Meanwhile, for several years, the church celebrated Christmas with Be the Gift, a time of reaching out that takes a different shape from year to year. Each year, the church’s elders pray about what the theme for Be the Gift should be.

This year, that lingering question helped define the shape.

“From that moment,” said the Rev. Rob Rigsbee, lead pastor, “they knew this year’s Be the Gift would directly affect the 46040 zip code.”

One church leader remembered how the Make-A-Wish Foundation had given to his young daughter. The church elders and an 11-member Be the Gift team wanted to reach out in that way to adults in the Fortville community — to find people, Rigsbee said, who would benefit from the whole church coming together to meet a need.

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The congregation was encouraged to nominate people in the Fortville community who had a need. Team member Brenda Ayers said early on the team reached a consensus that, with God’s help, the church “would try to meet that need no matter what.”

A half-dozen varied ideas surfaced: Comfy garments for a veteran with a prosthetic. Help for a family needing to find a new home after an emergency. Gifts for some local families on the United Christmas Services list. Recognition for police officers and firefighters.

In many cases, the gesture is not a one-time gift. For some of those in need, relationships are built during the process of learning and trying to meet needs. In some cases, mentoring happens to help give people tools for moving forward in their lives.

“It won’t just end the day Christmas is over,” said Brenda Ayers.

Sometimes giving is an emotional and out-of-comfort-zone journey, said her husband, David Ayers, another member of the Be the Gift team. But it’s a joyful, rewarding one, too, he said.

“It’s a growing experience. You have to make some investment of yourself.”

He and his wife have each found that a personal lesson through the years.

David Ayers found his heart expanded a few years ago when he was adamant about not going on a summer mission trip. He was on his way to Rigsbee’s office to tell him his decision, but when he got there, he’d changed his mind. He told Rigsbee he was going to the Dominican Republic after all. It was a pivotal trip for him, and when Ayers returned, he got involved in a food pantry ministry.

His wife has also learned about spiritual growth. Years ago, she was sure she couldn’t set foot in a nursing home again, after often visiting a family member in the last years of her life. Then, she joined a Bible study that urged members to visit someone in a nursing home. Ten years later, she and a friend, and often Brenda Ayers’ dog, visit a facility weekly.

Diane Good, another member of the Be the Gift team, hopes contributing to the half-dozen nominated projects will help more in the church get involved and discover that joy of giving.

The items for Be the Gift help were written on tags — more than 130 of them — and hung on Christmas trees near the entrance of the church, 9450 N. County Road 200W. A person taking a tag agreed to buy that item. Every single tag was taken, Good said, including the “most important” tags to pray, as some of those being helped requested prayer for their families.

Good said often a person’s hard times, such as Brenda dealing with her family member’s passing, create empathy and become an opportunity to reach out to others.

“There’s someone in this church who’s been in the seat of each of these recipients,” Good said.

And in that giving of oneself, receiving happens, too.

“In touching lives, we get so much more in return,” Good said. “It’s the craziest thing, but the Bible says it will happen.”

'Gifts' through the years

This is the sixth Be the Gift at Fortville Christian Church.

Each year the Christmas project is meant to remember Jesus leaving his place in Heaven and coming to earth, said lead pastor Rob Rigsbee: “Why don’t we leave our place and go and be the gift?”

In 2011 and 2012, the church presented a Christmas musical — but instead of performing it at the church, members took it on the road to a nursing facility.

In 2013, the church worked with Hancock Hope House and a food pantry.

In 2014, members were urged to note a need on their own, work to meet it, and share their stories with each other.

Last year, Be the Gift reached out to youth in an alternative school and organized a Christmas party.

This year, the congregation nominated needs till Thanksgiving. People picked a tag off a tree, bought the item and brought it in by Dec. 18. Recipients picked up the gifts Dec. 21.

Be the Gift 2016 isn’t over yet, though. A Jan. 21 banquet will recognize police officers, firefighters and town council members. Indianapolis Colts chaplain Ken Johnson will speak, and church members will decorate tables, serve food and clean up.

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Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at asmith@greenfieldreporter.com