One day last December, Shonda Betts walked into her local grocery store to buy sour cream and cheese. What she got – and gave, though, was so much more.
A member of The Chapel, a United Methodist congregation in Brunswick, Ga., Betts participated in the church's Random Acts of Christmas Kindness (RACK) series. Each day during Advent, she and her family chose to do one random act of kindness.
As she stood in the checkout line, Betts felt God calling her to pay for the groceries of the person behind her.
Even with her gregarious personality, Betts was hesitant and nervous as she turned around to speak.
"I was so scared ... it was so hard, and I said really fast, ‘Sir, our church is doing random acts of Christmas kindness and I want to pay for your groceries,'" Betts said.
The man thanked her and said that he could pay for them himself, and suggested that she make the offer to someone else.
"I was like, ‘God, you are not making me say this twice!' My heart was beating so fast."
A young woman with a baby stood behind her, and in her cart were just a few items. It looked to Betts as though the woman was buying only what she needed. This time, when Betts offered to pay for her groceries, the woman accepted. Betts also invited her to The Chapel's Christmas Eve services.
"I feel like it was a big step of faith for me," Betts said, "because when you pay for someone's coffee behind you at Starbucks, you don't have to see them. Maybe God was telling me to be more gracious when he offers to help me and to just accept it."
Living out faith daily
The Chapel launched the RACK campaign on the first day of Advent 2013. Each person or family received a set of 25 RACK cards. Printed on each card – one for every day of Advent – was an idea for a random act of kindness.
Some were easy – putting a donation in a Salvation Army kettle or smiling at 10 strangers. Others, such as inviting someone to spend Christmas Eve or Christmas Day with your family, were more difficult.
All 25 RACK ideas gave people opportunities to show thankfulness, generosity and love.
The RACK project developed after leaders planned the sermon series for the church's financial campaign, which took place right before Advent.
"After going through our generosity campaign, we wanted to show people that generosity is more than just tithing and finances. It's also being generous with the things you do," says Anne Bosarge, The Chapel's director of discipleship. "It's a state of mind and not just a financial decision."
The Chapel's congregation is very generous, she says, and giving creative ideas to express that generosity met a need to which they readily responded.
"We are a congregation that likes to get in there and get our hands dirty. We love projects and the community that is created by everybody doing the same thing," she says.
Bosarge says the RACK activities helped church members live out their faith daily and experience how small, unexpected gifts of love and acts of service can have lasting results.
The hope, she says, is that "people will continue to think about the small things that they can do to be generous and to show kindness to others in our community and continue that throughout the year. Little tiny things can mean a lot and have a big impact in the life of somebody else."
Kara Witherow is editor of the South Georgia Advocate in the South Georgia Annual Conference.