April 25, 2007

United by Service

2007 1512 page28 cap have always believed in prayer, and that God hears and answers our petitions. However, His answers don’t always come as quickly and directly as they did recently on behalf of a small group of volunteers at our local community center.
Our small church in southern Ohio is located in what naturalists refer to as the “edge of Appalachia.” Our county is rural, dotted with small family farms and an occasional sawmill. Our largest town, the county seat, has a population of fewer than 3,000. The rolling hills, streams, forests, prairie outcroppings, Appalachian wildflowers and shrubs, and the Ohio River on the southern end make our tiny spot on the planet special indeed. The area, however, is plagued with high unemployment and poverty.
A couple of years ago we began a committed effort to start a ministry for our community. Our outreach concentrates on a food pantry and distribution of used clothing and household items. We serve between 150 to 200 families per month (about 250 to 500 individuals). We open two days a week, operate solely on donations, and are staffed entirely by volunteers.
We have had the usual growing pains expected of any group of novices beginning a new work. We have staff meetings on Tuesday mornings before opening the center, in which we attempt to improve our service, solve problems, plan, and pray together.

One Cold Morning

2007 1512 page28One cold March morning we had gathered, and were attempting to address some complaints and dissatisfactions that had developed among some volunteers. One man remarked half in jest, “Do women ever work together harmoniously?” We discussed the problems at length, and an appeal was made for more unity and cooperation in our work together.

Folks were lining up outside, and it was almost time to open our doors. Our pastor asked who would pray. Unprepared, I prayed from the heart that we might have the unity and love that Christ had implored for His followers in John 17, that we might be known by the way we love one another. Impulsively I ended with the words, “Lord, send us someone today we can comfort and encourage.”
We hurried to our work stations, and the doors were opened. About five minutes later the receptionist whispered to me, “Your prayer has been answered.” My reaction was confused as I had dismissed the words I had prayed a few moments before and gone on to what seemed like more practical matters.
Shortly, the director called me into his office. A neat, dark-haired young woman sat there, weeping quietly. She had been discovered by one of our volunteers outside our doors, reading the sign, “Community Care Center.” Could she find help? she wanted to know. One volunteer assured her that we would help her if at all possible.

Questions for Reflection

1. What are some barriers to unity in your local church or outreach ministry? Be honest.

2. What spiritual principles go into effect when groups and individuals focus on serving

3. What is the effect on the community from your congregation’s outreach ministries? What might your community conclude about Seventh-day Adventists based on your activities? 

Of all the outreach options available, to which one or two is your congregation best suited? Are you doing them?

She appeared to have nothing but the clothing she wore. She was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with her first child, had not seen her parents for five months, and was homeless. She had lived with a family in our small town, had become frightened, and fled that morning not knowing where to go or what to do.

She asked for only two things: (1) to make a phone call to her mother who lived in a city about four hours away, and (2) she needed a safe haven until her parents could come for her. I was asked to care for her and her needs.
After a tearful call home—both she and her mother cried—and directions had been given, we assured her she could remain at the center for as long as necessary.
We spent the morning in the kitchen. She had not eaten that morning, so we found a breakfast sandwich, and other volunteers offered food and drink. She was hungry and thirsty and finally said apologetically, “I am eating for two!” We talked, and her tears began to dry. She helped me prepare lunch for the staff and became friendly with our volunteers who, touched by her need, provided not only for her physical needs but also offered comfort and encouragement.
She had questions about some of the physical changes taking place in her body at this stage of pregnancy. Our wise volunteers were able to offer reassurances. We also promised to pray for her and her child each Tuesday morning and to ask our congregations to pray also. Someone from the clothing room found maternity clothes that she could wear, and another volunteer found infant clothing for her baby.
A Wonderful Change
I saw something wonderful happen that day. Grace and unity fell on our little volunteer group. This young woman became the focus of the love and unity for which we had prayed. We had been encouraged and comforted as we offered those gifts. It was a profound experience, one we will not soon forget. It renewed our commitment to our work.
That afternoon we witnessed a glad reunion of parents and daughter. Her parents, in gratitude, gave a donation to our center. I doubt they will ever know how much the encounter meant to us.
We are still the same imperfect staff we had always been: stepping out in faith, stumbling, working to improve, attempting to serve. Yet we were blessed beyond measure by allowing Christ’s concern for others to be reflected in us.
Clara L. Smith lives in Manchester, Ohio, and attends the Seventh-day Adventist church there.