In His Image…Christmas Pictures Matter

By Dawn Carnill, Christmas Outreach Director

It’s just a picture. A small, slightly blurry Polaroid picture.

If you’re like me, you have hundreds, if not thousands of pictures of yourself in old photo albums or saved digitally. I even have a few of me on the day I was born with my Mom looking groggy after some major meds, and my dad beaming at the camera. I also have recent pics of myself with my grandkids.

We can take photos all day long. Which one do I look best in? Delete. Let’s retake that one. Delete.

A picture of myself isn’t special. I want to capture the people I’m with or where I am. I know what I look like. I don’t need a reminder.

But that’s not how it is for many people in the world. Not at all.

Back in the early days of the ER Christmas parties, we started taking Polaroid pictures. At that time, we did one party a year with people who gleaned their livelihood out of the trash in the Quito dump. Russ and Gina Cline, along with my husband Jerry and I (ER co-founders) would brainstorm ideas for the next year.

After the 1998 party we thought, “wouldn’t it be nice to give everyone a picture of themselves?”. We could take pictures with Santa and the people could decorate the pictures and take them home. Something new and fun. Would they appreciate it? Would it be worth the cost? Our budget was super low and film is expensive.

The response was overwhelming. The picture taking was not fun at all because people were pushing, yelling and line-cutting. There was a desperation to get those pictures.

What in the world? What was the big deal? We learned it was because they didn’t have pictures of themselves. For the majority of the thousands of people we took photos of in those early years, their photo ID was their only picture. Period.

About 10 years into our annual parties at the Quito Dump (now the Quito Recycling Community), a woman asked if we would hold the Christmas party again. I assured her we were. She responded, “Are you going to take pictures again? I now have seven pictures of myself. Seven! One for each year you’ve taken them at the parties.”

Fast forward to 2023. Jerry and I served at the ER South Africa Christmas parties. Once again, we took instant photos. It still brings a tear to my eye to watch kids and adults experience the magic that is Polaroid…standing in line to get that one photo, then the look of concern as we hand them a “card” with nothing on it. Nine times out of ten they’ll flip it to the back and wait.

One of my jobs is to flip it back over and tell them to patiently wait. Then I’d watch as a big grin would break out across their face as their image began to appear. Over and over again. Little kids and 80+-year-old adults. Smiling at that magic card as their own face appears. The next question is always, “Do I get to keep this?”. Many tell me they put the pictures on a wall at their home.

I’m constantly learning about the effects of poverty and the things we take for granted. A few years ago we visited a ministry partner in South Africa that provides bathrooms at sports fields. Our host said all the bathrooms were outfitted with mirrors. “You must realize the people here live in tiny shacks with no bathrooms or mirrors. They don’t ever get to see themselves, so we give them that opportunity and the dignity that comes with seeing your own image”.

No pictures. No mirrors. No likeness. No image.

Our own image. My own image. I hadn’t much thought of that before. What would it be like to never look in the mirror? Not to see what I like and don’t like about myself, but to see who I am. Who God made me to be. I’m a child of Christ. I have value. I was created in God’s image. So are you and all those we serve.

Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in his own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

It’s not always big things that change a life. Something as small as a slightly blurry instant picture can change someone’s understanding of their value and who they are made to be. What else can we do that can have a similar impact?

We need people like you to join our 2024 Christmas Outreach teams to Ecuador, South Africa or the Philippines. Click here to learn more about Christmas teams.


2023 Christmas Outreaches a Big Success

Thank you Christmas donors, partners, local volunteers, and team members. Our 2023 Christmas outreaches were a rousing success. Together, we brought Christmas joy to hundreds of people on three continents.

In Ecuador, 1,400 people (900 kids) participated in one of our celebrations. In addition, we served 250 people at the Quito Recycling Center, 100 kids at the Cofan tribe, and 15 neighbors of our Dream Center kids. The children and some adults loved doing crafts, playing games and hearing the Christmas story.

In South Africa, a robust team of 19 volunteers supported 18 unique Christmas outreaches with ER programs and partners. Nearly 2,500 people participated in all the outreaches we operated or funded.

Participants in games and crafts and received food bags, gift cards, backpacks, school supplies, and toys. One highlight was that three kids who attend the Fish Hoek Dream Center volunteered to serve at an outreach in another community.

According to ER’s Dawn Carnill, they worked hard and showed servants’ hearts. This is a great indication our programs are working.

In Manila, we held outreaches at three Dream Centers, our mobile education program, and two vocational programs. This meant 870 people got to enjoy Christmas: 325 women, 150 youth, and 395 kids.

These participants were blessed by Sunrise Church which sent a team of seven volunteers who generously shared their love and compassion, as well as 50 local volunteers. Christmas party recipients received bags of food, hygiene items and school supplies.

One of the highlights was the ability to share Christmas joy with Muslim friends in the community of Taytay. We enjoy loving our neighbors!

It’s not too early to plan to be part of our 2024 Christmas teams. We’ll post details next month for each region. In the meantime, let us know you are interested. Email us at Interested in visiting one of our regions sooner? Reach us at


Pandemic Failed to Cancel Christmas Outreaches

By Dawn Carnill, Director of Christmas Outreach

No, the COVID grinch did NOT cancel Christmas in South Africa. In fact, ER’s Christmas outreaches were a huge success, despite the hoopla that surrounded the country when the Omicron strain was first detected by researchers in the country.

Five of our seven ER Christmas team members were in the midst of traveling to South Africa when the news of new strain broke, resulting in hours of confusion and canceled flights. However, our team remained calm, persevered and eventually found flights to Cape Town.

Thank you to those who prayed for us and generously supported these outreaches. Our small-but-mighty team and ER Africa staff hosted or co-hosted 15 events, plus delivered 10 food bags to families in need.

Overcoming Challenges

So what was it like to travel internationally as the Omicron news was breaking?

When we (Jerry and Dawn Carnill) arrived in London to make our connecting flight, we learned all flights from England to South Africa had been cancelled and we would have to return home. After much discussion, we were able to re-route through Qatar and arrived in Cape Town just three hours later than our original arrival time. Soon after, three other team members made it – along with all their luggage containing gifts for nearly 1,000 kids. A sixth team member was scheduled to fly through Europe a day later, and because other European countries followed England’s lead, he didn’t attempt the journey.

The day after we arrived, the guesthouse where we were scheduled to stay informed team leader Nick Carnill the previous guests staying at the house had tested positive for COVID. The guesthouse staff had all been exposed!

This required a change of plans… again! Fortunately, Nick rents a house that also serves as a small ministry guesthouse, so we decided five team members would lodge there. The remaining two already had lodging nearby because they were serving as volunteers at the Fish Hook Dream Center for the month.

Whew! All this disruption required a lot of shuffling, planning and replanning. Groceries needed to be purchased. Did we have enough toilet paper? Coffee? Was there room for team meetings, the assembly of gifts and storing the supplies? Yes! In a matter of hours, every detail was worked through and the team settled in to fulfill its mission – celebrate Christ’s birth with hundreds of men, women and children.

The team jumped in, ready to serve and celebrate. They were all seasoned veterans with great attitudes and hearts for the people. Their dedication resulted in local ministry leaders, pastors and everyday people expressing gratitude for the willingness, persistence and compassion the team showed, not only in getting there, but boldly loving and serving the people of South Africa.

South Africa had been ostracized by most of the rest of the world because they identified this new strain of COVID, and here was a group of foreigners who actually made the trip, brought gifts, food and fun, and just loved on people. One of the local pastors told the team, “Thank you for choosing to come here during these days of uncertainty. Words cannot express how much we appreciate this.”

We are so very thankful for the prayers and notes of encouragement we received. The parties, events, funds and gifts allowed more than 2,000 people to not only celebrate Christmas, but hear and experience the true meaning of Christmas – Jesus’ birth and His gift of eternal life.

Globally, several thousand people attended 27 Christmas outreaches hosted by our staff, volunteers and partners. Funds and gifts also were shared with ministry partners in Ecuador, the Philippines and South Africa.

ER has hosted, co-hosted or sponsored Christmas Outreaches for 25 years. If you’d like to join one of our 2022 teams, email us at


ER’s 2020 Christmas Celebrations Serve Thousands

Normally, we send teams from the U.S., Canada and other parts of the world to help host Christmas gatherings. But is 2020 everything was very different. 2020 was the first year since 1998 that we did not have teams to help us host the Outreaches. Teams bring the manpower to operate the parties and the majority of our funding.

What hasn’t changed is we celebrated Christmas with many people. Many of those we serve work as trash recyclers or street vendors. They have been harshly impacted by the pandemic. Most have been out of work and experienced severe income loss. Their kids are struggling to do their school work online. They are discouraged and weary.

Together, we can show them love and encouragement during Christmas.

Here are some examples of how we complied with pandemic restrictions:

In Manila, children under 18 were not permitted to be outside of their homes, so brought small groups to their locations do a Christmas program and send gifts home to the kids with their parents.

In Quito, we held multiple parties for our Quito Dump program and Dream Center kids – each with 40 participants or less.

In South Africa, parties were limited to 50, including our staff. We traveled to the hard hit Beaufort West area to celebrate with the kids in the feeding program (high-risk kids suffering from HIV, cancer, diabetes and TB) by providing them with a special Christmas meal and gifts to take home.



Thousands Impacted by 2019 Christmas Outreaches

By Dawn Carnill, Director of Christmas Outreach

“Gracias!” “Dankie!” “Enkosi!” “Salamat!” “Sulpayki!” “Thank you!”

Christmas OutreachThese words represent the spoken gratitude expressed among 3,500 men, women and children who celebrated Christmas with ER in December. Our staff and volunteer teams put on 25 parties in South Africa, Ecuador and the Philippines. ER partners celebrated with an additional 1,000 people after our volunteers left for home. That’s a lot of celebrating!

We played carnival games, served food, painted faces and nails, made crafts, took family Christmas photos, sang, danced and distributed gifts. We had parties with our education reinforcement program kids, with refugees, with seniors at a nursing home, and with those who work as recyclers in the Quito Dump. We had a safari drive “party”, a dance party with special needs adults, a breakfast party with a recovery group and a ladies pampering party. We had a parties at a hospital, at the beach, in churches, indoors, outdoors and on a basketball court. We had small parties and big parties. You name it; we did it.

Our Christmas Outreach has been going strong for 22 years. So many of you have served on a Christmas team with us. You’ve seen, first hand, the impact a little time, effort, love and a small gift can have on a child or an adult. You understand how a small token of love can  give them a glimpse into something bigger than their daily struggles. You’ve witnessed what happens when they realize someone cares about them. It give them a little hope!

We build relationships with people to show we care and so they know they have value. They are worthy. They matter to us. And, more importantly, they matter to God.

Thank you for helping us do this. We appreciate every one of you who have served with us on a Christmas team (or many many Christmas teams) or have donated to provide Christmas gifts. You have brightened many lives. You have encouraged our staff and our partners. You’ve helped us have a greater impact on the vulnerable people we serve. You’ve helped create trust and opened doors with new people and communities.


Christmas Outreach Shows Family is the Joy of Life

Jan. 1, 2019

By Dawn Carnill, Director of Christmas Outreach

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again! Time for shopping, school programs, cookie baking, present wrapping, decorating and partying. It’s also a time to spend with family. It’s Christmas Outreach time.

We at Extreme Response (ER) hope you’ll have a wonderful time with your family this year, celebrating Christmas and ringing in the New Year. I was strongly reminded of he importance of a family during the holidays at one of the ER Christmas parties in the Philippines. Seed of Love is a wonderful organization that operates a Ronald McDonald type house for kids receiving treatment for cancer at the Philippines General Hospital in Manila. Their house, called the Shelter of Hope, is home to about 30 kids and their parents. Many of them stay for a year or longer.

Just a few weeks ago, we held a Christmas party for the Seed of Love kids, their parents and siblings. The theme of their party was “Family is the Joy of Life”. There were about 80 kids plus the adults. We had a great time playing games, making crafts, painting nails and faces, singing and dancing. It was wonderful to see the mothers let loose and just have fun posing for pictures and dancing. They don’t have much joy in their lives in their current situations and this party gave them a much-needed mental break. During the program, one of the patients took the microphone to share something.

Rafael, an 18-year-old cancer patient, made his way to the stage with his crutches. The first thing I noticed was he’s missing most of his right leg. He started off by saying, “Thank you God, for this big family!” Everyone clapped.

Cancerous Tumor

He then shared about himself. How he had never met his father. That his mother has been in prison for most of his life (and still is) and was being raised by his aunt when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2016. He has Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor (also known as neurofibrosarcoma). Because of his illness and lack of means, his aunt wasn’t able to continue caring for him.

In February of 2018, he was sent to the Philippines General Hospital for treatment – alone. His doctors knew of ER partner Seed of Love and contacted Junie and Aura, the directors of the program. They agreed to take Rafael in – to provide him with a place to stay, the nutritious food he needs to continue his treatment, encouragement and that one special thing he’d always been lacking – love. Rafael thanked Junie and Aura – and commented on how he now has many mothers to help him along this journey at the Shelter of Hope.

After the program ended, I asked Rafeal for more of his story. He’s such an engaging and eloquent young man and he was happy to share. He told me he’s now enrolled in college, studying Information Technology and that Junie and Aura are now his guardians. I also asked him more about his cancer and treatment. He told me his type of cancer is chemo-resistant and gave me a bit more info on that. When I asked him where he was at with his treatment, his response was, “I’ve finished with treatment. I’m now in palliative care.”

Palliative Care

Wow…Palliative care.  Words escaped me. How was I supposed to respond to that? I just looked into that young man’s eyes. Instead of fear and pain that one might expect after uttering those words, I saw excitement that he was going to college (something he thought he’d never do – cancer or not). He showed a contentment that only someone in his shoes could ever feel. I saw a love for his new family. He exuded joy.

None of us knows how long we will be on this earth. I want to be like Rafeal – taking advantage of the time I have. Expressing thanks for what I do have. I want to challenge each and every one of you to take this Christmas season to show love and appreciation to your families – because family really is the Joy of Life.


Volunteers Discover Passion to Help Others

(Sept. 15, 2018)

Terri Ramos participating in Christmas OutreachHelping families in developing countries is only half of the story. Volunteers on our Christmas teams often find the experience so impactful that their lives are permanently altered. We asked some team members to share their personal journeys. 

Terri Ramos, Santa Maria, California

“I have been a part of four Christmas teams in South Africa, Ecuador and the Philippines. Each trip was completely unique. I’ve grown and stretched out of my comfort zone every time.

“I love seeing how ER supports its partners. Caring for people in the field is so important. My passion is to encourage and uplift those who serve people who are needy and hurting. That’s why I love serving with ER. They go into communities with a heart to serve, equip and build people up. I want to be a part of that!”

Evan Kleinhaus, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

“Because I have been on eight teams to Ecuador, I’ve learned the full extent of the poverty in Quito and the surrounding areas. Each time I return, I am humbled and become more thankful that I can help make a difference in another part of the world.”


Louise Carver, Bristol, United Kingdom

“In addition to serving longer stints in Ecuador and Manila, I’ve been on 12 Christmas teams in ER’s three regions. I’ve been fascinated by the different partners ER works with, to see the diversity of support and learn how locally run partners use different approaches to support local needs.

“The children I work with are growing up and I love watching them progress. I also treasure the international friendships I have made at the Christmas parties.”


Christmas Celebrations Rock!

(December 15, 2017)

ER has been hosting Christmas Outreach Celebrations for 21 years. Hears a snapshot of our 2017 celebrations:

  • 40 parties
  • 4 countries
  • 4 teams of volunteers
  • 80+ volunteers and staff
  • 17 ER partners engaged
  • 5,000+ people reached

Christmas OutreachBut those numbers don’t begin to describe the impact of these Christmas Outreaches. The real impact is what takes place in the hearts and minds of the people who attend and the volunteers who serve on our teams. All year long, ER staff and partners reach out of people living in harsh conditions in  squatter communities, refugee settlements, barrios or on the street. Most of the people we help are generationally poor.

How We Help Vulnerable People

In response, we offer nutrition, education reinforcement, job and livelihood training. We run programs, help our partners with their programs, build homes, help feed hungry families and much more.

School Packs and Christmas OutreachBut the best thing we provide is hope for the future. We encourage, affirm and love people where they are in their life journeys.

One of the best times to provide hope is during our Christmas Outreach. We celebrate with entertainment, games, crafts, food, gifts, family photos and the Christmas story. For many who attend, these outreaches are the highlight event of their entire year. These events are life-changing for some as they hear and respond to the Christmas story.

Thank you to all who volunteer or support these outreaches.



21 Years of Christmas Impact

By Dawn Carnill, Director of ER Christmas

Christmas OutreachDuring the past 21 years, Extreme Response International has celebrated Christmas with nearly 150,000 of the poorest of the poor. These celebrations have provided hope, built trust and been the catalyst for deep relationships. If you know ER, you know we believe it is through these relationships that true life-change takes place.

That’s what we’re about – changing lives – and it all started with that very first Christmas party in 1997.

The Early Years

Extreme Response was launched in the Quito Dump in Zámbiza. It developed when a group of expat friends living in Quito got together to reach out to the people living and working in the local garbage dump. To celebrate Christmas, these friends gathered their kids, some big pots of chicken and rice, more than 200 pairs of boots and shoes donated by HCJB World Radio missionary families, some make-shift carnival games and set up in the dump right in the middle of the trash piles. The dump families played the games and tug-of-war, made crafts, watched a puppet show and live entertainment and received raffled gifts. Everyone got a big plate of chicken and rice, bread, cookies and juice.

Christmas Outreach in QuitoMiraculously, the food stretched from the 300 that had been planned for to the 500 who attended. Volunteers ended up running around the dump, picking up plates and cups to re-use, but the food never ran out.

Our first group of volunteers from Grace Fellowship Church in Georgia came to help the next year, a tradition that has continued with many churches and groups sending teams. The annual event has grown and changed over the years. In 2001 a second party at Remanso de Amor (Haven of Love) in South Quito was added. Donors provided funds in 2003 for Christmas parties at Living Hope in South Africa. In 2004, our first team of volunteers traveled to Cape Town to help put on parties with Living Hope.

Christmas Outreach at Many Locations
Christmas Outreach

We also began funding for parties in other locations, including Honduras, Ivory Coast, Ghana, India, Nepal, Malawi, and Russia. We added six parties in Quito and another on the coast of Ecuador in December 2006. A team traveled to Manila, Philippines, to celebrate Christmas with partner Youth Mobilization in 2007. In 2008, our first Christmas team traveled to Nepal.

This year we celebrate our 21st anniversary of working in the Quito Dump. We continue to celebrate Christmas with our own programs and partners located around the world.

Our goal with these celebrations is the same – to bring hope to the hopeless and cultivate relationships, to help our partners reach out to those with whom they work and to celebrate the joy of Christmas with those who wouldn’t have the means to do it otherwise.

Thank you to those of you who have served with us on a Christmas team, those who have become Christmas team junkies, and those who have given so that we can celebrate with the thousands of people we touch. We can’t do this without you!


Christmas Outreach – A Family Experience

By Dawn Carnill, Director of ER Christmas

It’s that time of year again. Time to start shopping for gifts, thinking about decorations, school parties and Christmas vacation. Time to start making memories with your family.

We here at Extreme Response love celebrating with our families too. I love getting together my kids, parents and siblings. It makes the holidays even more special. I also love celebrating with our extended ER family – our programs, partners, staff and Christmas team members.

Christmas Outreach at MasiFor the past 21 years, we’ve been celebrating Christmas with some of the poorest of the poor. We began with providing a celebration to the families that lived and worked in the Quito Dump. Over the years we’ve celebrated with more than 141,000 people. That’s a lot of parties and a lot of people. Most of those parties consist of 100-2,500 attendees. Some are for entire families, others are just for kids and a few are only for the adults.  The smallest party we put on is for one particular “family”. The African Hope Trust family.

Safe Houses

African Hope Trust is an organization based in Masiphumelele, South Africa that operates “safe houses” taking in abused and abandoned children and fostering them in a safe and loving family environment.  Currently it consists of two houses.  Each one with a house “Mom” and six children. The houses are right next door to each other – so the mom’s can help each other out. A third house is nearly ready and they are currently looking for another house parent.

Christmas OutreachThe African Hope Trust party is a bit different than our larger parties. From 2011-2016, the ER South African Christmas Teams took the kids to a local pizza restaurant with a big play area and a nearby petting zoo. We did crafts, painted faces and took instant photos.

Last year the restaurant happened to be closed, so we set up a mini carnival at The Team House, the guesthouse where our ER Christmas team stays. We had pizza, played carnival games, jumped rope, did some crafts and had a great time.

Christmas Outreach Provides For Kids

Each and every child received lots of individual attention. There were 12 kids and 24 team members. The house parents got a much-needed break and our team loved pouring into these precious kids that have been through so much. We were able to go above and beyond with their gifts – school backpacks filled with school supplies and lots of other fun things. We were able to talk together, play and laugh together, eat together and build relationships.

We couldn’t do what we do without all of you. If you’re interested in serving on an ER Christmas team, contact us at for details.


It’s the Little Things that Matter

By Dawn CarnillDawn_Carnill
Director of Christmas Outreach

(Nov. 7, 2014)

It’s almost that time of year again. The television commercials have already started and it’s time to break out the Christmas music (much to my family’s chagrin).

ER volunteers lead a Christmas Party in the South African informal settlement of Red Hill.

ER volunteers lead a Christmas Party in the South African informal settlement of Red Hill.

At Extreme Response start planning for our Christmas parties in January, so we’re well on our way to another great year.  90 people have signed up and are ready to travel to Quito, Manila and Cape Town. We’re in the process of gathering thousands of small toys, hygiene items and school supplies. Emails are flying back and forth across the globe. There are parties to schedule, buses to rent, sleeping arrangements to make and food to order.

Yes, things get pretty crazy this time of year. My husband Jerry and I will be on the road for four weeks as we travel to the South Africa and Quito parties. It’s exhausting and a bit overwhelming. Why do we keep doing this after 18 years? What difference can a little party with food, games, crafts and a “token” gift really make?

Last year was our fifth year leading the South Africa Christmas team. There we put on more than 15 parties in 10 days, sometimes as many as three per day. Our sixth party – and the second of that day – was in Red Hill, one of the communities that ER partner Living Hope works in.

The team was getting a bit tired. It had been “one of those days.” The gift bags didn’t make it with the rest of the supplies, the crafts were nowhere to be found, we had 200 hotdogs to cook over an open fire, the kids were wound up, and one of our team members had an accident and was taken to the hospital (he recovered!).

Christmas Outreach Provides Colgate Moment

Needless to say, I felt a bit discouraged. But the party had gone well, all things considered. It was time to hand out the gift bags, so I grabbed my camera to get a few shots of the kids opening their gifts. It’s one of my favorite things to photograph. As I came around the corner, a girl, probably around 8 or 10 years old, ran up to me and opened her gift bag. She shouted, “Look! I got a Colgate! Of my very own.” She proudly showed me her full-sized tube of Colgate toothpaste and skipped on.

The young lady on the left was thrilled and appreciative to receive a tube of Colgate toothpaste as one of her Christmas gifts from ER.

The young lady on the left was thrilled and appreciative to receive a tube of Colgate toothpaste as one of her Christmas gifts from ER.

Wow. That much excitement – over a tube of toothpaste. No, she wasn’t being sarcastic. She was genuinely excited because she appreciated the gift and the party. This young lady appreciated our time and effort and your generosity. She doesn’t take things like this for granted. Our being there and providing that party for her made a difference in her day (at the very least).

She had a reason to smile. A reason to skip. A reason to celebrate. She helped remind me that we do all this to bring a little hope, to build trust and to cultivate the relationships. That day, I realized that something as insignificant as a tube of toothpaste can make an impact.

Are we ready for another great year of parties? You bet we are!

We also collect gift items all year round. If you’d like a list of our needs, please contact me at




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