Butler MB Church shares love of Jesus through cultural tradition
By Myra Holmes
At Butler MB Church, Fresno, Calif., the Christmas season doesn’t end until Jan. 6.
For many in Hispanic cultures, Jan. 6 is King’s Day, or “Dia de los Reyes,” the day on the Christian calendar that commemorates the arrival of the magi. While Matt. 2:1-12 never details how many magi visited the Christ child, tradition often holds that there were three “wise men” or kings who brought gifts to Jesus, so the day is sometimes known as Three King’s Day.
Amor y Fe, Butler’s Spanish-language congregation, marks the day with a celebration designed especially for children. Their annual King’s Day Festival is held on the first Sunday of the year, which falls this year on Jan. 4.
Although Amor y Fe takes the lead in organizing the festival, all of Butler MB participates. Butler encompasses four congregations: Amor y Fe, English-language Common Ground and Faith Community, and Asian Grace, a Lao/Khmu group. “All this joyful work is done in partnership with all the congregations of our church working together as a team,” says Elbio Carballo, pastor of Amor y Fe.
The festival is announced weeks in advance with flyers inviting children from each of Butler’s four congregations, as well as extended family and community members. Parents register children so that the congregation can plan appropriately. About 40 to 45 children typically attend, as well as some adults.
Because the kings gave gifts to honor the infant Jesus, gift-giving is an important part of the King’s Day tradition, and Butler follows this tradition. “The celebration involves giving presents to the children, representing the love of God for them,” says Carballo.
Attendees of all four Butler congregations donate toys or contribute financially to make the gifts possible. Carballo notes that no weapon-like toys are allowed. Volunteers wrap each gift and label it with the child’s name or age and gender.
On the day of the festival, the congregation decorates Butler’s family center with colorful, cheerful balloons and streamers. The festive atmosphere sets the tone for a 1 ½-hour service, mostly in Spanish, that includes songs, Scripture reading and a program by children. Youth volunteers help with a drama, narrated in Spanish and translated into English.
“At the end of the drama, we invite the children to open their hearts to Jesus and receive his love,” Carballo says.
Of course, the three kings—portrayed by men from the congregation dressed in costume—visit to distribute gifts and share more about Jesus. The service ends with prayer for the needs of the children and their families.
No King’s Day Festival would be complete without “Rosca de Reyes,” a traditional cake usually baked in a ring reminiscent of a crown. So the Amor y Fe celebration includes this cake, as well as chocolate and a piñata.
The festival is more than an excuse to extend the holidays. Carballo notes that some from the community always come, making the festival an opportunity for them to get to know the church.
More importantly, children who attend feel the love of Christ. “We have seen the impact in many children who are receiving the message and love of Jesus through this event,” he says.