Becky Uehling | NLT

Allahna Finch, 5, from Paxton snuggles one of the bears at New Life Lutheran.

Church shows Christ’s love through the simple gift of a teddy bear

The Paxton New Life Lutheran Church is in many ways an unconventional church, so it is no surprise that they have an approach to evangelism that is unique. 

The little Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), located at 610 US-30 in Paxton, Neb., is housed in a small, metal building, what once was a feed store, and has been in existence since August 2011 with a congregation of 60 people. 

As one takes part in the church’s worship service, it is hard not to notice a peculiar thing about what is sitting around the parishioners. In each row, there are teddy bears occupying different seats. Big ones and small ones in all different colors and shapes, soaking up the love and worship of the congregation. Children grab the bears and have them sit with them. Older folks take them and pray over them. All of this is preparing the bears for their future assignments of being used to comfort and proclaim God’s love to someone. 

Two years ago, church member Linda Drews was reading Thrivent magazine when an article caught her eye. A church in Indiana had implemented a simple program that involved teddy bears. The church would gather teddy bears, clean them up, love on them, pray over them, and with the Holy Spirit’s lead, give them to someone in need. 

Linda was intrigued by the program and approached her church’s board of directors who agreed to start a similar program in Paxton. 

For Linda, the program has been a labor of  love. Not only for those who will receive the bears, but for the bears themselves. Going to garage sales and thrift stores, Linda seeks out gently used bears that nobody wants anymore, takes them home, cleans them up, and puts them into “training” at the church, while they wait for such a time that they will be given to someone in need. 

Drews said that over the past two years, she estimates around 100 bears have been gifted to those in need, and the needs vary. The bears have gone to children, as well as older adults and everyone in between who are suffering a loss of a loved one, who are facing the battle of a disease, who have lost their homes to natural disasters, who are suffering in painful family situations. Each member of the congregation are welcome to take a bear to give as they see there is a need. 

On each bear, there is a tag placed by the church. The tag reads, “This bear has been among the congregation of Paxton New Life Lutheran Church. It has heard the Word read, prayers prayed, Bible studied, praises sung and sermons preached. It has been loved by every member of Paxton New Life and soaked in God’s Love. Now it comes to you with blessings of worship and Love.”

Drews says that such a simple program, run by such a small congregation, has made a big impact on others, and she feels every congregation should implement a similar program. 

“This impacts people. I know because I have heard from those who have received the bears and they tell me what the bears have meant to them,” She said. “They are a silent witness of God’s love and our congregation’s love for that person.”

Drews recalled one instance where an elderly woman who had received a bear as a comfort in her last days of life, even requested the bear be buried with her because she had received much comfort from it. 

Drews said that she would be happy to help other congregations start a similar program and encourages people to contact her if they have questions about how to start the program. Drews email is lindadrews86@yahoo.com and her phone number is 308-289-3442.