Without question 2020 was a difficult year. As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, countries closed their borders, cruise ships were forced to dock, schools transitioned to online learning, churches suspended in-person worship services and provided options via Zoom and other platforms and the number of individuals experiencing depression and other mental health issues began to climb.

There were protests against injustice in various cities around the world, businesses closed, fires broke out in the west and hurricanes in the south, the number of those affected by COVID-19 continued to climb, deaths from the virus crossed 1.6 million people, and face masks became an essential part of the wardrobe for every person who dared to leave their house.

Citizens of the United States cast their votes during the presidential election in record numbers, yet it took weeks for the official announcement of the results. As the holiday season approached many citizens had to strongly consider forgoing the traditional family gatherings, and Zoom gatherings quickly became the plan for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

As the last weeks of the year arrived, millions were thinking less about stuffing stockings and wrapping presents to place under their tree and more about whether they’d be evicted or foreclosed on, if their unemployment benefits would be reduced, or if a second stimulus to bolster the economy would be passed. 

Undeniably, the issues of this present time led millions of individuals to resolve that gift-giving was not an option—a reality that was tough to process for adults and children alike. 

By all accounts, 2020 gave much for people to complain about, but for four Adventist churches in Missouri it was an opportunity to give people something to smile about!

Both Grand Avenue Church in Charleston, Missouri, and Lighthouse Church in St. Louis, Missouri, are led by Pastor Byron Wright. Though they are over 150 miles apart in location, they were together in vision, distributing over 350 toys as a result of members donating their time and money. 

Commenting on the impact of the toy drives in both of his churches, Pastor Wright stated that “the giveaways were a huge blessing to the low income and poverty stricken households in the areas that were served that have no means to provide Christmas gifts to their children. Getting involved allowed us to extend the love of God and bring hope to our local community.”

About five miles west of Lighthouse Church, the Agape Church held a toy and food distribution as well. The toy drive was an addition to an on-going partnership with the St. Louis Spanish Church in which food is taken to the community to be distributed to a largely immigrant population.

The community members were overjoyed when they learned that the distribution truck was filled with toys in addition to the food. Many of the parents have no way of providing toys for their children with little to no income, and being able to receive a gift no matter the size helps the community feel more a part of the larger community in which they reside. 

“I’m glad to see not just the community out here to receive the blessings but also the children from the church volunteering and distributing the blessing,” stated Keith Hackle Jr., pastor of the Agape Church. “This day is an embodiment of Sister White’s counsel for us regarding how to recognize Christmas. In her book The Adventist Home she says that ‘Their desire [the children] to make gifts may be turned into pure and holy channels and made to result in good to our fellow men by supplying the treasury in the great, grand work for which Christ came into our world’’’ (p. 478).

2020 was surely a tough year, and only God knows what is in store for us in the future. In the midst of social distancing and adjustments to the way we live, our churches have a great opportunity to be a light that shines in a dark world. We truly can give em’ something to smile about.

By Pastor Keith Hackle Jr.