When Santa came to visit the 5-year-old students at Magnolia Elementary School 17 years ago, a young Evelyn Bower made a startling claim to her peers.
“That’s my dad! Santa’s not real.”
Evelyn, senior intercultural studies major, now jokes about her behavior in grade school.
Not many people know but Evelyn’s father has been consistently playing the role of the Mission Inn’s Santa Claus for the past six years.
Yet, his job of playing Santa Claus is much more than posing for pictures and handing out candy canes. He has seen his portrayal of St. Nick develop into much more of a ministry.
Patrick, 60, an associate pastor at Calvary Chapel the Brook, has used his role as Santa to bring a different kind of hope.
“I see my dad using Santa as ministry to reach people,” Evelyn said. “In a way, people are comfortable and they don’t realize it.”
Patrick said he can see the tangibility of God’s love through the conversations he has.
“I sincerely feel like I am the hand of God extended to love and touch people who are looking for help and don’t know where to look,” Patrick said.
“I direct them to the Lord; I speak biblical truth without giving them the address. The truth is still the truth without a Bible verse.”
Through his years of being a pastor and a chaplain at various hospices, Patrick uses his knowledge of Bible stories to relate to the trials of the people he encounters.
“In a way, Santa is the hope that people think, but then my dad is able to share, ‘No Jesus is the real hope and the real meaning of Christmas,’” Evelyn said.
Because of her upbringing, it was a strange realization for Evelyn that her dad would be playing the role of Santa.
“I never grew up believing in Santa Claus,” Evelyn said. “It’s weird because when I was little, my parents only focused on Jesus.”
But as the years have passed, the ministry Patrick as a part of has grown, leaving an impact on Evelyn and their family through the stories he brings home.
“Hearing the stories of countless children saying, ‘Please bring my dad back,’ ‘Help me get my parents back together,’ or ‘We’re too poor to eat’ has really shaped my convictions with working with the poor and broken relationships,” Evelyn said.
Evelyn has developed a passion for working overseas and helping the homeless. She has been inspired to create ministry through day to- day relationships, just as her dad has.
“It shows me that I can do that in my workplace and just wherever I’m at,” Evelyn said. “It doesn’t have to be at a church where we fold our hands and close our eyes, it can be wherever someone needs prayer.”
The stories Santa that brings home have truly impacted the Bower family. Patrick is trying to make a devotional book of the stories he hears along with what the Bible says for those situations.
“You just have to stop and listen to people sometimes and let them tell their story,” Evelyn said.