PART IV – Night of Hope

JEFF BURNETT, Pastor, First Baptist Church – Hurst (1991-Present):

“When Scott proposed the concept of Night of Hope — Night of Wonder, I think, originally, and then Night of Hope — I thought ‘there is no way we’re going to be able to get away with doing this.’”

DR GENE BUINGER, Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD Superintendent (1999-2013): 

“Scott, I believe, was the first person to talk to me about wanting to do this. Was it possible to do it? I said, ‘yeah, we can do this. If we do certain things,’ and that was agreeable to him and to 6 Stones.”

JOHN MEADOR, Pastor, Cross City Church Pastor (2006-Present):

“When we saw Night of Hope begin to unfold, the predecessor to that was a ministry in the church. We brought people from Kids Beach Clubs, after school Bible programs, and we would invite them to the church for a night. They came back for that night where the gifts were given, presented to the kids by the parents here at the church. We brought all the parents in and shared the message of Christ with them here. When Scott went to 6 Stones from First Euless, he began to pitch the idea that, perhaps, there was an open door for us to actually go to the schools.

“We weren’t sure if we could go to the schools before 6 Stones. We knew we could be in the schools for after-school bible programs, but we didn’t know we could come and share the Christmas story and so forth in schools in an event like Night of Hope. It kind of morphed from something we were doing within the walls with the kids from the schools — they would have to come here — to a place where they were going to the schools, the place where they were familiar. We would go there.”

BUINGER: “There was something that had been happening, historically, in the HEB School District for years… Bell Helicopter had been giving an organization — not the school district, but a separate organization called Santa USA — the use of their helicopters. They flew Santa around to every elementary school in the school district. A very daunting task. It took two days. I was an elf most of the time, so I got in and out of that helicopter so many times during that two day period, flying around to the schools… there was a tradition of the community coming in and bringing in Santa. It had been accepted in the Community. In 14 years, I never had a parent complain about Santa USA. No one. Different faiths; it didn’t matter. It was such a wonderful activity. The kids went crazy every year when Santa came and got out of those helicopters. Santa USA had broken the ice. The community could come into the schools; they could craft and fashion something that would be acceptable to people of different faiths and religious backgrounds.”

MEADOR: “The surprise was not only bringing gifts to the kids and give them a great Christmas, but to be able to unabashedly and unhesitantly share the Christmas story with them. To know that they would be familiar with who Christ is, with His birth and why we celebrate Christmas. Why this generous spirit? Why are we generous? Why do we give gifts? They were able to get that… so many different people got to share that story in so many different ways. Those kids are going to be forever changed, just hearing that story and just hearing the love behind the people who gave those gifts.”

Churches and schools fill up with supplies given by those who have plenty to those who have far less.

“We were pleasantly and wonderfully surprised by Dr. Buinger’s openness, and consequently Dr. Chapman’s continuation of that. Those were some of the God surprises. I knew it was bigger than us. I just didn’t know how many different individuals would become engaged in that. So I was pleasantly surprised, season after season, as I would learn about somebody else: some other business leader, some other group, some other school leader, hopping on board. When it’s out of control and yet still making great impact, you know God is the one that’s controlling it.”

ELLEN LOBUE, Licensed Social Worker, HEB ISD (2005 – Present)

“I think when I started out in the district, about 2005, there wasn’t a whole lot of recognition or awareness of some of the needs in the district. The number of homeless students. How to identify these students. The number of students that were maybe hungry at night or didn’t have the school supplies they need. Just didn’t have what they needed to succeed in school. And the demographic in the district was starting to change. I think that there’s been a lot of teaching and a lot of awareness that has happened over the past 15 years since I’ve been in the district.

“I think that first year [with Night of Wonder] was ‘let’s try it with these three schools, let’s work the kinks out, and then we’ll continue to grow it. That’s kind of how we sold it to the counselors and the schools.”

BURNETT: “For me to be able to have the privilege of sharing the true story of Christmas; the coming of Christ as a baby — knowing that everything that we’re doing for kids is in light of the Christchild’s call upon our lives — it is one of the greatest moments, privileges, and honors that I have every year. To stand in front of that large group of parents and tell them that we love them; we love their kids. We’re privileged to be an instrument of help, but more than that being able to tell the greatest story ever told. We see lives changed every year. They’re thrilled at what they can then provide for their children. But they also leave knowing all that God has provided for us through Jesus Christ. It’s one of the best nights of my life.”

Night of Hope gifts are distributed using trash bags to keep children from catching a glimpse of their presents.

LOBUE: “We were asking them to adopt a family, go out, shop for this family, wrap the gifts, get them back up here, put them in a bag, know this is Family 1, child A-B-and-C; the holidays are a really busy time. It can be a financially stressful time for people that are stable financially. To ask them to adopt another family and two or three other kids? I was surprised at the generosity.”

“Scott never had any concerns that there would be enough sponsors to adopt the kids. He just had faith. He just knew; no matter how many kids are there, sponsors will take them. He was right.”

BURNETT: “Scott and Dr. Buinger, the Superintendent at the time — now it’s Steve Chapman — they had such a close relationship. I was getting it from Scott on this side, and I was getting it from Dr. B on this side. Then being on the Board and being a local pastor, it just all came together. They always were seeking input and wanted to know what we thought and continued to dream with us. But man, we were just trying to keep up. Rather than get left behind, we were just trying to keep up with everything that Scott and Dr. B and Steve Chapman were trying to do. It just continues to evolve and expand and amaze me.”

LOBUE: “For the kids to be able to make a little wish list and get something — because the majority of the time, these are their Christmas gifts… without this, there might not be anything under the tree for these kiddos — for them to make a little wish list and actually get something on that wish list? It’s personal. It’s a big deal.”

Families wait to check in during a Night of Hope party at Bellaire Elementary. (Photo from the 6 Stones Archive)

“You have to protect the anonymity of that child and that family… we had to figure out how to code the kids when they did their wish list so the family shopping for them wouldn’t say ‘oh, that’s the kid you play soccer with…’ we had to be careful about protecting our students and families. There was a lot more to it than I think we thought about.”

BURNETT: “The practical things provided — Christmas for kids and things for families that they wouldn’t otherwise have — is great. But when we started out, we were helping three elementary schools. A total of 200 kids. I’m pretty sure that every year, Bellaire by itself has well in excess of 200 kids that we’re helping. On those nights, Night of Hope, we’ve had to — because it’s so large the school simply could not handle all the parents and all the kids — they all come to the church at this point.”

BUINGER: “After the first Night of Hope, I asked for feedback from the elementary school principals. Did we have any families that were upset? And everyone said ‘No, it went great. It was wonderful. We had families from different backgrounds that came and felt welcomed.’ It was never a situation where I had misgivings. I had concern prior to that first night, the first time it was carried out. But not after that.”

A volunteer helps children at her table with a craft designed to entertain them while their parents receive donations in a separate room. Photo from the 6 Stones archives.

LOBUE: “I don’t think 6 Stones has ever thought ‘well, maybe that can’t happen.’ I think you guys just go ‘ok, we’ll make it happen.’ And then we’d just figure out the logistics at some point during the planning process. I think a lot of organizations are too afraid of the logistics to ever get anything happening. Sometimes, you’ve just got to go ahead and take that risk.”

“I can’t say that I saw [the growth of Night of Hope] coming, but I can say that with Scott’s energy and persuasive personality, it didn’t surprise me. Scott certainly had a passion for this program and for these families. And boundless energy… If he said it was going to happen, it was going to happen. Maybe [I didn’t have] confidence that first year. But as it grew, [it became]: ‘he’s going to make it happen. I don’t know how, but he’s going to make it happen.’”



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