Just over a week ago, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of one of my favorite ministry events of all time: Toys for Joy. This event is special to me for several reasons, not the least of which being that is the longest ministry activity that I have ever participated in. We launched Toys for Joy in December of 1996 – four years before Rock Church even started – and it has been so personally impactful to see how God can take our simple “yes!” and multiply our limited resources to bless others beyond what we could ask or imagine. We serve a God who takes the few loaves and fishes we may have to offer and multiplies them exponentially (Matthew 14:13-21).
Perhaps the most profound thing to me about Toys for Joy, however, is that this event has a way of causing a ripple effect of generosity. Every year, we hear new stories of parents and their children who were once recipients of Toys for Joy that have returned to give back to the community through volunteering. These people were so blessed that they turned right back around and became a blessing to others.
In fact, several of our key volunteers were once recipients of Toys for Joy. Tarlease Jones first attended Toys for Joy in 2010 with her two children, and she was so impacted by what she experienced that she has now been volunteering at the event for over 10 years as one of our key volunteers.
Another Rock Church family that I know of – a single mom and her three kids – came through the event one year in desperate need of groceries and toys for the children. After a few years of going through the recipient line, this mom returned with her daughter to serve as volunteers.
In each of these examples, the gratitude these families experienced ultimately spilled over into generosity. And this ripple effect doesn’t just apply to attendees becoming volunteers. One of my favorite stories about Toys for Joy has to do with a child expressing profound selflessness at one of the Toys for Joy events.
A few years ago, we hosted a walk-through Toys for Joy event in Lincoln Heights. There was live entertainment, free nail painting and haircuts, and tons of giveaways that would be raffled off throughout the course of the day. We handed out raffle cards to every person in attendance, and the kids waited excitedly to hear if their number would be called.
One young boy in attendance happened to be holding raffle tickets for himself and his two sisters. It would be hard to forget the excited look on that boy’s face as he heard his number called, headed to the front of the crowd, and handed his winning ticket to the raffle announcer. He could choose any prize he wanted, and everyone watched as his eyes panned several brand new, shiny boys’ bicycles. But then, to everyone’s surprise, he bypassed the boys’ section and made his way over to an adorable little girls’ bicycle. Without skipping a beat, he rolled the bicycle back to his family and gave it to one of his sisters.
Then, just a few minutes later, this young boy won the raffle prize again. The crowd cheered as he made his way back over to the bicycles, and everyone anticipated that he would now choose a bike for himself. But everyone was wrong. For the second time, the little boy bypassed the boys’ section, selected a girls’ bicycle, and offered it to his second sister. Everyone was in awe of his generosity and hoped that he would by some miracle win the raffle prize a third time so that he could have a bicycle, as well. He didn’t win again, however, and he went home without a bicycle.
As I reflected on this story after the event, I was so moved by this little boy’s self-sacrifice that I couldn’t shake it. I knew that he had to have a bicycle, and I immediately began making plans with my team to give him one for Christmas. Though he didn’t give away those bicycles expecting to get anything in return, I wanted him to understand how powerful our generosity can be. I wanted him to experience the blessing that he had shared with his sisters.
I’m not sure if that little boy was inspired to be generous by Toys for Joy or if that is something that was already in his heart, but I do know this – the attitude of generosity at Toys for Joy is electric. When we give generously, we posture our hearts to receive from God. And when we receive with gratitude, we cannot help but become generous!
As we get ready for the Christmas holiday, I hope that you will practice looking at the world through the eyes of the little boy with the bicycle. Though he didn’t have much, he was grateful. Though he could have easily leaned into a scarcity mindset and kept the bicycle he won for himself, he chose to live with open hands. And it was with those open hands that he ultimately received a bicycle of his very own.
I would also love to invite you to participate in one of our Christmas Eve services on December 24th! We will be hosting an online only special at 10am, and you can also join us at one of our local campuses at 4pm. Visit sdrock.com/christmas to learn more.
Miles McPherson is the Senior Pastor of the Rock Church in San Diego. He is also a motivational speaker and author. McPherson's latest book “The Third Option” speaks out about the pervasive racial divisions in today’s culture and argues that we must learn to see people not by the color of their skin, but as God sees them—humans created in the image of God.