FRESNO, Calif. — On Oct. 11, Southern Baptist churches will focus on a staggering worldwide problem: more than 800 million people who suffer each day from hunger, according to recent statistics. In the United States alone, the Department of Agriculture estimates 23 million adults and 12 million children receive less than the 2,100 calories an average person needs each day to be healthy.
In California, Southern Baptists serve hungry families through 180 ministries conducted by community centers, individual congregations or associations of churches, noted Charles McClung, California Southern Baptist Convention ministry evangelism specialist. According to CSBC statistics, more than 6,000 people made professions of faith in Christ last year as a result of Southern Baptist hunger ministries.
The 40 churches of central California’s Kern County and Sequoia Baptist Associations attack the hunger problem in different ways — some have food pantries, while others institute an open-door policy, helping people when and how they can. In every case, they find that meeting spiritual needs goes hand in hand with ministering to physical needs.
“You find that people have needs and, sometimes, you can meet those needs in more ways than you thought,” said Julie Shockey, a community ministries specialist for California Baptists who works with those associations.
Sometimes churches find they are able to meet needs far larger than their own size would indicate, said Don Overstreet, a church planting strategist who works in Inland Empire Baptist Association in Riverside, Calif. Service Fellowship, a new congregation in Beaumont, Calif., feeds a crowd more than 10 times its own size every week. Overstreet said their dedication to meeting needs in their community is the reason the church chose the name “Service Fellowship” — they’re founded on a desire to make an impact where God has placed them.
Meeting both spiritual and physical needs also is a primary goal at Telegraph Baptist Center in Oakland, Calif., which helps 600 families each month — about 20 percent of whom are first-time visitors, according to director Steve Weaver. Many families aren’t able to put food on the table because of a sudden job loss or other emergency circumstance. These families, who are facing “the worst crisis of their lives,” might visit Telegraph two or three times before they get back on their feet, Weaver said.
“We get a chance to minister to them in the name of Christ, encourage them and maybe remind them of things they knew — or introduce them to things they didn’t know,” Weaver said.
At Page Street Baptist Center in San Francisco, that introduction may happen during chapel services held before the food pantry opens every week or in the relationships established when people receive help to meet their basic needs, said Eric Bergquist, Page Street’s director.
“If you help people with food, you have an audience. People want to know what you’re about, and why you do what you do.”
The center serves 400 people each week. Last year alone, they distributed more than 200,000 pounds of food. Bergquist said the weekly food pantry, meals and other service opportunities also provide a forum for discipleship, for people to learn as they work together. At Page Street, people who receive help are helping others.
That kind of lasting investment is the key to ministry evangelism, said Ken Dean, a community ministries specialist who works with three Los Angeles-area associations. Dean serves nearly 100 churches and ministries that are engaging in hunger relief efforts, reaching out to a county that is home to more than 80,000 homeless and 250,000 in need of food.
“We have to keep praying, and the people of God should give generously on every occasion,” Dean said, referring to II Corinthians 9:11. “My philosophy is meeting needs and sharing Christ. When you’re feeding someone when they’re hungry, it affords you the opportunity to share the Gospel with them.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Oct. 11 is World Hunger Sunday for Southern Baptist churches across North America. Since 1974, Southern Baptists have fought the problem of hunger through their World Hunger Fund. One hundred percent of every dollar given to the fund is used to provide food to undernourished people all over the world — 80 percent through the International Mission Board and 20 percent through the North American Mission Board. For more information on the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, including resources for promotion of World Hunger Sunday in your church, go to www.namb.net/hunger. Day coordinates communications with the Vision San Diego outreach of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board’s Strategic Focus Cities initiative.)
To view a new video about Ken Dean’s work in L.A. County, go to www.essentials.tv and click on “Beyond the Walls.”