It’s fun to sit here in the Brigada “cockpit,” so to speak, and see the mail that crosses my desk. Here’s a participant who does area-wide ministry to help national churches in Ukraine engage in compassion care ministry and with HIV issues. She stages mobile medical clinics, shares the compassion of Christ, and teaches in rehab centers and churches about health issues, and HIV in particular. So even though Ukraine and Russia have some of the fastest growing rates of HIV in the world, she’s there, making a steady difference with each sunrise and sundown. She’s currently finding that 80-90 percent of the students in her rehab programs are HIV positive in her host land and yet, in the midst of their suffering, their minds and hearts turn to the only thing that can give them true help and hope: the empowering and energizing good news of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for humankind… and for the resurrection so we can be eternal-kind. Amazing.

As we approach this Christmas, the thought occurred to me that some of the most amazing gifts at Christmas aren’t wrapped in ribbons and bows. They’re formed in the hearts and lives of people like Judi, who live each and every day of their lives as a sweet-smelling sacrifice of hope for the people to whom they’ve been sent. The scripture that comes to mind is Eph. 2:4-10, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

God knew long ago that Judi would be living her life for others in Ukraine. (He even knew she’d commit to observing her own birthday by giving a gift to Brigada!) She has become His hands and feet to a hurting world… and we, the world, are better because of it. God be praised.