BY ANNA COX & VICTORIA PRICE
More than twice the number of children attended a Christmas Party supported by Viva in December last year than in 2016. The total number of children reached was over 9,500, and incredibly, a third of these children had never encountered a Viva partner network in any way before.
These parties, organised by 18 networks in ten countries this year, provide an open invitation to children in their communities – many of whom live in very difficult or vulnerable situations – to join them in a time of laughter, food and friendship.
Viva Christmas Parties are intended to influence the lives of the children who attend beyond the fun of the initial event. Whilst of course, the parties are all about giving children a great time, encouragement, new learning and knowledge, they also function at a far deeper level.
For children, successful follow-up will determine the longer-term impact; however, networks have been able to report two immediate impacts from the recent parties on the lives of the children who attended.
Firstly, the impact of good experiences and memories shape children’s attitudes, and good deeds and kindness can have a lasting impact, especially when followed up with longer-term communication.
Some of the children who attended the party in Cagayan in the Philippines are child labourers with very difficult and dangerous lives. Being shown love and concern from relative strangers was the chance they needed to forget about their responsibilities and learn how to be children again, beginning with just one day at the party.
Secondly, the parties enable children’s needs to be met more effectively. These opportunities to spend time and build relationships with children who have never heard of a Viva partner network before can be a catalyst for better-connected care for children in risky situations, potentially vulnerable to abuse.
They are the perfect way to connect these children with the wider support and care that can be offered through various opportunities and events. Some networks even took the opportunity to engage with new children to specifically identify needs of the children which are not currently being met:
In Mwanza, Tanzania, Maria (8) and her younger brother (7) arrived at the party having lost their parents three years ago, and due to this, unable to access education. However, after meeting a network member during the party there were together able to find credible people who committed under network supervision to take them to school and ensure they were well equipped with school resources – changing these children’s lives for good from just one single event and opportunity.
Beyond the difference made to the lives of the children who attend the parties, these events can be a great encouragement for new network members – churches, organisations of individuals – and help to build the reputation of the networks.
For members who have recently joined a network, these events are often the first experience of working together and the first time they can see in action the difference that can be made by collective action for children across a city.
A testimony from our partners in Bangalore, India demonstrates the shift in thinking of new church network members about these parties, from only a short-term evangelical mission to a longer-term, wider view of holistically caring for children in need:
“Some of the church members admitted that they worked with children only to make sure that the gospel is taken to them. But after the Christmas Party, they see the need or gap in their work and want to partner with our network to make sure that those children are protected and will be free from abuse.”
This work is so often a testament to the commitment of each network continuing to work as God has called them, caring for children in need, and enabling them to know that they are loved and valued, no matter the country or network’s own difficult circumstances.
This year, some networks have continued to run a Christmas Party despite facing immense pressure either financially, environmentally or politically.
We recently received word from the network in Venezuela that food shortages and medicines in the country are causing crisis. The network is having to change the focus of their work to try to find food to feed people in need.
The situation is so bad that network staff are unable to feed their own families, yet they are still doing all they can to care for children. What they have reported to us demonstrates the significance of the Christmas Party:
“We thank the Lord for his provision through Viva to motivate the Churches to organise the Christmas Party in the midst of the crisis we are living. It was an unexpected experience for the children and their families, who were able to enjoy the provision of God, with the contribution of the Christmas Party and the contribution of the local church. For the churches it was also a great experience because they witnessed how they could complete everything to make a good event despite the high prices of the food and toys market. This type of programme helps strengthen the local church, especially those who work with children.”
See the full Christmas Parties report – which includes testimonies from last years parties around the world – here
Give towards the work of Christmas Parties here