“People in this neighborhood are struggling financially, spiritually and even substance-wise,” said Jeff Walker, pastor of West Pensacola Baptist Church. “And just as Jesus fed the 5,000, we are cooking ‘fish sandwiches’ so we can have the opportunity to share the gospel and pray with them.”
One Sunday night a month, West Pensacola members descend upon a cul-de-sac in their neighborhood, where they unload a grill, basketball goal and supplies to host a community-wide block party. After knocking on doors to invite residents to the cookout, members rustle up hamburgers with all the fixings, chips and water, and pull out basketballs and bubble wands to entertain the children.
In this ‘working-poor ’neighborhood often invisible to others, these church members welcome each neighbor with a listening ear, a praying heart and the message of salvation.
They bestow an abundance of hugs—to the woman coming off a meth high; the drug dealer who happens to live next door; the mother with vivid facial bruises; the young man wearing an ankle monitor; and the woman in the throes of Alzheimer’s.
“We want to change this community,” said Pastor Walker. “That begins with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The zip code where West Pensacola Baptist Church is located represents the poorest community in Escambia County, and often in the state of Florida. It’s a place where 95 percent of the elementary children qualify for free or reduced lunches.
“So we know they are hungry” said Janey Frost, the church’s spitfire worship leader. “They don’t have food to eat on a daily basis and don’t have the means to get it at home. They can’t hear the gospel if their stomachs are rumbling.”
Florida Baptists are partnering with the West Pensacola church to show unconditional love to their neighbors. The congregation was one of 111 churches to receive funding from Global Hunger relief during the past year. Every dollar given to the offering is earmarked to fight hunger—whether it’s next door or across the globe.
“I always count on them to pray for me,” said resident Carla Knowles as she takes another hamburger and visits with her neighbors.
“It’s not about the hamburgers,” said Frost. “It’s about the prayers.”
On Sunday, July 9, Florida Baptists will collect the Global Hunger relief offering to meet hunger-related needs in the state—for churches like West Pensacola–the nation and world, working in partnership with Baptist Global Response.
By Barbara Denman, Florida Baptist Convention, June 21, 2017