,000 homes were lost or damaged in the storm.  These numbers alone are staggering and difficult to imagine.

My father, Pastor H. Lamar Smith, was Pastoring Mobile First Church of the Nazarene in Mobile, Alabama at the time that the storm hit.  Immediately following Katrina the Mobile Church went to work to help those in need.  They teamed up with Nazarene Compassionate Ministries and other organizations to offer food, shelter, clothing, medical supplies and more.

The fellowship hall, located in the basement of the church became a storm relief center.  The Sunday school rooms became dorm space where they housed more than 100 teams over the next year. The teams came from all over the US and Canada.  There were carpenters, roofers, drywall hangers, plumbers, and any other trade you can imagine.

Though they gutted homes and helped people rebuild their homes there was more.  They were helping them rebuild their lives.  Having someone you do not know offering you assistance at no cost to you does something to you.

John Bunyan once said, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

Only God knows the amount of people whose lives were transformed through this effort and others following Katrina.  Somethings cannot be measured.

As this relief effort stretched from hours to weeks to months Christmas time was quickly approaching.  They realized that many families would have nothing to offer their kids on Christmas.  They needed a Christmas toy store but where were they to get toys for so many kids with very little resources?

They begin making calls and brainstorming how they could fill the store with enough toys to offer kids and their families.  In the days leading up to Christmas the room that was once bare was now filled with stuffed animals, toy soldiers, books, baby dolls, bikes and more.  Even those who worked on the project were surprised by all that God had provided.

As Christmas approached family after family was served with the toys that came from their toy store.  Eyes that had cried countless tears over all that they lost now glistened as they selected gifts for their children.  Hands that had worked hard to tear down and rebuild homes were now filled with Christmas gifts.  It was a sight that will live forever in the minds of those who witnessed it.

The more people came the smaller the store became and the less they had to offer.  They were excited that many had been served but nervous about having enough.  Would they be able to serve everyone who had a need?

The entire store was now limited to a couple of boxes of toys.  These boxes were filled with things that no one else wanted.  These were the gifts that did not get picked.

A family came in close to Christmas needing toys for their 2 boys.  They were directed to the back of the room to go through what was left.  There were only a couple boxes of toys remaining.  While digging through the boxes their eyes found two slinky dog toys that they picked up in haste.

As they held the two dogs, tears filled their eyes and rolled down their faces.

They explained to the toy store volunteer why those 2 slinky dogs held such value.

When Katrina was approaching landfall this family was forced to make a quick exit from their home.  They left only being able to carry what would fit in their vehicle.  Outside of their clothes they were able to grab a few personal possessions when they evacuated.

One of the things they did grab were some old VHS home movies of Christmases that they had shared together.  They were now in temporary housing.  They had lost almost everything in the storm.

The night before visiting the toy store they watched some of their old movies when the boys were smaller.  One Christmas each of them had received a slinky dog.  They were so excited the day they received them and had played with them for many years. Upon viewing the videos they were reminded of all that they had and all they had lost.

They had all cried.

That day in the Christmas toy store they got more than a couple of slinkys. They were reminded that they were not alone. God was with them.

It was a one in a million Christmas gift.

What are the odds that out of all of those toys they would find two slinky dogs?  How were they missed by so many others?

But why are we surprised?   The God who knows each sparrow and sees them when they fall also cares about two boys in Mobile, Alabama getting a couple of slinkys.

In a day when we often focus on the big and dramatic we sometimes forget that God can show up in the small and seemingly mundane.

He sees, He hears and He knows.

Merry Christmas


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2 thoughts on “The One In a Million Christmas Gift

  1. Brings back great memories. I brought a team of 30 from Lakewood, Colorado to work with your dad. I made three trips. It was a life changing experience. Thanks for reminding us how good our God is.

    Pastor Joe McNulty

    • It is amazing to think about all of the lives that were touched as a result of that church and the teams who worked there. His work will always bear fruit