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Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Christmas Eve That Changed Him--and a Free Book Giveaway

Note: Doug Brendel and I have been friends now for nearly forty years. He's one of the smartest, kindest people I know. He might also be the bravest. For years now, he and his wife have been traveling to Belarus to minister to people. His newest book is called, "Why I Quit the Church." I asked him to share a post with us, and I think you'll be impressed by what you read. Doug's honesty comes through, shining like a star atop a Christmas tree. His words will help remind all of us to think beyond the simplicity of making purchases, and to move closer to the real spirit of this amazing season.

Want to win a copy of Doug's book? Comment on this post. I'll choose one lucky commenter to win a copy of "Why I Quit the Church," a sometimes humorous, but always honest memoir of Doug's personal journey to find the right church for him.--Joanna Campbell Slan

By Doug Brendel

The Christmas Eve that changed my life was not a starry night. It was a grim, gray morning.

Some guy named Mike and his pals had been feeding homeless people in the park every Saturday morning. But that year, Christmas Eve fell on Saturday; Mike’s pals were out of town. He asked our pastor if our church could help.

I was the associate pastor. If Pastor said yes, I was stuck.

“Say no!” my heart screamed.

Pastor said yes.

I was afraid.

I had never encountered a homeless person in my life.

They must be dangerous.

I was a skinny nerd with a paunch.

I had suburbia written all over me.

These people weren’t going to take breakfast from me. They were going to eat my lunch.

That frigid morning, we scrambled dozens of eggs, made gallons of coffee, loaded serving tables into a pickup, drove to the park — and here they came.
Homeless people began stalking toward our vehicles. My internal radar was beeping madly.

“Morning, Mike!” “Merry Christmas!” “Kim! How ya doin’?”

They were coming to help.

Mike’s group had been showing up in the park every Saturday morning for months. These were friends. They looked forward all week to this.

The breakfast line formed. There were 50 or so.

A good-looking young man — could have been a movie star — blond hair, chiseled features.

A round-faced Native American, pockmarked and bloated.

Small red-haired woman, no more than 30, but shriveled and bent.

Guy with one eye.

Jolly fellow, Arkansas twang, face encircled by red curls.

Young guy wearing far too little in such cold. Old guy wearing so many layers, he could hardly move.

Smiley, tousled-haired boy, three fingers missing.

Cackling, greasy-bearded hobo.

Babbling, shiny-faced girl: mental case.

Tall guy, cross-eyed, in an outback safari hat.

Sleepy gray-haired woman wrapped in a blanket.

And I was not afraid.

Even today, years later, I can’t explain what happened to me that day.
I moved among these people, and my heart moved in with them. This lovely mixed bag of miscreants and sad sacks. It felt like a family reunion. I shook hands, grabbed wrists, gave Christmas greetings. I slipped an arm around people’s shoulders, joked and laughed.

You can tell when someone wants to talk, and sometimes that’s when you can move in close, close enough to smell the days-old perspiration permeating their clothing, look them in the eye, put your hand on their elbow, maybe even reach up behind their neck and pull them into a hug. The fabric they’re wearing can be slick with grime. They can reek with the sweet salt stench of sweat. But when you touch them, something happens. It’s not that they come to life; they’re already alive. But they brighten. Or they animate. You might be the only person to touch them that day — or that year.

I kept going back, every Saturday.

They taught me to love.

I became their pastor.

Christmas Eve has never been the same for me.


Doug Brendel’s new book is available at


Tracey said...

Doug's book sounds like an interesting read...and I think my mom would really enjoy it as well.
When I was working as a chiropractor I physically touched people every day. I realized how the human touch was so healing at all levels -- spiritual, emotional and physical. Many people, especially those that are alone, are not touched enough. A gentle touch can ease one's pain, and a hug costs nothing!

mic wright said...

I have always been impressed with Doug's spirit of wanting to minister while being absolutely committed to honesty... I can't wait to read this. I'm expecting it to be a "true" word that will help me walk more like Jesus.

MyBlueHeaven said...

Wow that sounds very interesting. I'll have to look for it. I think it would be a book I would treasure.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words. I trust the book will inspire people to think about how they "live" their "faith" :-) Meanwhile, "Why I Quit the Church" is not quite yet available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble but is already available direct via a couple Massachusetts bookstores and the on-demand publisher at ... I'll keep you posted on other availabilities as they occur

Laurie! said...

I would be really, really interested to win and read Doug's book! Sounds like a good one. Thanks to Doug for sharing his Christmas Eve story with us!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

It's a great reminder of how important it is for us to be open and accepting of others, isn't it?

Tammy Rogers said...

Doug Brendel is a dear friend of mine whom, I believe, along with his wife Kristina, is truly anointed to minister to and love the Belarusian people--the homeless, the orphans, and those desperately in need of the love and salvation of Christ Jesus. I have read his new book and can wholeheartedly say that I was inspired, convicted, and challenged to "be Christ" to those that God brings me in contact with. We must be sensitive to His leading and His will. And Doug and his wife have heard the call and responded in a miraculous way...May we all have the courage to respond in kind...

Here is a video of another man who has done just that...he "gets it", too...

God bless us, everyone, as we celebrate this season of Christ's birth...Merry Christmas!

Tammy Rogers
Indianapolis, IN

Jane Jeffress Thomas said...

This sounds like a wonderful story to warm the heart and maybe even turn a person back in the direction they need to be going in.

Serendipity Stamping said...

As a book lover of all kinds of books I would love to receive this inspiring book! Yes even I appreciatea nice hug, seems there ae not enough of them these days. It does make one feel special, it is one very small gesture that anyone can afford to give to another. It is a trait all humans share, the touching of one another, and the thing that is missed the most. Thank you for the chance to obtain this book. You did not say when the offer ended on your blog. I have a good friend who would enjoy this book and we share books with each other. Merry Christmas

SuseADoodle said...

I hope it isn't too lat to get in the drawing for this book -- it sounds very interesting. Just found your blog too ... it is now bookmarked to come back often :-)
Happy New Year!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

And the winner is...Laurie!

I put all the comments (minus the one by Doug and by me) into the random number generator, and Laurie won.

Laurie, email me at with your postal address. I'll get Doug's book out to you.