By Ray Amos
KINGSPORT, Tenn. (Aug. 15, 2015) -- This summer, three United Methodist churches representing ELM Tree Parish in Kingsport District -- Emory, St. Luke and St. Matthew -- joined for a community outreach program called Loving Lunches.
The purpose was to feed children and in the process share Christ with them. We had a burden in our heart for children who depend on free lunches during the school year and who might go without during summer months.
After asking God to guide us in fulfilling this vision, we partnered with Andrew Johnson Elementary and Miller Village Apartments (a low-income, government-housing complex connected to our church neighborhoods). There is a high concentration of children there, and the apartment management staff allowed us to go there and provide free lunches for the children.
Beginning the first week of June and continuing through July (coinciding with the ending and beginning of the school year), our three churches provided more than 1,600 lunches total every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. Everyone was allowed to participate regardless of age and work schedules.
A team gathered on Monday nights to prepare lunch bags for the week. Children placed labels on the bags. Other team members filled the bags with juice pouches, snacks, fruit cups, Bible verses, and notes written to the recipients along with utensils and napkins.
On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, another team gathered to make peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Delivery teams handed out the bag lunches to the children. It was beautiful to be a part of a ministry in which our youngest and oldest members, families, men and women, and three churches can serve together.
Over the summer participation exploded, from a handful of children receiving lunches the first week to nearly 200 by the last week. We shared Christ, prayed and listened to their stories. We fell in love with them.
On the last day, we offered a "back to school bash," grilling hot dogs and giving each child a backpack filled with school supplies. We are planning additional ministries for Miller Village Apartments and their children in the future.
The dream for this ministry came from First United Methodist Church of Elizabethton's work with Second Harvest, which also serves sandwiches to children during summer. Before we began serving Miller Village this summer, we asked each church to provide drinks, snacks, peanut butter and jelly. Local businesses donated cheese sticks and other items. We also received a gift of $1,000 from an individual from another denomination to help begin this ministry. God provided everything, all along the way.
Everyone benefited from this ministry opportunity. The children were fed and several learned about Jesus' love for the fist time. All received New Testaments courtesy of Gideons International. We made many new friends and connections with our community, our churches worked together in shared ministry, and our hearts were melted each time we were together.
The Rev. Ray Amos Jr. is pastor of Elm Tree Parish in Kingsport, Tenn. Find out more about Holston Conference's "Children in Poverty" mission initiative.
"Three local churches unite in love and mission" (Kingsport Times News, 2/27/19)