SANFORD — Having Cumnock Baptist Church volunteer the fourth Saturday every month “speaks volumes to us” at Bread of Life Ministries in Sanford.
“It’s a blessing to us,” said Bill Hicks, co-founder of the ministry. “It’s a blessing to the community.”
Each month, the By His Hands team serves at the center, which is located at an old school in Sanford. The volunteers feed about 80 shut-ins and a total of about 250 meals to people in the community.
Bread of Life was in Wanda Branch’s life before she came to Cumnock, and she is thankful the ministry is still a part of her life.
“They always want you to pray with them,” said Branch of the shut-ins. “No matter what little bit they’ve got, they invite you in and hug on you.”
Branch is one of three women who help organize the church’s efforts each month as well as cook. Recently she could be found in the church’s kitchen stirring chicken dumplings in several roasters and proud that her failing eyes tricked her into buying hog jowl rather than bacon, the flavor she used to cook her green beans.
By her side was Judy Kikendall, another person integral to the By His Hands team.
“I just feel like if we can just touch one person …,” said Kikendall. “God wants us to help everybody.”
They face challenges each month with no hot water and no working stoves at the ministry headquarters. They also have to juggle roasters around the building because the breakers won’t handle the load on one or two outlets. The church covers the cost of the meat, but the team relies on church members to supply the food, either the ingredients or by cooking smaller portions and combining them at the church or ministry on their Saturday morning.
One of the most inspiring moments for Kikendall was watching her pastor, Merritt Taylor, feed a young man who has a hard time controlling his hand movements.
Taylor sits with Timmy and lovingly takes his time, talking with and feeding Timmy. Kikendall said Taylor’s actions have stirred other church members to do the same. Hicks also mentioned this service and said he has begun to follow Taylor’s example.
On Cumnock’s recent Saturday effort, Hicks talked with volunteers before the serving began: “You impact people. You don’t know if they’re passing through a hundred times or if they’re just passing through. One thing in common … lives so empty.”
Hicks emphasized the value of people at the ministry and talked about why Jesus came.
“He didn’t come here for the techno stuff … He came here for the people,” he said.
Hicks said Cumnock Baptist Church is a Godsend.
“It gives some of the people hope,” he said. “It’s a blessing to know that you can count on something.”
The ministry also holds a food and clothing pantry on Tuesdays and Thursdays as well as Bible studies and counseling. Bread of Life began by meeting under a tree in 2005. Then they moved to cooking meals and feeding people in an alley. Hicks lives in neighboring Chatham County but used to stay in a boarding house across the street from the ministry.
Ever since he recommitted his life to the Lord, “It’s been on my heart to help people,” he said. “We just couldn’t sit in church and receive all this good news about what God is doing and not share it. I would bust.”
Right now, Bread of Life is Cumnock’s biggest focus, said the pastor.
“Anybody that comes in and wants a meal, we serve them,” said Taylor. “I have a heart for missions and for people to be involved in missions.”
Brenda Lantz came for her third time in February. She has been a member at Cumnock a number of years.
“It’s been a blessing as much to us as it has to the people,” said Lantz. “It’s a good idea even for young people to see.”
She said half the church comes sometimes. The ministry is likely to grow even larger if the economy continues to worsen, Lantz said.
By His Hands stems from a children’s prayer: God is great; God is good, let us thank Him for our food; by His hands we are fed; Give us Lord, our daily bread.
“We didn’t like Cumnock Feeding Team,” Taylor said with a smile, so the church held a contest to name the ministry.
He has been pastor at Cumnock for a little more than two years. It is his first pastorate. When he started he said the church was averaging 18 in Sunday School and about 35 for Sunday morning worship. As of February, Taylor said the numbers have jumped to 40 in Sunday School and 70 for worship.
“It’s nice to see numbers increasing, but I’m really excited about the spiritual growth,” he said.
Cumnock started in 1980 in a small building in front of a chicken plant. The building had no running water. One tradition they’ve maintained is having chili the Wednesday night before Christmas when church members go caroling.
The first sanctuary that was built seated 60 people. They moved to a multi-purpose building, where the church is currently. The sanctuary building was given to a Goldston church who had it moved.
Taylor said they are working on adding Sunday School rooms on the second level of its building.
“God’s given me a vision for a lot more,” said Taylor. “A new sanctuary is just part of it.”
Cumnock is considering helping with a worship service at Bread of Life on Sunday mornings.
The church is adding ministries for seniors and motorcyclists.
Participating in Operation InAsMuch last year helped open some doors in other areas of the community too.
“It’s not about pulling anyone away from their church,” Taylor said.
The church supports the Cooperative Program as well as missionaries in Romania and a Campus Crusade worker.
With land stretching back to Deep River, Taylor said Cumnock is poised to expand its ministry beyond what man can envision. Of course, he has ideas for the future.
He would like to see after-school tutoring, along with a food and clothing pantry and low-cost medical clinic, just to name a few things.
Located near a future highway bypass, Taylor said the area is going to grow, especially once the bypass is complete.
The women of Cumnock play a vital role.
“We’ve got some smart ladies at this church,” Taylor said. “If the men were to stay home on Sundays church would go on.”
Taylor was a student at Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute before coming to Sanford. Since January 2008 Taylor has been a full-time pastor and full-time student at Liberty University where he will graduate in May.
While at Fruitland, he attended Bat Cave Baptist Church in Hendersonville where David MacEachern was his pastor.
“When you pastor a small church you have to be a jack of all trades and willing to do some of everything,” said the pastor who has also worked as a mechanic, industrial maintenance supervisor and general handyman.