Members of the Mosaic Church in downtown Hamilton are giving away $10,000 to individuals in the community this Christmas in a project called "Operation Christmas Blessings."
Because they “are to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” they are dispersing thousands of dollars of gift cards to people they know or folks they meet who are in need.
Pastor James Smith said the outreach is meeting local and personal needs.
“We know single moms, people out of work, folks with medical issues, or individuals who just need encouragement and we’re giving gift cards — real practical gifts,” he said. “We are empowering all our people to do that. Everybody is in on the outreach, even the children.”
Smith said nearly a year ago the Mosaic Church was founded around three significant core values: to be “Radically Loving, Radically Giving and Radically Forgiving.”
“It started with a group of very gracious, highly committed Christians in the valley with the idea that we would lean into Jesus’s great commandment of loving God, neighbors, and others in everything we do,” Smith said. “That we would set aside institutional rules and church traditions, the kind of stuff that has burned a lot of people in the valley.”
With the core value of giving, the church bylaws state that the church will not keep more than six months operating expenses and, when donations are greater than church needs, they give back to the community in service and dollars.
In the past week the 100-member church handed out $3,000 worth of local gift cards and will give more after the holiday because needs continue.
“We’re not bound by the holiday; this is a lifestyle for us,” Smith said. “We’re figuring it out as we go and God is blessing. It is a great group of people who are very loving and immensely kind and we’re creating a different kind of community together.”
Smith said the people who have received the gifts are appreciative.
Mosaic Church member Shannon Bassire said that on Sunday afternoon she visited a local grocery store and met a family.
“I introduced myself and gave them a gift card. Their reaction really touched my heart,” Bassire said. “I gave another gift card to a friend whose daughter was in a car accident and she was caring for two households. She bawled her eyes out with gratitude. It was an amazing feeling. As great as it was for them, it was equally awesome for me.”
Carol Webber shared her experience with "Operation Christmas Blessings."
“Jim (Smith) has taught us a lot about what it means to be radically giving, loving and forgiving,” she said. “Mother Theresa said, ‘We are called to love the world and God so loved the world that he gave Jesus. Today, Jesus loves the world so much that he gives you and me to show his love and compassion through a life of giving.’ A gift with no strings attached confers dignity and value.”
When she handed out the cards at Ravalli Services and Super One, "it was very beautiful and humbling,” she said. “People said ‘God bless you’ and teared up. In giving these cards to people, it helps us to go from being nominal givers to radical givers because we see Jesus in the whole transaction.”
Mike Webber said he thought it would be easy to give the cards away.
“I came to see there is more meaning than what I thought,” he said. “One of the greatest blessings you can receive is to give someone something they desperately need and see them respond with shock, a tear and a soft thank you.”
Mike Webber said the “Operation Christmas Blessings" project is bigger than the participants.
“God wants to give us something we desperately need,” he said. “We’re blessed to see these people respond to the free gift. That is what He wants from us: a ‘thank you, God, I didn’t expect that.’”
Carol Webber said Christians need to be the hands of feet of Jesus.
“We need to show radical love and compassion on the spiritually poor, mentally poor, financially poor and spiritually poor — that includes everybody,” she said.
Greg Reinhardt said he gave gift cards to a disabled vet he met, neighbors with a new baby and some customers at Ace Hardware.
“In this day and age it is hard for people to accept a free gift as there are usually strings attached,” Reinhardt said. “We do this so people can see Jesus through the acts of love that we’re sharing.”
Smith called “Operation Christmas Blessings" a “heart-to-heart generosity” that sees a need and responds.
“It’s fascinating really,” he said. “People often wonder, ‘What are you wanting back from me?’ Some people are naturally suspicious. They think there is a bait-and-switch or catch. But we are giving these gift cards no strings attached. Some people are overwhelmed, some are just so grateful. Tears and hugs are common.”
There are no requirements and no one has to attend the church. But it is opening doors and Smith said more people could be inspired to attend Mosaic Church.
“That could be one of the outcomes and that doesn’t frighten me because we give as God leads and as He enables us,” he said. “Ongoing benevolence is a value and we like to see loving, giving, and forgiving replicated in people.”
Mike Webber said they are reaching out to people who are “lost, broken, searching, or have no other place to go.”
“We want to be a place where they can walk in and feel accepted,” he said.
Carol Webber said everyone is the same.
“All of us has had different circumstances, different opportunities, different good things happen to us, and different bad things happen to us,” she said.
Smith said "Operation Christmas Blessings" has been the most fun he has had in ministry.
“We don’t believe we’ll grow in our faith unless we are sharing our faith, even if we’re doing it imperfectly,” he said. “Kindness is a universal language and people with no faith respond equally well, sometimes with more incredulity. But it’s a lot of fun and a huge contact point. People just need people to love on them and not judge them.”