Serving Our Community
By Chris Godfredsen
For a number of people in Lyon County, Iowa, engaging in Christ's kingdom mission has become an ecumenical effort to care for the less fortunate in their area.
Three years ago, Sheri Snyder (Bethel Reformed Church, Lester, Iowa) and Dori Horstman (First Reformed Church, Inwood, Iowa) began to pray and dream together about a God-sized vision that had been placed on each of their hearts.
"From those conversations, leaders from each congregation came together to brainstorm about how our churches might come together to meet the needs of children and families in the West Lyon area," says Horstman.
Serving Our Community (SOC) Ministry was born in April 2012. It distributes food, funds, and gifts to people in need.
Joining forces with a parachurch organization known as ATLAS of Lyon County, SOC Ministry gets food from the Siouxland Food Bank in Sioux and distributes it to 30 to 40 families on the fourth Wednesday of the month from the West Lyon Community School.
At least 11 Lyon County churches have been involved in one way or another, including four RCA congregations. Additionally, the local CRC, Lutheran, Methodist, Assemblies of God, and other congregations have also supported the ministry.
Horstman says SOC is intentionally ecumenical in its approach, and chose the local school for distribution because it is a safe place for many and it would present the distribution as a joint effort rather than one particular ministry being responsible or receiving the credit.
"We have spoken to all the local churches and they have been fabulous in joining and supporting the ministry through funding, volunteering, and providing monthly supplies to be handed out," she says. "It truly has become an interdenominational ministry. Our goal is to use food distribution as an avenue to minister to people through building relationships and prayer."
Randy Hage, an advertising salesman in Inwood, is a member of Our Savior's Lutheran Church and a SOC Ministry volunteer. He works with the Bread for Life, SOC's food distribution ministry.
"I got involved with Bread for Life when Steve Meester, a coworker, told me a little about it and asked if I wanted to help," says Hage. "He said we would give food to people who need it and that all I had to do was help carry the food out and say a quick prayer with people."
Like many people when it comes to engaging in Christ's kingdom mission, Hage was a little hesitant at first. "Who might be there? Would I know them?" he wondered. "Can I really pray out loud with people that may or may not be Christian?"
"Helping [a man named] Bill was probably the hardest," Hage says. "While going through the line filling his box, Bill would ask his two daughters (ages seven and four) what they liked to eat. A few times he asked his oldest daughter if she knew how to cook that particular food. When we went out to pray, I asked Bill if there was anything he wanted me to pray for. He said to pray for his daughters, whose mother had just died, and to help him take care of them, since he just got custody of them that day and didn't really know what he was doing."
Hage was overwhelmed by Bill's story. "Wow, we really have no idea what some people are going through," he says. "I think my friend Steve tricked me. Bread for Life isn't about carrying out food and praying—it is about loving your neighbor."
Shelly Meester of Bethel Reformed Church has been involved with Bread for Life since its inception.
"I recall a couple of years ago having to fill a box of food for a woman who was, for whatever reason, unable to come and get it herself," says Meester. "I was asked to deliver it to her home, and upon getting there that night—within the first few minutes of our conversation—I realized that the woman saw herself as pretty hopeless: physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually.
"A couple of hours later, I was finally leaving her home, feeling overwhelmed with the situation, almost to the point of not wanting to have any involvement in her life," she says. "I am ashamed of those thoughts—those honest, yucky thoughts. However, after a couple of monthly deliveries and conversations, she started to come to get her own box of food and was very open to being sent off with a prayer."
Meester could not get this woman off her mind. As much as she wanted to "let her be someone else's problem" and to just be involved in the "fun stuff" in her personal walk with Christ, she and her husband—the aforementioned Steve—were being called to "get their hands a little dirty." They were being called into her life.
"Within the last year, we have seen her eyes go from hopeless to eyes that hold a glimmer of hope," Meester says. "Her love for Jesus and her knowledge of needing him has been confirmed. In fact, just last month, she made the comment that she wants to help serve at the next food distribution—to be involved in the mission herself."
There are many, many more stories of life-changing events that have taken place through the SOC Ministry and Bread for Life food distribution—all because a couple of people listened to God's nudging and obediently challenged others from their community to engage in mission.
"God is working mightily through this ministry," says Horstman.
The SOC Ministry also distributes funds and gifts to people in need in the community. These funds have been given from church offerings, community groups, and private donors. The job of the SOC Ministry "is to always be listening for needs in the community and use the funds to help people," Horstman says.
"Recently we were led to a fourth grader," says Meester. "She knows firsthand what it is like to love someone who has cancer because her dad has it."
The girl has created her own ministry of helping other families who are struggling with cancer—she saves and raises money for them.
Meester says SOC Ministry was able to bless the girl and her family with some gift cards, telling them to use the cards as they see fit, whether for their own needs or to bless others.
Maintaining its mission and purpose, the SOC Ministry looks to continue to enlist people in Christ's kingdom mission of meeting the needs of people, living into Matthew 25:40, which reads: "Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
Chris Godfredsen is the classis leader for East Sioux and West Sioux Classes of the Reformed Church in America.