Pastor Bill Wilson, who knows what it's like to be in need on Christmas, and his Metro World Child ministry are working to put gifts in the hands of an estimated 150,000 children worldwide who otherwise might not receive one at all.
Wilson says he knows what it's like to wake up on Christmas morning with no father, food, Christmas tree or presents to unwrap. His organization started Operation Holiday Hope about two decades ago so that other impoverished children don't have to go without a gift on Christmas.
While it wasn't his original intention, Wilson says giving gifts to children around Christmas time also affords his organization a powerful evangelistic opportunity.
"I think when you have a child, when he doesn't get a gift, it seems like they equate that with not being loved," said Wilson. "It may not be true, but it's perception. That's very important for us. So I think, first of all, I think in the spirit of Christmas, in the Spirit of Christ, that the toy becomes a tool."
Wilson says there are a high percentage of single mothers in the urban areas where his organization ministers, and sometimes those women can barely afford their rent and food, let alone Christmas gifts. So when his organization provides a child with a gift it also opens the door for MWC to minister to those mothers, who are often appreciative of what the organization has done for their children.
"This is a practical way of sharing Christ," said Wilson.
MWC began distributing gifts at its outdoor Sidewalk Sunday School sites earlier this week, and on Saturday thousands of children will descend on the group's Indoor Sunday School to receive gifts. Each gift costs MWC about $10, though their individual value is often twice that amount because they are purchased in bulk, according to Wilson. Baby dolls will be a big item for the girls this year, while athletic balls will be given to many of the boys.
Wilson's own experience of being abandoned as a child is one of the reasons he works to help children today. When he was just 12 years old his mother, who was an alcoholic, left him on a street corner and told him to wait, but never returned for him.
He sat on the corner for three days with no food or water while hundreds of people passed by, until a "very ordinary Christian" man came by and asked if he was okay. Wilson told him what had happened, and the man and his wife brought him water and food. Within a few hours of their meeting, Wilson was sent to a Sunday school camp, where he heard the story of Jesus Christ for the first time.
"To me, the thing that people need to take away from that is: one person really can make a difference. And you don't have to be a Nelson Mandela. You can be just a very ordinary person. It's the big-doors-open-on-the-small-hinges theology," said Wilson.
The Brooklyn pastor says believers are often so busy waiting for the "big door" to open that they miss small opportunities to make a difference.
MWC's ability to get all of the children gifts through Operation Holiday Hope often comes "right down to the wire," he says, and MWC is still collecting donations through the campaign's website.
Wilson founded Metro World Child, formerly Metro Ministries, in 1980 in the Bushwick community of Brooklyn, N.Y., according to the group's website. The organization ministers through its weekly Sunday School services, among other things, and operates internationally in South Africa, Kenya, Romania, India and the Philippines.