Redeeming the All-Nighter
by Ryan Burkholder, Director of Family Ministries at Ephrata Church of the Brethren
“No… Sorry that is not what this ministry is about! I don’t want to run myself or my volunteer staff (who all have “real” jobs) into the ground at an already busy time of year (Christmas).”
This was my response to my students four years ago as they asked if we could have an all-nighter. I get it; some of you are probably wondering if I even do youth ministry. No all-nighters? No, I did not see the purpose and still don’t, but I do believe in making everything have a purpose. Out of that was born the All-Nighter With a Purpose.
I don’t remember whose idea it was but right after my hard “NO” to the students we devised a plan…what if the all-nighter was not selfish or faced inward, but outward? There are so many needy families who do not get a chance to have the kind of Christmas that most of my students enjoy.
For year one, we helped four families that had just moved here from a refugee camp in Sudan, which they had spent 20 years at. They had nothing and did not even understand Christmas as we know it! So, we planned food for the students and then various activities, games, fun, and just as they were getting bored we sat everyone down and told them the story of these families. We then divided them up into groups and went to Walmart to buy Christmas for the families. The students cared – I mean, really cared! If you have never seen middle school boys argue over nail polish for a 12-year-old refugee girl that they have never met…well, it will break you.
The stories that have come from this have been overwhelming. Students going door to door or doing chores around their neighborhoods just raising money for people they have never met. And everyone wants to shop. Seriously – I gave them an option of shopping for gifts or staying and playing games and no one stayed for games.
So how is this done you may ask? We meet with the families and ask for a list of toys for each child and for the parents. We may even ask mom and dad to email the list separately so they can surprise the other spouse. Once we have a list, I see what things can be bought at Walmart and what we must order on Amazon. Sometime late that night we all go to the store and break into teams and go shopping. I always have a list of things they must find but also try to have a few dollars left for them to pick a gift. Whatever money is not spent goes on a gift card for that family.
The prep work is more than a regular all-nighter which is full of games, sodas and junk food (although we still have all of that). We ask the congregation for help and each student must raise a certain amount of money just to attend. None of the money from the students or donations from the congregation goes to pay for food or games; it all goes to the families. Yes, this is a budget hit but the excitement of the students to shop and make a difference is so worth it.
For year two, we helped refugees from Puerto Rico; years three and four we helped local families who had been dealing with cancer and couldn’t afford Christmas for their kids.
The goal is always to be lavish and extraordinary with the gifts because we represent a lavish and extraordinary Father who loves His kids! We are the hands and feet of Jesus and this is how we show it! Don’t just do another All-nighter…. Make it have a purpose!