The Other Side of the Angel Tree

By Jessica Vana

I served on staff at Summit Christian Church in Sparks, Nevada, for more than five years. Each year when the glittering Christmas decorations went up, I would get a little spring in my step and a grin I found impossible to restrain. The whole campus glows with dozens of trees, thousands of lights, and many other special touches.

But every year, there was one tree that stood out. It wasn’t a very large tree, and it was simply decorated with paper angels. On the back of each angel was the name of an under-resourced child. Parents, grandparents, or foster parents filled out a little wish list for each child in hopes of giving them a bit of comfort and joy at Christmas. Each year I watched as the members of our church served hundreds of families, and each year our staff was amazed at their generosity.

But I was touched even more deeply when the time came for my family to receive the same kind of generosity.

A year ago our church family sent my husband, daughter, and me to a one-year program for prefield missionary aviators at the School of Missionary Aviation Technology in Ionia, Michigan. Not a day goes by that my husband and I don’t thank God for this incredible opportunity. Each week we prayed with deep gratitude that God would help us honor him and all those supporting us. Even so, the adjustment to a missionary budget was a big one. But learning to cut costs was perfect preparation for the mission field. So, we are blessed in more ways than we can count.


Adopted for Christmas

Last October, my husband came home with a slip of paper he had been asked to fill out and return to his school. He handed it to me and said our family was being adopted for Christmas.

For us, Christmas has never been about the gifts, but when I saw the tactfully worded questionnaire asking how a local church could be a blessing to our family, I cried. A lot.

I listed a few things I had been hoping to give our daughter. I also mentioned that since we were far from home, and living in an apartment, it would be lovely if someone had a small, lighted Christmas tree we might borrow to bring a little warmth to our temporary abode.

At the bottom of the questionnaire the church asked how the membership might pray for us or be a blessing in the future. I asked the church to pray for the birth of our second child a few months off and mentioned that, with no family around, it might be nice to have a few meals delivered after the birth, if possible. I gave the paper back to my husband, and what happened next was breathtaking.

I received a call from Karen, the minister’s wife at the church that had adopted our family. She was enthusiastic; pure joy saturated her every word. “We are adopting your family for Christmas, and I just wanted to let you know we would love to let you borrow a Christmas tree. In fact, a woman from our church thinks you need to borrow one of her nativity scenes too. It’s just not Christmas without a nativity!

“Oh, and I spoke with a handful of women from our church, and we would just love to throw you a little baby shower! Would that be all right?”

It was as if the cheerfulness in her voice doubled each time she thought of a new way to bless us. I felt Karen’s genuine love and heartfelt willingness, and it warmed me through and through. I have always loved giving great gifts, but last year God asked me to be on the other side of the Angel Tree. And it was beautiful.


Jessica and Phil Vana’s son, Jeremiah, was born in March, and the Vanas completed training in August. They are back at Summit Christian Church now, awaiting next steps in their path of Christian service.


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