Birthday party emphasizes Christmas outreach

September 8, 2018

Jennifer Bannecke has been wading deep in Operation Christmas Child since 2015, when she became that ministry’s top representative at First Baptist Church of North Augusta, and this year, she thought of a way to go deeper yet.

She and her husband, Craig, for her 70th birthday, invited friends to a party at their house, with a request for those who would bring a gift to bring something to support Operation Christmas Child, rather than present for the birthday girl specifically.

The result, by way of dozens of well-wishers, was $2,350 in cash, aside from “lots of school supplies, soap, washcloths and toys for the boys and girls,” Jennifer recalled.

“This is a wonderful ministry … to reach children who have never heard the gospel,” she said, “and what we do is, we give them the shoebox and tell them that Jesus loves them, and then they want to know, ‘Who is this Jesus?’”

The program, run by Samaritan’s Purse, in Boone, North Carolina, dates back to the early 1990s and now results in the shipment each year of millions of boxes packed with age-appropriate gifts (with either a boy or a girl in mind) and Christian literature. Goodies include such things as plush toys, soccer balls (to be inflated later, with a small pump included), basic toiletries, magic markers, dolls and simple clothing items.

Over the decades, more than 157 million shoeboxes have been distributed to kids spread among more than 160 countries and territories, and hopes are for the 2018 haul to include “another 11 million shoeboxes,” said Lance Danko, one of the ministry’s local boosters.

He noted that this year has been a tough one for the Banneckes, as Jennifer’s son, Jason K. Fitzsimons, died unexpectedly April 1 at the age of 42, having spent recent years as a deputy with the Broward County (Florida) Sheriff’s Department. Jennifer’s friends responded to the loss by donating gift-filled shoeboxes in his memory, as well as donating money or other gifts to be used in support of Operation Christmas Child. The birthday was August 20, and the party was held two days earlier.

The program’s national collection week is Nov. 12-19. TrueNorth, Millbrook Baptist (in Aiken) and First Baptist of Belvedere are among local congregations most heavily involved. Details on the ministry are at s ampur.se/28QIvNE.

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