In this video, Justin Oberndorfer, Executive Director of Joy Meadows, shares a recorded video call with Jim West, Pastor of Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, in which West reveals the results of the Walk to the Manger offering.
Colonial Presbyterian Church in Kansas City is a generous church, with numerous local ministry and mission partners they support. But in this season of COVID-19, the congregation has gone above and beyond.
In a “normal” year, Colonial hosts a December production called “Walk to the Manger Sunday.” It tells the story of Christmas through drama and music and has become a cherished tradition for the entire community.
The event also is designed to be a time for giving. In the service, after the Magi come and present their gifts to Jesus, the children are invited to bring toys to the manger. The donated toys are distributed by two of Colonial’s partner organizations to children who would not otherwise receive any Christmas presents. Baskets also are placed in the sanctuary so members can contribute to the annual mission offering.
But in 2020, with COVID-19 concerns and social distancing mandates, it looked like Walk to the Manger would have to be canceled. The church quickly came up with an alternate plan—open both campuses on the second weekend in December and have a manger scene in the sanctuaries. People were invited to come any time between noon and 6:00 p.m. for a time of private worship and remembrance. They also could bring their gifts for the Walk to the Manger offering to the sanctuary or make online donations.
A few weeks before the Advent season commenced, three members of Colonial’s staff asked Lead Pastor Jim West to support a new ministry. The trio wanted to raise money to build the first home for a development known as Joy Meadows.
Joy Meadows is an intentional neighborhood for foster and adoptive families, with the focus of keeping sibling groups together. The houses are designed to accommodate large families and the church would need to raise between $275,000 and $375,000 to accomplish the goal—on top of their regular Christmas offering.
“I was hesitant at first,” West said. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, I haven’t seen 1,000 of our members in person in over 9 months, and there was not going to be a Walk to the Manger production which typically brings in visitors. I just wasn’t sure how much gas was left in the tank for our members, especially since the church had been overwhelmingly generous in the months leading up to December.”
To fully understand how benevolent Colonial church had already been in 2020, it’s necessary to go back a few months.
In March, around the same time the entire country went into lockdown, Colonial kicked off their traditional Easter campaign known as “Bless Our City.” The original goal was $100,000 to support their mission partners. But God had other plans.
“The second week after we were forced to stop meeting in person, I preached about the loaves and fishes from the book of John,” West said. “Right in the middle of the sermon, God prompted my heart. I heard Him say, ‘If you think this season is hard for you, imagine how it is for single parents.’ I felt led to take up an additional offering and give each of the single parents in our network $1,000.”
West approached the Session with the idea—which the elders approved without hesitation.
“When God says to do something, even if it seems irrational, you just obey,” West said. “And we did.”
In 2019, the “Bless Our City” campaign raised $50,000. In 2020, donations totaled $540,000—more than a tenfold increase. Some of the money went to an organization called “Single Moms Kansas City.” The rest went to 56 single parents in the Colonial congregation. Each family received $1,000 with a letter that told them, “We have no expectations of how you will spend the money. We would only ask that you give thanks to God…this was His idea; it’s His money; and He really does love you! So do we.”
Randall Leonard, Colonial’s Director of Impact Ministries, was one of the three staff members who asked West in November to add Joy Meadows to the Christmas effort.
“We witnessed God move in an extraordinary way on our church in the spring,” Leonard said. “So when we felt prompted to support Joy Meadows for Walk to the Manger, we believed He would do it again.”
Meganne Leighton, Colonial’s Community and Global Partnerships Coordinator, joined Leonard in the push to include Joy Meadows, as did Hannah Mabie, Colonial’s Foster Adopt Ministry Coordinator.
“We have so many families in our church who are called to foster or adopt,” said Leighton, who is an adoptive parent herself. “And so many more who volunteer their time to serve or engage in advocacy on behalf of kids in the system. Colonial is a church that is committed to family. I think that’s why this seemed like a natural fit for Walk to the Manger.”
West invited Justin and Sarah Oberndorfer, Executive Directors of Joy Meadows, to speak in one of Colonial’s Advent services.
“I kept the whole thing low-key and told the church I was not asking them to do anything if they were not convicted by the Lord to do so,” West noted.
“The effects of COVID early in 2020 made us question whether we would be able to move forward much at all,” Justin Oberndorfer told the congregation. “But instead, the unfinished 3,200-square-foot basement on the property was transformed into a Community Center within 3 months because construction companies were in desperate need of contracts. Not only was the project finished ahead of schedule, but it also became a source of provision for those workers and their families.”
He reported that four therapists now work in the completed Community Center, and numerous foster children are receiving services every week.
“Obstacle after obstacle just turned into an opportunity for God to show His miraculous provision,” Oberndorfer said, noting that volunteers have served at Joy Meadows every day—including skilled craftsman and master gardeners. People of all ages have done yard work, sorted and delivered clothes, cared for animals, and picked up trash.
“This year the vision has become a reality,” he said. “As we walk the 50 acres, hear the laughter of kids on the property, see therapists working with kids in the orchard or in the barn with the animals, we see this place coming to life.”
The Oberndorfers ended their Advent message with a question: “What if God moves in our midst and we build a house that allows a sibling group who are waiting right now to stay together as a family?”
A Full House
The congregation responded with a definitive answer. On the first day alone, $171,000 was given. By the following afternoon it was up to $340,000. When the campaign ended on December 31, more than $475,000 had been raised—enough for a complete house and half of another.
“It’s all God. We give Him all the glory,” West said. “This year has been a beautiful opportunity to turn away from the things that concern and divide us and center ourselves around the things that really matter to His heart.”
Mabie, who brings licensed social worker credentials to her role as Colonial’s Foster Adopt Ministry Coordinator, said she is not surprised that Joy Meadows’ story resonates deeply with Colonial.
“We have a unique opportunity to be part of building a legacy that’s going to be here for 50 or more years,” she said. “I think that’s why people have been so captivated by this project. We’re providing a home where sibling groups can grow and thrive and be together. To have Colonial’s name on that is really special.”
For the Oberndorfers, Colonial’s response has been especially meaningful.
“It’s an affirmation that God sees the plight of the orphan and He will provide in ways that we can’t even imagine,” Justin said. “God is building Joy Meadows through His Church and His people. We get to be just a small part of that miracle. We are not walking this sometimes difficult and lonely road of ministry alone. We have the army of Colonial Church walking beside us and helping us pave the way for this new ministry that will have a generational impact.”
Leonard said the church’s response to both the Easter and Christmas efforts affirmed for him that the congregation is embracing the church’s mission statement: “To be the light of Christ in a hurting culture, so that the lost are found, the broken are made whole, the fatherless find hope, and our city is blessed.”
“We have prayed and asked the Lord’s Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of His people as we desire to share the love of Christ with those in our spheres of influence,” Leonard said. “He is answering our prayers!”
by Kiki Schleiff Cherry