Advent when churches are focusing on the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, is a great opportunity to remember that women all over the globe give birth in conditions not unlike those encountered by Mary and Joseph that night in Bethlehem. Every year half a million women die from infections and other complications following childbirth. For each woman who dies in childbirth, three other women incur lifelong injuries from giving birth in unsterile conditions. There are many great organizations out there raising money and collecting items to create birthing kits in accordance with guidelines provided by the World Health Organization. Our church in Virginia partnered with Global Women to send completed birthing kits to Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Following the model of the “Angel Trees,” displayed in malls and businesses during the holiday season, I set up a Christmas tree in our church’s fellowship hall. It was decorated with “ornaments” that congregation members could take home with them as a reminder of what birthing kit item they were to bring to the church. These ornaments were made of cardstock printed with the item names and then hand stamped a cross on each. I hung them on the tree with simple red ribbons. In addition to birthing kit items, members could also make monetary donations to cover the expense of items purchased to make the kits complete and to cover the cost of shipping the kits to the Global Women collection site.

After Christmas we gathered to assemble the birthing kits and pack them for shipping. It was a meaningful experience for me and for the church. Not only did the Birthing Kit Tree remind us of the faith, the willing risk, and the hope that Mary and Joseph shouldered, it made the birth of Christ more real and the incarnation of Jesus more real. And when we become more aware of the incarnation we recognize and remember that we are also called to to be incarnations, to be Jesus to others.

This is a project that could be conducted remotely by a church. The information and items could be distributed digitally and then dropped off at the church on a designated day. Families could leave items or completed kits in collection containers, which if left undisturbed for four days, should be free of any COVID risk.

Birthing kits are not only a great idea for a social justice project during Advent, Mother’s Day would also be a good time to collect and assemble these kits. Our kits were delivered to women in Africa, but the mortality rate for women in the United States is on the rise. I would love to see a church engage this issue during Advent or Mother’s Day. Because that baby born in a stable in Bethlehem, grew up and called us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to do for others what we would want done for ourselves.