Six-year-old Trimane Lombard jumped on his brand-new bike and took off down Antigua Drive, his grandmother, Bernice Lombard, trailing slowly behind.
“I like it!” he said excitedly before riding out of the Ben Burge Gardere Park and pumping hard on the pedals of his bright-red bike last Saturday morning.
Lombard was one of 100 young boys and girls who got an early Christmas present when they received new bikes purchased by a group of local Christian businessmen.
Dubbed “Operation Hope,” the 100 bikes — red for boys and pink for girls — were distributed at Lockhart Park in Denham Springs, BREC’s Baker Recreation Center, North Street Park and the Gardere park.
They were purchased by the Bethany businessmen’s lunch group, which has almost 1,000 members from several religious denominations. The group, which meets at Bethany South the first Wednesday of the month, donated $5,000 for the bike giveaway.
At each park, some of the businessmen and Bethany associate pastors and volunteers hosted games and snacks and gave away gift cards and frozen turkeys. Hundreds of children and parents heard a brief Gospel message presented by a Bethany pastor before names were called for the bikes.
Hank Henagan, Bethany’s marketplace minister and host of the men’s lunch group, said 57 children and adults prayed to receive Jesus Christ as their savior.
“The businessmen all know that we make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give, and these men are all givers,” Henagan said. “Christ came to give us life, and we thank him for that gift and we want to give, from how he’s blessed us in 2015, to needy families a gift of hope.”
“Thank you,” Kamryn Jones, 5, said with a big, sweet smile to Henagan as he presented a new pink bike to her and her mother, Kimberly Stewart, of Baker, at the Gardere park event.
Before the bikes were given out at Gardere, where about 100 people gathered, event hosts Rick Edmonds and his son Zach Edmonds, both associate pastors at Bethany, drew door prize tickets from a box.
When they called Bernice Lombard’s ticket number for a frozen turkey, she broke into a broad smile, then began to quietly weep. Now, she said, she had Christmas dinner for her grandson and family members.
“It’s a Christian thing,” said Lombard, as she dried her eyes. “They’re giving Christmas to a lot of children and families that wouldn’t have nothing for a good Christmas. It’s a blessing. I’m happy.”
As Edmonds told the Christmas story, the church’s Hispanic pastor, Gerardo Vargas, translated one sentence at a time into Spanish for about half the families who were Hispanic.
When Edmonds led the crowd in a prayer for salvation, a dozen children and a few adults raised their hands.
At the BREC Baker Recreation Center, more than 150 people came out, said volunteer Angie Bicknell. The highlight was, she said, “we had 11 salvations.”
“I feel blessed and excited. This is the reason for the season,” Bicknell said. “I got to pray with a woman who was going through something and she prayed for salvation!”
Local businessman John Murphey, a longtime member of the businessmen’s lunch, said later that he and the men who sit at his table saw this “as an opportunity to show God’s love to the community and to give back to the community.”