A Columbus pastor and his family lost about $11,000 in cash and valuables to thieves Sunday while he preached a Christmas message about Jesus’ giving nature.

The thieves who broke into the Skyview Estates home of Justin White, First Christian Church senior minister, and his family emptied the coin bank of 8-year-old Lila White, except for one quarter.

However, they left untouched wrapped gifts under the family’s Christmas tree inside their northeast-side home on Sunset Drive.

In the wake of that burglary, White said his family is forgiving and feels blessed.

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They have received an outpouring of kindness and calls from church members and others wanting to help them — and some already have done so.

Two Columbus police officers — friends of the Whites who asked not to be identified — replaced the family’s stolen living room television Sunday evening with a new one.

And two neighbor children brought savings from their own piggy banks to begin replenishing Lila White’s coin bank Sunday evening.

“We already have prayed as a family for the people who did this,” said White, whose 38th birthday is today. “Really, they are the ones who are truly struggling.

“If a person can go so far as to steal the coins in a little girl’s piggy bank, then you’ve got to figure they’re somehow really hurting.”

Thieves also stole a dollar bill, playfully affixed with a Santa sticker over George Washington’s face, sent to Lila White by relatives. The thieves took off the sticker but kept the dollar bill.

The family of five is grateful that intruders did not harm Oliver, their energetic, 3-year-old Yorkie who barks loudly at visitors. He was home while the family was at church, and was free to roam inside.

Thieves also stole jewelry with substantial personal meaning, Xbox consoles and games, computers, secondary television sets and more.

But the clergyman said his family’s faith is intact, even though they have struggled with feeling violated.

“I’ve had an awful lot of grace extended to me in my life,” the pastor said. “So that enables me to extend that same grace to others.

“And I want people to know the good side of this story — that light overcomes darkness.”

The pastor said he first noticed something was wrong when he returned from church about noon, 3½ hours after they left the house Sunday morning. The garage door was closed, but the house door inside the garage was ajar, he said.

Then, 14-year-old son Leyton noticed the living room television was gone, and items from downstairs were missing, too.

Nancy Lewis, First Christian’s Connections minister, said the Whites have had a substantial impact since they arrived six years ago from Plainfield, where Justin White served on the ministry staff at Plainfield Christian Church. She has been helping people navigate how best to show love and support for the family since the incident.

“Justin is fond of saying that we are not a perfect church,” Lewis said. “And we’re not perfect people.

“But we know a perfect God. And that’s how he and (wife) Michelle live. They lead with grace.

“And that sense of being genuine creates a climate of love that removes judgment.”

About the Whites

Justin and Michelle White moved from Plainfield to Columbus about six years ago when he accepted the position of senior minister at First Christian Church, built in 1942 at 531 Fifth St. The Whites have three children — Leyton, 14; Lance, 11; and Lila, 8.

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“If a person can go so far as to steal the coins in a little girl’s piggy bank, then you’ve got to figure they’re somehow really hurting.”

— Justin White, senior minister at First Christian Church

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.