Share Your Story

In an apparent twist of irony, students and their family members lined N. 46th Street two by two as they entered Huntington Elementary School’s Oct. 26 Trunk or Treat event, which — you guessed it — included Noah’s Ark.

The event hosted by Mercy City Church featured more than 20 decorated trunks with costumed characters from movies such as Sing, Stars Wars, Shrek, Trolls and Jurassic World.

The trunk that really caught eventgoers’ attention though wasn’t really a trunk at all. It was Joe and Shanna Jones’ replica of the Biblical boat — topped with a brood of Beanie Babies that Shanna had inherited after her father’s death in 2015.

The couple had been holding onto the stuffed animals — which Shanna’s dad, Larry Gagner, collected for more than a decade — as they were uncertain whether to sell or save them.

However, when they heard their new church was going to host an event for elementary school children, they knew what they wanted to do with them — give them away.

“We handed out at least 1,000 Beanie Babies that night; it was the perfect way to serve and serve my dad’s memory at the same time,” Shanna said. “Although the kids didn’t know where they came from, we did. We knew how much fun my dad would’ve had making all those kids happy, even if it was for just a few minutes.”

When the last two toys were given away, the Joneses, along with her sister, Karin Keller, and nephew, Jacob Jesperson, shed some tears. But Joe and Shanna received words of comfort and encouragement from members of their second family at Mercy City Church

Fitting to this particular story, the Joneses’ introduction to this church wasn’t inside either of its two Lincoln locations. It was at a similar event for Saratoga Elementary called Party in the Park. The couple attended at the invitation of their neighbors, Seth and Marcelina Cobb.

“We went with the intention of only going once,” said Shanna, who noted they went on to visit Mercy City’s Dawes Middle School campus July 15 when staff member Derek Geist gave a message titled, “What Must I Do?”

Asking more about his message, along with other questions, Shanna’s interactions with Geist continued, and she accepted Jesus as her Savior Sept. 9. She has since seen changes both big and small in her life.

“Putting our trust in Jesus has made our commitment to each other stronger than ever,” said Shanna of their once rocky marital relationship.

She noted that while she had heard of God before, she had never been a churchgoer — until now.

“The connections we’ve made with the people at Mercy City have been absolutely amazing,” she said. “We felt like we were with family before we even got through the front doors.

“And we cannot say enough about our City Group. They’re all truly amazing people.”

The Cobbs, who worked with the Huntington’s staff to organize the event, noted that more than 100 church members, including the Joneses, volunteered at the Friday night event and gave away hot dogs, hot chocolate and candy — lots and lots of candy.

The church estimates that more than 1,000 people attended this year’s event, which the Joneses can attest to as they gave away equal numbers of toys. This is the second year that Mercy City has helped host the event.