Drew Luethje, a seventh-grader at St. Robert Bellarmine School, arranges figurines from his Nativity set in his family’s Omaha home Dec. 1. MIKE MAY/STAFF

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Omaha teen’s love of Nativity scenes motivates Eagle Scout project

As one enters the Luethje family’s living room – right below the finely decorated Christmas tree – one can’t miss son Drew’s extensive Nativity set that dominates the fireplace hearth.

It’s populated with shepherds, sheep, donkeys, Bethlehem buildings and residents, a little drummer boy, and of course Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. The Wise Men still approach from atop the TV stand.

Thirteen-year-old Drew has loved Nativity sets ever since receiving a Fisher Price set at age 5, then as he grew, building his large collection of Fontanini figurines.

But this year he also went life-size, heading up the first ever living Nativity scene Dec. 5 at St. Joseph Church in Springfield.

Cars were already lined up more than a dozen deep awaiting the 6 p.m. start time to slowly drive past the scene, which included 10 young actors, as well as three donkeys, two sheep and a cow obtained through 4-H clubs in Springfield and Gretna.

In all, the occupants of more than 100 cars viewed the Nativity scene.

St. Joseph parishioners Ted and Sheri Boro were among the early viewers, and were impressed with the effort and planning involved and the commitment of the young actors to stand in the wind and falling temperatures.

“We’re very into Advent and Christmas, and I think the thing that gets me the most is to see the young people get involved with Advent and Christmas,” Ted said.

And presenting the Christmas message to the broader community is important, he said.

“I think we should realize and think about the birth of Christ and why he came to earth for us – to forgive of us of our sins and to help us to be able to get to his kingdom and live in peace and love, and bring the world together.”

AN OPPORTUNITY

The Luethje family are members of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha, and Drew is in the seventh grade at the parish school. But as a frequent helper at the Springfield parish with his grandfather, Drew saw an opportunity there to create a living Nativity scene.

“I’ve talked to people out in Springfield … and they always said they wanted one there,” Drew said, “and nobody really had the time or wanted to give up that much to do a living Nativity, so I said, I’ve always wanted to do one, so why not?”

In the process, he will earn his Eagle Scout rank in the Boy Scouts by completing a project that demonstrates leadership qualities.

And Drew is clearly a leader.

“When he began thinking about his Eagle Scout project, he naturally wanted to do his living Nativity,” his mother, Jen, said in an interview before the event.

“He stood up to a lot of pressure from people saying it was too much work, too big a project, and has never been done as an Eagle Scout project, but he is making it happen.”

“Many felt that it was too short a timeframe to accomplish this big project,” Jen said, “but he didn’t let that deter him.”

Drew said the hardest part was probably getting the actors.

Ten volunteers were needed for each of two one-hour shifts, plus several costumed “shepherds” to direct traffic.

Volunteers also were needed for set-up, clean-up, hospitality and assisting with costumes.

Recruiting included talking to members of the St. Joseph Knights of Columbus council, Ladies Guild and youth group. When more volunteers were still needed, Drew turned to his Boy Scout troop, 4-H club members and friends at school.

He even spoke at a Springfield City Council meeting to obtain permission to advertise with a large banner on Main Street.

FAITH AND GIVING

But for Drew, this project was about more than demonstrating leadership – it was about faith and giving.

“I chose doing a living Nativity because I think it connects with my faith,” Drew said. “Especially in the Scriptures, Jesus always says he really wants us to be like him. And I think one way we can do that is through giving.”

“Drew is a religious child, and he lives it, he doesn’t just talk about it,” Jen said. “He is the most kind-hearted kid you will ever meet. He is very good at thinking of others before himself.”

When he encountered planning, recruiting and fundraising obstacles, the Luethjes turned to God in prayer for help in making the project happen.

“When he was anxious about it not working out, we would just pray and be secure in his faith that it would all work out,” Jen said.

“He is so excited to be able to provide this opportunity to the Springfield community to experience the true reason for the season in their own town,” she said.

Father Scott Hastings, parish administrator and archdiocesan vicar for clergy, said Drew “is clearly interested in the flourishing of his community and is proud to be working toward his Eagle Scout, and he’s proud to combine that with his faith, and that’s something we can all get behind.”