ALBANY -- The handmade letters expressed heartfelt Christian love.
About 240 letters from Sherwood Christian Academy's students in K4 through fifth-grade recently sent Christmas greetings and encouragement to American soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The school-wide participation was spawned by Grandparents Club Chairperson Faye Sharber, who asked Sherwood Christian elementary Principal Jill Johnson about having students write letters to soldiers. Sharber's daughter, Cheryl Thompson, teaches fourth-grade at the school and had her class write letters to military personnel the past five years.
"This project was very important to me, personally, as well as to my students," Thompson said. "As an Army brat, I grew up with a love for our country and an appreciation for all of our troops. Every year that I have been at SCA, my class has written letters to our troops. Some have even written back to us. We regularly pray for the soldiers that are serving our country.
"We talked in class about the different sacrifices that they have to make -- leaving family and friends, having uncomfortable surroundings, being away from home and the possible sacrifice of being hurt or even giving their life for others," she continued. "The students all enjoyed writing the letters and very much wanted to encourage those who were fighting for their freedoms and giving of themselves for our country."
The children's letters exhibited concern, authenticity and appreciation. Some featured Christmas drawings the student colored, inspiring Bible verses and a picture of the student.
Casey Gregors' letter illustrated the sincerity of the students' letters:
Thank you for sacrificing so many things to keep us safe. Thank you for also serving our country. I'm nine years old and in fourth grade. I have had many family members go in the army. We are very greatful (sic) for all the things you have done. We are praying for you. Merry Christmas!"
Fifth-grader Ashlyn Wilkerson also penned a strong letter:
Thank you for your willingness to serve to protect our freedom. I have prayed that God will protect you and send you back home safely. This Christmas, I am writing this letter to remind you of Jesus' love for you and that you should always trust in Him to direct your path. He will be with you during good times and bad. Always remember that Jesus loves you and died on the cross for your sins. I am sorry that you cannot be with your family, but thank you for what you have done. I hope you have a blessed Christmas."
Ashlyn, 11, said her class spent about three-four days on the project. She said students wrote the letters, then proofread them and colored them.
"They need to know that people care about them and that Jesus will be with them in good times and bad," Ashlyn said of the soldiers.
Darren Willis, another fifth-grader, had thought about writing to soldiers for weeks.
"I thought it was a good chance to show the soldiers how much we care for them," he said. "I was hoping we could do something like this for awhile, so I just wrote what I was thinking of."
The project gave Tylar Norman an opportunity to cheer up a soldier
who may be struggling like her father did when he served.
"My dad (Tracy) was in the Army when I was a baby, so it was a sad time for him so that's why I like doing this project," the fifth-grader said.
Caleb Thompson's letter featured encouraging Bible verses -- such as John 3:16, Psalms 119:42, John 10:7-11, Proverbs 3:5 and Jeremiah 31:1-3. His granddaddy, Pete Sharber, served in the Vietnam War, his grandpa, Harold Thompson, was in the Korean War and his cousin, Jonathan Siskey, is currently training at Fort Benning.
"It means something to me because I can hear battle cries of lost friends and can picture my granddaddy losing his hearing because of all the shooting," Caleb said. "I enjoy (this project) because I can write a note to them and if they don't know Christ I can share the good news with them."
Faye Sharber didn't initially intend to publicize the students' Christmas letters to soldiers project. But after reading the letters before she mailed them to chaplains in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sharber felt compelled to share some of them with the community.
"I brought them home and began reading the letters and they brought tears to my eyes," she said. "They were so sincere and sweet. I just want to encourage the soldiers. These kids pray for these soldiers every day. They took the time to color (the letters) and came up with the verse. A lot of them said, 'We are praying for you,' and, 'We love you.'"
Sharber's husband, Pete, served nine of his 20 years in the U.S. Army infantry, including two tours in Vietnam in 1965 and 1967.
"There are three reasons I did this project," Sharber said. "One, was to encourage the soldiers; two, was to instill patriotism and gratitude in this generation, and to honor the Lord. This has really been a project of the heart for all the students and teachers. We all pray for soldiers everyday and we are very privileged in this environment to do all those things."