||Santa and elves touch community with God’s love
By Margaret Colson
December 20, 2012
PANAMA CITY BEACH (FBC)—When a last-minute call for help came their way recently, a group of 10 holiday “elves” joyfully shared God’s love with children and parents at a “Breakfast with Santa” outreach event sponsored by a church plant in Panama City Beach.
Their yellow T-shirts and caps, rather than the traditional green and red elfin garb, might have hinted that these individuals normally serve as disaster relief volunteers rather than Santa’s helpers, but that distinction made no difference to the more than 100 guests gathered at Hutchinson Beach Elementary School on Saturday, Dec. 1.
Christ Fellowship, led by church planter Michael Petty, had only met twice at the school before the breakfast with Santa.
But when a mission team, scheduled to help, had to cancel just days prior to the outreach event, the elves dressed in DR clothing came to the rescue.
A quick contact with Northwest Coast Baptist Association mobilized Jennie London, the association’s volunteer missions coordinator, who put out a call to some individuals she knew were trained and ready.
“Most disaster relief volunteers have servants’ hearts. They have made the effort to get specialized training. They can usually respond rather quickly and are very flexible and willing to serve in whatever way they can,” she said.
“God put the right people at the right place and at the right time.”
Two who responded were Toni and Jennie Pons, members of First Baptist Church in Panama City.
Their role was straightforward; they were to greet guests, engage them in conversation, and respond to opportunities to share the gospel. Other disaster relief volunteers prepared food while others registered guests at the event. Several of the volunteers, with registration cards in their hands, prayed together for individuals by name, even as the event was unfolding.
“I’m going to do what I’m supposed to do. The Holy Spirit will do the rest,” said the 72-year-old Toni who has participated in several international mission trips in addition to his disaster relief efforts.
“I almost felt like we were on a mission trip,” he said of his morning stint at the elementary school.
Of course no breakfast with Santa would be complete without the “big guy in red,” also known as Claudie Woosley, a member of Carlisle Baptist Church in Panama City.
Preparing for a part in his church’s Christmas play, Woosley, who had never considered any Santa opportunities prior to this year, had grown out his beard, and his wife had made him a red costume.
Surprised by the invitation to help with Christ Fellowship’s outreach event, Woosley said he “was happy to give it a try.
“When the Lord opens doors of opportunity for you, He pretty much expects you to walk through them,” he said.
Describing his Santa hours at the breakfast as “wonderful,” he said, “I think the strongest impact on me was the opportunity to look into so many young faces and see their eyes dancing with joy and excitement. I know one day we'll be in God's Kingdom and we'll have that look of wonder in our eyes.”
Woosley’s wife, Sharon, also decked out in red, as well as his pastor, Randy Kuhn, joined him in helping the young congregation get to know its neighbors.
“What greater joy could there be than to have even a little part in helping a new church plant get off the ground!” said pastor Kuhn, who greeted guests, directed them to the food area and encouraged them to register their children to see Santa.
“The job of reaching Bay County is an enormous one. It will take all of us doing all we can together just to make a dent in the lostness that surrounds us. Especially in church planting, it’s important for the more established churches to come alongside the new church plant and offer all the assistance they can,” he explained.
Pastor Petty, grateful for the support from others in his association, said, “It is vitally important to have the participation of the local association and other churches.
“A new church is not competition. We want to see Christ and His Kingdom advanced.”
As the many volunteers kept the event running smoothly, Petty and his wife Sue circulated through the crowd, welcoming families, telling them about the new church and sharing the Good News. Several families expressed interest in the church and in hearing more about the gospel.
“The whole idea is to reach out, reach out, reach out” to a community that is largely unchurched. He plans other outreach events before the church’s scheduled Feb. 10 grand opening.