Ten years ago in our medium-size church in Bellflower, California, an ordinary man named Milt Gilman prayed for growth in our children’s ministry. After praying about it and having people nudge him, Milt took a bus out to Eucalyptus Street to pick up kids for the church’s Wednesday night program.
Police cars lined the streets, the odor was pungent, and there were kids running through the middle of gang fights and domestic wars. Milt’s heart and soul debated with his brain and common sense. Should he stay and talk to a few families, or should he head back to the safe side of town only three streets away?
God was at work in Milt’s heart already. Milt and his friend told a few kids that they’d be back to pick them up on Wednesday and asked the kids to tell their friends about it.
When the bus arrived Wednesday evening, four kids waited on the curb with their permission slips. Milt was saddened by the fact that there weren’t many kids, but he welcomed them on the bus anyway.
The following year on the way home from church, Milt asked one of the kids if his family had decorated a Christmas tree yet. The child explained that his family didn’t have a Christmas tree because they couldn’t afford it. The next day, Milt was on their doorstep with a Christmas tree and decorations. Christmas has never been the same since that evening.
The bus ministry has become a vital aspect of our church, and Christmas on Eucalyptus Street has become even more exciting each year. The entire church prepares for the Wednesday before Christmas. People pack food baskets and gift boxes for families. We have a circle of prayer with over 60 people to commit the night to God and ask for safety. Then Eucalyptus Street is overwhelmed with love from Christians at a nearby church who want to spread joy at Christmas and share the blessings God has given.
The first year I went, one family said what they wanted for Christmas was a family photo. So we snapped a quick shot of them and promised we’d be back with their gift. When we returned, we learned that their father had been shot and killed on his way home from work that week. This family photo was indeed a gift to them because it created a lasting memory of their father.
After 10 years, Milt is still the children’s ministry bus driver and rarely misses a night to pick up kids and take them back home safely. This ministry has gone from four kids a night to 130. The big blue bus has driven through gang fights, drug deals, hostile family feuds, and other harmful situations, but it has always come back to the church safe and sound because of God’s protection.
God used one simple prayer to birth a ministry — and one man to transform a community. Milt’s willingness to serve has been a gift to so many, but especially to me.
You see, Milt is my father, and I write this story not only to tell you how faithful God has been but also to honor a man who has been faithful to God’s ministry. My father has an open mind and a loving heart for people of any race or financial status. He’s been an incredible example of a father and servant of God. He’s the reason Christmas on Eucalyptus Street is not about the material things but about the love shown first through one man and then through many others. And to me, that’s what Christmas is all about!