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McDowell Family Heart for the House

“For our Heart for the House 2018, we believed for greater financial stability for our family. What we found was that God showed us what he can do, and went beyond what we asked and gave us what we really needed. 

When we envisioned what greater financial stability would mean for us when we sowed into Heart for the House last year, we each had a pretty concrete idea of what that would look like. At that time, Megan owned her own business and I worked as an officer. We both “knew” that there would be growth in Megan’s business and that I would likely have opportunities for advancement or overtime. Fast forward to the end of 2018, and we were still very much in the same place as we were after Heart for the House. Megan’s business was bringing in the same as it was before and I had made an attempt to pick up off-duty work that just never seemed to work out, no matter how many times I tried. On our own, we weren’t able to make any huge change and felt stuck. 

In the fall of 2018, one message really hit a chord with us, about a true tithe. Since coming to Mercy City on week one 4 years ago, we had always known how important it was to give, but we didn’t always focus on the number. Some weeks, there would be a discussion of what bills were due before our giving came out, rather than giving our tithe before any of those other expenses. Since Fall 2018, we became much more intentional about our first and best 10% going to our tithe. Within a matter of weeks, Megan was approached about a job opportunity, during a time she wasn’t looking for any new job, that would offer us an immediate improvement in our finances. We took time to pray about the opportunity and to make sure that it was something we were meant to pursue, as when we had tried to just make things happen for ourselves in the past, we ended up in the same place as always. After hearing a clear yes from God, Megan took the job. Less than two weeks after, I was contacted about some part-time work, doing something I enjoyed doing before my current job. This part-time work would give me the opportunity to make my own schedule around my current job and other obligations. Again, knowing it was the right decision, I took that opportunity. In such a short time period, after truly giving our first and best 10% to our tithe, we saw immediate change and opportunities that fell into our laps. We could never have made this happen on our own. Within a year, we went from a place where we were always sort of stuck in the same financial position to a place where we are now able to start paying off debts that we have carried around since we got married almost 10 years ago. 

Over the last year, there was more impacted than just our finances. Neither of us have never been big on getting too invested in community and preferring to keep more to ourselves, comfortable with the friends we had long ago and not venturing too far into new relationships. Within the first couple of months after Heart for the House last year, we started being much more intentional about our relationships with other people – spending time with friends one-on-one, as couples, and as families with our children. What we found when we were willing to open ourselves up to these new friendships, were friendships unlike we had ever experienced before. We have found over the last year that, when we were willing to open ourselves up and intentionally pursue relationships, that we would find ourselves in a strong, close community of families that are willing to do anything for one another. 

Now, going into Heart for the House 2019, one of our previous barriers and sources of stress has been greatly reduced, and we are now surrounded by a close community. We both know that we have come out of one season and are about to move into the next, and it was no accident that God helped us build this community to walk into the next season with, because He’s got something big planned and we are believing for even greater things this coming year.”

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.