On Nov 24, 2010, my family and I had a chance to serve the local community. The opportunity to serve wasn’t through our Baptist congregation, but with fellow believers who attend Assemble Of God worship services in Smithfield, North Carolina. I now shed the denominational titles to make a point. On Nov 24, it didn’t matter if the one serving turkey attended Assembly Of God worship or the one cleaning the table attended Baptist worship. What mattered this night was the love of Jesus Christ was being extended to those in need. I took a moment to speak with Pastor Mark Summers who, along with his wife Rhonda coordinated the efforts for this Thanksgiving Outreach.
What steps were taken to prepare for the Thanksgiving Outreach?
It goes without saying that prayer was a big part of preparation. We had fund raising functions. There were planning meetings to help divvy the responsibilities by group leaders. The leaders in turn chose helpers. On Sundays we passed around assignment grids that allowed people to pick where they wanted to serve. We brainstormed and prioritized; as well as seeking support from local businesses. Many in the congregation donated clothing, gloves, and scarves and other food items. If you’re familiar with Homecoming, it was Homecoming on steroids - this was big. Thanks to the people from your Church at Live Oak and others in the community we had about 130 to 140 volunteers.
Did you have people from the community sign up to attend Thanksgiving Outreach?
We did have a preregistration. We did a lot of publicity from radio and TV ads to flyers. There was a request in the ads and the flyers for people to call us so we had an idea of how many to serve. We had 296 people who had signed in the night of the dinner. We also had Eye Care Visions of Smithfield at the dinner giving away glasses and found additional people signed up there who attended the dinner. We totaled about 325 people.
You mentioned getting support from some local businesses; who were they?
Along with Eye Care Visions there was Golden Corral, Smart Style of Smithfield, Parrish Transportation, Smithfield Chicken-n-BBQ, The Smithfield Lions Club, and The Selma Mutual Aid Co-Op. Along with the volunteers their involvement was greatly appreciated.
What movement of the Holy Spirit lead you to do this?
We are outreach oriented to begin with; we want to share the love of Jesus. More specifically, one Sunday Freddie Bailey mentioned an idea of putting on a dinner for the community. The response from the rest of the people was a positive one. This seemed to a call of the Gospel to let our light shine before men so that our Father in heaven would be glorified. The Church should work because we’re called to spread the love of Jesus. We send missionaries and do all sorts of things in Jesus name - let’s feed the people in Jesus name. We had one lady, who was homeless, tell me it’s been years since she’s had a professional haircut; so it was evident that we were able to meet a number of needs. The book of James talks about someone who would say to the needy, “Be warm, be blessed, be filled, see you later.“ That doesn’t do anything in filling needs let alone spread the message of the cross. It’s through meeting the needs the message of the Gospel becomes real and relevant.
What were you hoping to achieve?
Basically we were hoping to take care of some physical needs and more importantly spiritual needs. We had prayer corners and a person representing the Gideons handing out Bibles
How were the people working the dinner affected by their involvement?
Yes. The following Sunday I preached an abbreviated message then let the rest of the congregation finish the message by sharing their experiences. It was very powerful. One person saw one of the participants cry when they put on a free pair of eye glasses because they could see clearly. A number of people shared their hardship of not having enough money to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Two couples shared how they went to DSS and were turned down because funds were not available; while they were in the office they saw our flyer and able to have a Thanksgiving dinner.
I’ll tell you what’s coming to my mind now. If the body of Christ did more to meet the needs of the people there would be less dependence on government.
That’s a really good point. If memory serves me correctly Ronald Reagan said, “If every Church took responsibility for someone’s difficult circumstance there would be no need for government intervention.” If the Church were more like what she was intended to be that could be a true statement.
Are you planning on doing this again and if so what’s your vision for the next community dinner?
All things being equal we plan on doing this again. We want to reach further, want to go deeper. Folks that found out about this said they want to partner with us. The Eye Care Visions may have doctors on site, we may expand the clothing closet. We’ll probably increase the advertising to help open the doors a little wider. We had barbers on-site; the last on left at 9:45 p.m.. I think they cut 80 to 100 heads of hair; that was a popular service. One significant thing I see happening is an event like this bring down the denominational walls and allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to move in a way that brings people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.