The book of Nehemiah is a great story. A rather ordinary guy has a burden for what is ultimately God's burden, and - despite incredible opposition - accomplishes great things as he leads the effort to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem in 52 days! So often, we read these stories and think... why don't great things like this happen is modern times? A better question might be, are they happening, and we're just missing them?
This week, we enter our third month of serving the hungry and homeless in the old Bi-Lo parking lot in downtown Camden. A lot has happened in these first eight weeks. We've grown, we've learned a lot, and we've been able to begin thinking about "what's next?" in the realm of this ministry. But... let's back up a bit... What am I talk about, and how did it get started?
In March 2013, The River Church did a series on Nehemiah entitled "52 Days" (you can listen to it here.") A young lady came up after the service and said she had found her burden, and that she felt called to feed the hungry and homeless in Kershaw County. I remember thinking "...this lady can't really impact the problem, and she's really not in a position (financially) to do anything about it." I also remember thinking... "I know how this works...she'll be back in a month, wanting to know what WE (the church) had done about HER problem..."
A few weeks passed, and - sure enough - she started towards me after church. I remember thinking, "Here she comes... wanting to know what we've done..." Instead though, she began to tell me this incredible story! On her own, she decided to purchase and cook rice and beans, and take them to the old Bi-Lo building to feed whoever showed up. No plan. No committee. Just someone who saw a need, married it up with God's burden (to care for the less fortunate), and answered it. She fed 17 people that first day!
Other people had ideas. Ideas that they carried with them for years. Ideas for a place. Ideas to feed hungry and homeless people. Ideas to get churches to work together. And we had incredible cooks with a desire to make lots of food for people! It all began to come together.
Fast forward to where we are today. That initial "feeding" has grown to a group of people from multiple churches feeding around 60-80 people on Sunday afternoons at 5pm in the old Bi-Lo parking lot. Some of those involved don't attend church. We don't attend the same church. In fact - we're not even all the same denomination! But - we've all come together to meet the needs of the community and to answer the call that Christ had to "love your neighbor."
Why Sunday afternoon? Because it's the ONE day in Kershaw County that the hungry and homeless cannot get a hot meal. The other six days are provided for by our friends at Food for the Soul and Mount Moriah Baptist Church. We've also found out that friends at God's Hand's Beyond Our Wall's ministry, a group of churches that provides a bag lunch on Sunday at Boykin Park, share our vision for providing a hot meal, and that four times a year (on the "fifth Sunday" months), we will be joining with them at a location to be determined for a celebration and feeding for the hungry and homeless! Our goal has NEVER been to compete. In fact, we've said - the day that Food for the Soul feeds on Sunday is the day we find another problem to solve!
So what's next? Someone from our own church asked me "If other churches 'sign up' to handle a week each month at the old Bi-Lo, then what will those of us from The River do?" It's a great reminder that this was, and never will be, about US! There are communities spread all over Kershaw County that can't get to the Bi-Lo building in Camden. What about Elgin? Lugoff? Cassatt? Kershaw? Bethune? Our goal was never to find something for us to go - but to ensure that every hungry person in Kershaw County had access to a hot meal seven days a week. Not just in Camden. Or Lugoff. Or Elgin. In ALL of Kershaw County. This is simply the first step, and there's much work to do!
You may have already begun seeing the bright yellow LoveServeGive t-shirts around town. Where do they fit into all of this? Remember - it's never been about us. It's never been about me, and it's never been about The River Church. The t-shirts are simply a way to say "it's not about me. It's about Him, and what He wants." Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all we've got and the second is to love others the same way! There is no better way to show this than to follow the example that Jesus set by serving others and giving completely of Himself. It's not simply about feeding the hungry or serving the homeless. It's about showing people who Christ was. Not just inviting them to church. Not just telling them about Jesus. Both are important, but people need to see who Jesus is, too. We do that when we Love. Serve. Give.
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." - Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)