PRICE, Utah (BP) – Gospel Community Church lives up to its name at Christmas.
This year the congregation of about 30 adults and their offspring bought Christmas gifts for 59 individuals in the high desert community east of the snow-covered Wasatch Mountains.
“We are always looking for opportunities to engage with the community,” Pastor Chris Polito told Baptist Press. “God has blessed us and we want to love our community by helping out where we can.”
Three years ago the Southern Baptist church decided to use its excess-of-budget offerings for the community, “rather than just socking it away in a bank account,” Polito said. The church allocates 3 percent of undesignated budget income for the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptists work together to share God’s love worldwide.
Gospel Community’s three unpaid pastors and their wives – Polito, Nick Teny and Tony Martinez – came up with the plan to spend the excess dollars on Christmas gifts for some of those in the town of about 8,300 who struggle financially.
“God has blessed us with a congregation of people who are generous givers,” Polito said. “We just put it out on social media to nominate people who needed help this Christmas.”
This year the budget overage came to $8,700, including $700 donated by a teen who gave the money he earned doing a community service project.
“When you see how God is working in the congregation you can see the growth over the three years,” Polito said. The first year Gospel Community was able to help provide Christmas for 39 people. In year two, 45 people.
This year, the 59 individuals consisted of 11 families and nine mentally challenged teens in a group home. Each family was notified they had been chosen, and were given a form to fill out and return including clothing sizes and gift preferences.
“We went to various places to support as many local businesses as we could,” Polito said. “With the info on the forms, we could shop pretty specifically.”
The allocated $150 per person meant each individual received some if not all their wishes, including a hoverboard, ear buds, a Barbie and much more.
Saturday afternoon in the church worship center all the nearly 300 gifts were wrapped.
“It was chaos, crazy,” member Liz Konakis told Baptist Press. “It was wild and crazy and carrying on.”
Each gift was tagged with a number. Each number was attached to a recipient’s name.
“Some big dinosaur had three ladies wrapping it,” Konakis said. Other gifts: pillows, a bean bag chair, curling iron, boots, hats, clothing and a Bible. “Trying to get it all organized was a little crazy.”
Six teams set out after church – Teny had preached on “the advent (arrival) of love” – in cars, SUVs and pickup trucks stuffed with packages and armed with addresses.
Some houses weren’t so easy to find. Not all houses have visible addresses. Some people protect their neighbors from unknown people wanting to find them, even when they hear the “outlandish” tale that they’re just bringing gifts. When all else failed, some recipients were called for direction, but the phones weren’t answered because the number calling was unknown.
With effort, however, each family received its gifts. At each home, the gospel was concisely shared, prayer requests were sought, the requests and residents were prayed for, and multiple calls – from both recipients and deliverers – of “Merry Christmas!” were heard.
But that wasn’t the end.
Several delivery teams then ate together at local restaurants, having missed their Sunday dinner. The increased camaraderie among church members was an unanticipated blessing from the Lord, Polito said.
“In everything we do, we try to glorify the Lord,” Polito said. “With this Christmas project, we want to strengthen the connection between the church – the bride of Christ – and the community.”
The “pastors and wives” team already are talking about next year.
“We want to be able to branch out a little more, to build relationships with the families instead of just dropping off gifts,” Polito said. “We’re going to be inviting the mom and dad to shop with us.
“All three years we’ve been doing this, we’ve been doing it the same day ‘Shop with a cop’ have been doing it,” the pastor continued. “We’ve seen them laughing and building rapport with the community, and we want to do that too, for God’s honor and glory.”