By Pat Cole, Communications Specialist at the Presbyterian Mission Agency
Monika Ruiz spent her childhood in a town in Mexico where drug-related violence made it unsafe for her to attend school some days.
Her fear and frustration ended when as a high school sophomore, she moved to Kingsville, Texas, to attend the Presbyterian Pan American School. There she found safety and care and a nurturing environment for both her heart and mind. She hit her stride academically at Pan American and also sensed God calling her to a Christian vocation.
“Throughout my three years at Pan Am, I learned to trust God more, and through my peers and the staff there, I saw the gifts of love and service put to work,” Ruiz says.
Gifts to the Christmas Joy Offering help Presbyterian racial-ethnic schools provide life-changing experiences for students like Ruiz. Half of the gifts go to Presbyterian-related racial-ethnic schools; the other half provides assistance for current and retired church workers and their families who are in need.
Ruiz was salutatorian of the 2015 graduating class. She earned a scholarship to another Presbyterian-related school, Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas. She is a sophomore nursing student. She hopes to enroll at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary after completing her bachelor’s degree.
Ruiz’s vocational aspirations paint a portrait of holistic Christian commitment. She wants to serve as a nurse in international mission, but her dreams don’t stop with taking care of physical needs. Ruiz would like to tend to spiritual needs through pastoral ministry in a developing country. She is concerned about justice for neglected people and communities around the world, and she envisions starting an advocacy organization that works on their behalf.
“Pan American gave me an opportunity that I would not have had in my country,” Ruiz says. “I not only learned English and how to excel in academics, but my experience prepared me for college and for life.”
Offering a helpful nudge
Another beneficiary of the Christmas Joy Offering, Wendy McAninch, struggled with a security issue, but one far different than Ruiz’s. McAninch suffers from tinnitus, a chronic ringing in the ears. She had gradually been losing her hearing for about 20 years, and although hearing aids have helped, she cannot hear important sounds such as doorbells, alarm clocks, and timers.
The Presbyterian Board of Pensions used Christmas Joy Offering funds to help pay to train a dog that hears those sounds and alerts McAninch with a gentle nudge. Presbytery of the Cascades and the congregation she serves, First Presbyterian Church in Ashland, Oregon, also contributed to the training of Rosie, a lovable Australian labradoodle. In her semi-retired role, McAninch could not afford the training on her own.
McAninch no longer has to worry about not hearing a doorbell that signals a friend’s visit, an alarm that notifies her it’s time for medication, or a kitchen timer that keeps her from burning her dinner. “There is security knowing that Rosie is going to be there,” McAninch says. “She’s going to be there to alert me when I need alerting.”
McAninch now serves in a limited part-time role as a parish associate at First Presbyterian with Rosie.
“Rosie goes to church with me on Sunday morning, and the church has embraced her presence and her function,” McAninch says. “She’s welcome at any event.”
In fact, Rosie’s friendly demeanor has helped McAninch build relationships with parishioners. “She broke down some barriers I didn’t know were there,” McAninch says. “She wags not just her tail, but her whole body. I don’t take offense when people greet her and then say hello to me.”
Rosie’s warm personality provides comfort, but her presence in McAninch’s life also keeps McAninch more fit and engaged with the world. Walking Rosie helps McAninch get exercise and interact with other dog owners and neighbors. McAninch says these activities help her stay connected to others.
Learning academics and values
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mariposa Duran also engages in transforming activities, thanks in part to the Christmas Joy Offering.
Mariposa, a seventh-grader at the PC(USA)-related Menaul School, is an honor student, a cheerleader, a volleyball player, and a budding actress. She wants to be a judge when she grows up.
Mariposa did not coast to the achievement she is experiencing in early adolescence. Her mother was unable to care for her, and Mariposa was taken directly from the hospital into foster care. Her maternal grandmother, Debra Duran, gained custody four months later and eventually adopted her.
Debra, a widow, vowed to care well for Mariposa, teach her moral values, and provide her with a good education. When time came to choose a middle school, she found that Menaul School’s mission reflected her goals for Mariposa.
“It provides a good education and they teach values, so it’s not just me teaching them at home,” Debra says. “She is learning values at school. She is also learning about Jesus and about God.”
Debra likes the diversity of cultures, races, and ethnicities Mariposa experiences at Menaul. Like Presbyterian Pan American, Menaul is supported by the Christmas Joy Offering.
Mariposa, whose ethnicity is Native American and Hispanic, is among the 60 percent of Menaul students who are racial-ethnic. She recommends Menaul to prospective students.
“It’s a great school,” she says. “If they are worried about their studies, the teachers will be with them. There is diversity like they have not experienced in any other school. Overall, it’s wonderful.”
Debra sees Menaul offering her granddaughter opportunities she never had. She grew up in an impoverished family and had to leave high school before graduation. Though she earned a GED and attended college later in life, Debra, a real estate agent, enjoys thinking about Mariposa doing the things that she missed—attending prom, taking college preparatory classes, and selecting a college.
While Mariposa still has much time to choose a career, she is clear about why at this point in her life she wants to be a judge. Her ambition stems not from a desire to dispense justice, but from a longing to help people resolve problems. Demonstrating a precocious understanding of the judicial system, she would like to preside in family court.
Remembering with thanksgiving
More than 50 years ago, Jim Irwin was ready to pursue his dream of becoming a physician when tragedy struck his family.
He was a college senior looking forward to medical school when he received news of his father’s death on a cold February day in 1962. Irwin’s father, James Walter Irwin, had a fatal heart attack at age 58.
Jim’s parents had raised five sons on the modest pastor’s salary his father earned serving small, rural congregations in Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, Missouri, and Kansas. When their father died, three of Jim’s brothers were pursuing either undergraduate or advanced degrees, while another had just begun his pastoral career. Their mother, Nell, was left with limited financial resources and would soon need a place to live. Nell suffered from Parkinson’s disease, which made the situation even more challenging.
The congregation her husband had served paid his salary to her for a year and allowed her to live in the manse for several months. She and her youngest son, a college junior, then moved into a rental house where she lived until he graduated, when Nell Irwin again found herself in need of housing.
Her anxiety about being able to afford a decent dwelling was relieved thanks to assistance from the Presbyterian Board of Pensions. The Board provided a monthly housing grant that enabled her to live at Sterling Presbyterian Manor in Sterling, Kansas, until her death in 1979.
Had it not been for the assistance, Jim Irwin says, he and his brothers “would have figured something out.” Yet at the time of their father’s death, none was in a position to offer much.
Using gifts from the Christmas Joy Offering, the Board of Pensions continues to assist current and retired church servants and their families who find themselves in tough financial circumstances.
Irwin finished medical school and chose surgery as his specialty. His brothers completed their educations and entered successful careers as well. Their gratitude for the assistance the Board of Pensions provided their mother continues.
Irwin and his wife, Francie, faithfully support the Christmas Joy Offering through their congregation, First Presbyterian Church in Othello, Washington. When he gives, he remembers the help his mother received.
“I would say the help my mom received was invaluable,” Irwin says. “We have always supported the Christmas Joy Offering because it contributes to the well-being of those who have made a life decision to serve the church. It helps them not to have to choose between housing and food.”
Because of gifts to the Christmas Joy Offering, fewer people have to make such difficult choices and more racial-ethnic students are able to live up their God-given potential. For more information, visit specialofferings.pcusa.org/christmasjoy.html.
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