God likes to surprise us.

I think He wants us to pay close attention to what He’s doing. It’s the surprises that speak to me so often throughout Scripture: Sarah the pregnant 90-year-old; Moses, the stuttering prophet; David the shepherd king. And Jesus. His coming was longed for, but the arrival was not what anyone expected.

I’ve heard the advent story so many times that I forget how unusual it is. The no-name virgin gives birth in a barn and the Savior of the universe is welcomed by a rag-tag band of dirty shepherds. Yes, I think God likes to surprise us.

That’s the funny part about setting out to be a blessing. It may (and by “may” I mean “will probably”) lead you to surprising places. So when I first set foot in Uganda ten years ago, I wasn’t expecting to end up spending most of my time in a warehouse full of Christmas ornaments.

Far as the Curse is Found

My favorite Christmas song is Joy to the World. I love the verse that says, “He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.” As a girl those words stirred in my tiny heart, but I had to grow up to fully grasp how deep and far reaching that curse really is. I see it in the pain of disappointments, broken relationships, physical struggles, and sin that warps us within and without. Things and people are not the way they were intended to be.

On my first trip to Uganda, where poverty and disease riddle the landscape, I saw a hungry boy dive onto a chicken bone someone discarded in the dirt. I met a woman whose cheating husband gave her AIDS. I talked with dozens of children who never knew their parents because their parents just didn’t want them.

I heard story after story of heartsick widows leaving their children at orphanages because they couldn’t afford to feed them; of aunts desperate to take in orphaned nieces but unemployed and unable to support them; of young fathers disappearing from families in shame because they couldn’t provide for them. The curse was much more complicated than I anticipated. Years of oppression, disease, and lack of opportunity created this thick climate of poverty, and it was giving birth to thousands of orphans everyday.

Life is so painfully broken. But Jesus came that we might have life. He came to bless. So how do I, His daughter, do likewise?

So I prayed, asking God what it would look like to bless Uganda.

More Than Shoes

In situations where mass poverty is so overwhelming, it’s easy to assume that blessing comes in the form of physical items, like shoes, clothing, and food. It’s true—those things are desperately needed. But just providing those needs wasn’t enough. Families were still falling apart and orphanages were still filling up.

My heart grew weary of pruning back the branches of poverty. I wanted to heave a giant pick-axe at its roots.

And that’s when Ornaments 4 Orphans started. Men and women living in impoverished communities make beautiful Christmas ornaments, nativities and other handmade items to earn money. These hard working men and women—truly global artisans—are paid fairly so they can protect and support their families, invest in their communities, and hopefully find lasting peace.

Volunteers across the country host Christmas trees where Ornaments 4 Orphans items are hung and sold, extending the blessing even farther.

We strive to stop the growth of the orphan crisis by ending the chronic poverty that fuels it. And because we want to help the millions of orphans living in the world find the care and love they need, Ornaments 4 Orphans gives a portion of its proceeds to ministries that bless orphans.

What a surprise—using such ordinary things like Christmas ornaments to transform lives! Each ornament looks so unassuming, but with it, the darkness is pushed back just a little more.

Decking the Halls for Orphans

Our fall shipment arrived last week. We unboxed thousands of amazing East African ornaments and repackaged and shipped them out to our Ornaments 4 Orphans tree hosts.

ornaments 4 orphans artisan

And as I handled these ornaments, I imagined the faces of the men and women behind them and the hands the touched them. Their hands were not exploited, but respected and blessed for their work. I may never meet any of them, but I hope and pray for them. I hope and pray for them and for all the children impacted by these items—the orphans who will go to school, eat, and grow, because their mom or dad has a decent job. Lord willing, they will never know what it means to be an orphan.

Soon we will celebrate the coming of the unexpected baby in Bethlehem, God’s best surprise. I get giddy thinking about all the ornaments of hope that will deck the halls this December. On days when I’m tired and the tasks feel mundane, I remember that I get to be a conduit of His grace. I thank God that even now, two thousand years after Christ’s birth, I’m a small part of making His blessings flow far as the curse is found.

Join the work of Ornaments 4 Orphans in pushing back the darkness at www.ornaments4orphans.org. Did you participate in Orphan Sunday? Post photos of your church or organizations tree using #orphansunday.