FROM THE STATES: Fla., Ga., Texas evangelism/missions news; 'The goal is to build a personal relationship with them -- not just give them a bag of food'
Today's From the States features items from:
Florida Baptist Witness
The Christian Index (Georgia)
Southern Baptist TEXAN
Fla. Churches use food pantries
to ease hunger and share Gospel
By Keila Diaz
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) -- In Florida, one in six people struggles with at least one of the following: having access to enough healthy food for every family member, having limited or uncertain availability to nutritionally adequate foods, or needing to make trade-offs between basic needs -- like housing or health care -- and food purchases.
That statistic, by Feeding America, a network of food banks and food pantries across the nation, may be surprising to some, given that hunger is not a topic often associated with first world countries such as the United States.
The good news is that for years many Florida Baptists have been taking steps to help the hungry or those with "food security" issues in their communities through food pantry ministries. The churches interviewed for this story vary tremendously in size, showing that any church can start a food pantry ministry.
Behind the neon signs and flashy cars that make Miami Beach so photo worthy are homeless men and women who depend on food pantry ministries like the one by Iglesia Bautista Poder de Dios.
The church, pastored by Victor Palacios, helps feed 800 to 1,000 hungry people per month. He describes the people Poder de Dios helps as diverse.
"Many are homeless," Palacios said. "But many others are senior citizens whose food stamps are not enough to buy what they need to survive, families with young children, and many immigrants who have not been able to settle into the country."
The pantry, which is located on the second floor of the church building and is open on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, is stocked with food from Farm Share, a food bank that works with local farmers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Every month, says Palacios, Farm Share delivers a U-Haul truck full of food to stock the pantry. The food includes vegetables, canned goods, dried foods, dairy and even meats.
In order to qualify to receive those donations from Farm Share, the church has to show that it is a nonprofit organization and that it has adequate storing capabilities to keep the food, such as freezers for the dairy and meat.
In Fort Myers, McGregor Baptist Church has a similar relationship with the local Harry Chapin food bank.
Cheri Harmon, director of the food pantry ministry at McGregor, says the church receives a delivery from the food bank about once a week that goes to stocking its pantry. Those deliveries also include dairy and meat products.
The 20-year-old ministry grew out of a closet within the church's main building into its own 5,000-square-foot warehouse within the inner city.
Given that so many of the people the pantry helps bike to the facility, the church wanted to make it easier for them to get to the food. Being in the inner city is the best way it can do that.
Harmon says that through McGregor's food pantry the church helps approximately 150 families per week.
In Tallahassee, Fellowship Baptist Church is also helping the hungry in its community through a food pantry ministry that is stocked entirely by donations from church members and area residents who also want to take part.
Administrative Assistant Martha Thompson says the pantry operates during the church's office hours, and the responsibility of distributing the bags of goods falls between the receptionist and maintenance personnel.
Donations to the pantry come in the form of canned goods and dried foods, and sometimes the church also can provide personal hygiene items.
"If we can help them with the canned and dried items then that frees them up to buy the perishable items like milk and cheese," said Thompson.
Because Fellowship Baptist's food pantry is smaller and is sometimes not fully stocked, Thompson encourages people to call ahead to make sure the church can help them.
The names of the families and individuals who seek help from these church-run food pantries are put into a system to which all food pantries have access called Charity Tracker, says Thompson.
The system allows churches to check whether the person or family has a chronic need. If they already have sought help somewhere else, it's a way to remain accountable to the agencies providing the pantry with food and to avoid abuse of the system.
In order for those in need to receive help from the food pantries they must meet certain income requirements set by the government.
But even when they don't meet those requirements some churches have found alternate ways to help them.
McGregor, for example, has two kinds of bags. One type bag is stuffed with food from the Harry Chapin food bank, and another is filled only with items donated to the church or purchased by the church. That allows the church to be able to help needy families and individuals who might not meet government criteria but who meet McGregor's criteria.
The goal of these ministries is to fill a physical need in the community so they have a door to sharing the Gospel.
"The goal is to build a personal relationship with them -- not just give them a bag of food," says Harmon.
Palacios says that many times the people who come to their food pantry are just looking for something to eat; they don't want to hear about the Gospel.
He has found, however, that by simply talking to the people who come to the church for help and getting to know them that makes them more receptive to hearing about Jesus. He said that a few of the people who receive assistance from the food pantry also attend Sunday worship.
Volunteers at McGregor will ask the families and individuals they help if they are open to a conversation about God, and that way they don't push the Gospel on someone who is not ready to have that kind of conversation.
For the most part, church-run food pantry ministries are totally volunteered based. Those interviewed for this story said that finding people to volunteer their time is not hard because it's a very rewarding ministry.
The best way to recruit volunteers, Harmon finds, is to let current volunteers share their experiences serving with the ministry.
With an estimated 3,227,600 food insecure individuals in Florida, and even more who have yet to hear the Gospel, it's easy to see how food pantry ministries can be a tool for missions and evangelism.
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Keila Diaz is a reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness.
North Ga. ministry
feeds hungry since 2003
By Mickey Noah
CUMMING, Ga. (The Christian Index) -- There's Hope for the Hungry -- a 13-year-old, mobile food ministry -- is looking for a few new churches with which to partner. No previous experience required, just a love for lost and hungry people.
"We are looking to expand the ministry to new locations throughout North Georgia," said Michael Brown, who with Scott Phillips, co-directs There's Hope for the Hungry.
"We are looking for churches that have a heart for the lost, hurting and hungry in their communities," Brown said, "and the desire to launch or enhance a food ministry that will make a difference in the lives of North Georgians."
Brown knows many Georgia Baptist and other denominational churches already run food pantries and ministries, but may lack the physical assets, experience, manpower and economies of scale to be as effective as possible.
The There's Hope for the Hungry ministry includes an 8,000-square-foot warehouse in Cumming, where canned and packaged food items are stored, inventoried and distributed each week via two diesel trucks hauling 28-foot trailers.
About 125 volunteers serve the ministry. Some 50 are counselors who share the Gospel, field prayer requests and distribute food at one of 31 participating churches/locations in North Georgia from Monday to Thursday. Yet others work at the ministry warehouse in Cumming -- packing, stacking and praying over the boxes of food that will be distributed during the month.
Solely funded by donations
There's Hope for the Hungry is funded solely by financial donations to the ministry. Although some food is donated, most of the food distributed is purchased through the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Brown said $20 will feed six families because of the operation's efficiency and economies of scale.
Since the ministry was launched in February 2003, it has fed more than 712,000 people, including 267,000 families; some 191,000 children; and more than 102,000 senior adults. The ministry has distributed 5.88 million pounds of food. More importantly, There's Hope for the Hungry has recorded more than 12,500 professions of faith in Jesus Christ over the last 13 years, according to Brown.
Currently, 31 locations are being served: Acworth, Baldwin, Blairsville, Blue Ridge, Bowman, Braselton, Buford, Canton, Carnesville, Chatsworth, Clarksville, Cobb County, Colbert, Comer, Cumming, Dahlonega, Dallas, Dalton, Douglasville, Homer, Hull, LaFayette, Marietta, Mineral Bluff, Paulding County, Royston, Suches, Summerville, Talking Rock, Temple and Winder.
One participating church is Bear Creek First Baptist Church in Winder. Johnny Wright is the church's bi-vocational pastor and his wife Deborah coordinates There's Hope for the Hungry locally, working with Brown and Phillips.
With an almost new facility located atop a hill overlooking U.S. 82 in Winder, Bear Creek First Baptist, a member of the Georgia Baptist Convention's Mulberry Association, began as a small mission church in Auburn, Ga., in 1991. Wright has been its one and only pastor. When Wright's not pastoring, he's a chicken/cattle farmer, living about a mile from the church on his family's fifth-generation farm. Married for 43 years, the Wrights have two grown daughters and four grandchildren.
"When we were a little mission church at a local mobile home park, at Thanksgiving and Christmas we would cook hundreds of meals, package them in Styrofoam containers and deliver them to needy people in the trailer park," recalled Deborah. "But we just couldn't handle it. We realized there was so much more to do.
1,000 professions of faith
"Now we can feed on a much larger scale," she said. "If There's Hope for the Hungry wasn't there, we couldn't do what we do now. Also, we've had 1,000 professions of faith through the There's Hope for the Hungry ministry and have given away more than 477,000 pounds of food over the years," said Deborah, adding that about 100 people show up when the ministry comes to the church on the first Tuesday of every month.
"Deborah is the one who really works with There's Hope for the Hungry because I can't be here all the time because of my job," Wright said. "But any church considering a food ministry should first look at this ministry. Their staff is made up of real, genuine people, who really love the Lord."
And Wright said there's another added benefit of working with There's Hope for the Hungry.
"If you want your church members to grow and develop in a ministry that's so vital, I recommend There's Hope for the Hungry. It will rub off on them. Our volunteers really look forward to the ministry team coming to our church every month. They realize they are part of something so much bigger than they are, and bigger than what our one little church could do on its own. It lifts them up. There's no way to be able to see the impact of this ministry this side of the grave," Wright said.
Wright calls the food ministry an ever-growing opportunity, since 42 subdivisions dot the local landscape within five miles of the church. "When you feel God's presence in this food ministry, you know something is going on," Wright said. "You know He's got to be delighted."
As many as 20 professions of faith on Tuesdays
Wife Deborah believes the deeper her church gets into the There's Hope for the Hungry ministry and draws "first-timers" on Tuesdays, the better chance for salvations, adding that on some Tuesdays, they've had as many as 20 professions of faith. "A lot of churches don't have five people saved in a year."
"What we really do is go out and tell others about Jesus Christ," said Brown, who's co-directed the ministry for the last nine years. "That's our real purpose. Even though we are giving people a box of food, people are desperate. They're hungry for food and the truth. We find people who are living out of their cars, vans, tents and even out in the woods. They need God's touch."
Brown said he believes -- because of There's Hope for the Hungry -- fewer children in North Georgia will go to bed hungry tonight.
"My prayer is that when I'm in heaven one day, someone is going to walk up to me, tap me on the shoulder, look at me and ask, 'Do you remember me? If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here.'"
For more information contact: Michael Brown at (678) 455-5511 or (770) 402-7159.
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Mickey Noah writes for the Christian Index.
Texas church experiences
big God in small town
By Amy Malott
LOVELADY, Texas (Southern Baptist TEXAN) -- Approximately 100 miles north of Houston, the small town of Lovelady, Texas, covers only 1.1 square miles of land and boasts a population of 600. Despite its size, God is doing some big things in the life of Antioch Baptist Church.
Tony Wolfe, serving in his first pastorate after a number of years as a music minister in Louisiana and Texas, came to Antioch four years ago and saw immediate growth. In his first year as pastor, the church outgrew its sanctuary and has been meeting in the gym ever since.
Wolfe said at times it feels like a church plant because each Sunday morning a team of people sets up and tears down for the service. Plans are in the works to build a new sanctuary and remodel older facilities to meet the needs of their growing faith community.
In the midst of this numerical growth over the past three years, Sunday morning attendance has grown from 80 to 220, with the church baptizing 140 people -- 55 of those in 2015.
"There is nothing that will do more for the forward momentum of your church than baptizing people nine Sundays in a row," Wolfe said.
Lovelady is located in one of the more economically challenged counties of Texas, with about 21 percent living below the poverty line. Despite this reality and a major economic downturn in January and February of 2015, giving at the church increased during those months by 52 percent. Wolfe attributes this to a mighty work of God in people's lives. Members are eager to give because they are seeing lives changed for the glory of God.
"Whole families are coming to Christ and many others we [Christians] would normally write off," Wolfe said.
Creating a new mission statement is a seemingly small change, but the words "knowing Jesus and making him known through Christ-centered relationships" have become a rallying cry for Antioch members. Rather than develop new and innovative programming, staff encourage church members to build relationships with Christians and non-Christians as the most important way to disciple and evangelize. This simple, biblical approach is paying off in dividends in this small town.
"When it comes to church growth, there is just no substitute for consistent, faithful Gospel witness," Wolfe said.
Quick to say they are not solely focused on numbers, Wolfe understands that every number or percentage represents a man, woman or child.
"Other than the numbers, it's amazing to see lives transformed, marriages saved and people with nowhere else to turn coming to our church," he said.
Wolfe prays that during their successes and blessings that everyone, himself included, remembers that it is all for the glory of God. Antioch Baptist Church is proof that sometimes big things do come in small packages.
This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Amy Malott is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN.
EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board's call to embrace the world's unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board's call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.