More than 15,000 backpacks jammed with Christmas cheer will be distributed to children through Kentucky over the next two weeks.
Kentucky Baptist Convention churches, associations and ministries are responsible for the backpacks and the contents, delivering them to 37 different locations throughout the state as a way not to only share much-needed gifts but the most-needed gospel.
The Moore Activity Center next to Southside Baptist Church in Covington was one of the first distribution sites Dec. 3 where around 150 children from 4 years old to seniors in high school received a backpack.
Amy Wilhelmus, director of the center and a Kentucky MSC Missionary, has the backpacks lined up and waiting but the gospel message is presented before they are handed out.
“We let them open them at home,” she said. “One reason is because [the bags] are so full we can’t always get everything back in. But mainly it gives us great focus on sharing the gospel message.”
‘More than the gifts’
Wilhelmus said if they handed out the gifts first it takes too much of the gospel presentation time away from them. For some of them, talking about God’s word and the meaning of Christ will be all new to them.
The day needs to be more than about the stuffed backpacks although for many children it may be the only Christmas they see.
“We want them to come away with more than the gifts in the backpack,” she said. “We want to share the gospel message and share the true meaning of Christmas. There’s a lot of joy in what will happen.”
Teresa Parrett of the Missions Mobilization team with the KBC shepherds the Christmas backpack initiative. She reported 15,401 backpacks were received — 8,048 from Kentucky churches and 7,353 from partnering state convention churches.
“Every event the gospel is to be shared,” Parrett said. “This may be one of the only gifts they have. It helps needy children to have Christmas. It also presents a gospel witness. There’s a Christmas story flyer that goes in each backpack and we ask every event to have their own gospel presentation.”
Wihelmus said the elementary and teenagers that attend the backpack giveaway at the Moore Center have one-on-one gospel presentations.
The backpacks include toys, hygiene, food and clothing items and a children’s Bible. Each bag has a value of $50–75, Parrett said.
Impacting anyone around
“We’ve heard stories of volunteers getting saved, parents and adults getting saved, through the event,” Parrett said. “The gospel impacts anybody who hears it.”
Maddy Delrio, a junior at Northern Kentucky University and a member of the Baptist Campus Ministry, came to help with the backpack giveaway and share with the young girls.
“I loved watching them get the backpack they dreamed of,” she said. “I remember when I was in elementary school how special and important it was to have the backpack you loved.”
She said it was stirring to see one little girl looking at a New Testament that was placed in her backpack.
When Delrio was talking to the girl, she said she knew about the Old Testament and New Testament. “It was awesome to see,” she said. “Each backpack had exactly what each girl needed.”
Delrio was able to share the gospel story with girls in the 8–9 year-old range after getting to know them through conversation about school and their lives. Those who were witnessing also had gospel tracts to go over with them.
“We walked them through that, and they were asking questions,” Delrio said. “It was really sweet to listening to them and thinking about it and asking questions. One little girl I had we go to the end and said, well, what do you think? She said, ‘Yes, I really want to be a Christian!’ She goes to that church every Sunday with her grandmother so that will be a great follow-up opportunity.”
Delrio, who came with a couple of friends from NKU, said they are reaching out to organizers to help them with other events throughout the year.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Mark Maynard and originally published by Kentucky Today.