JACKSONVILLE—Nearly 700 Florida Baptist churches have delivered sustenance, hope and love while distributing 6,680,015 meals valued at $28,692,764 to communities facing hunger, unemployment and health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result, these churches have reported 1,055 professions of faith in Jesus Christ, according to Myles Dowdy, missions and ministries lead catalyst for the Florida Baptist Convention, which spearheaded the massive relief effort across the state. The food distributions will continue throughout the remainder of the year.
“There will be much fruit in the days ahead,” said Dowdy, as churches meet “spiritual, physical, emotional, psychological and relational needs of their communities” created by the epidemic.
These Florida Baptist pastors credited God’s leadership in this enormous task assisting families. People desperate due to the lack of stimulus were met with the Lord’s love as He used Florida Baptists as a conduit to feed the state’s underprivileged families through an elaborate and well-organized food ministry.
Across the state a diverse group of Florida Baptist churches, including Haitian, Hispanic, Anglo, rural, urban, multicultural and black, offered thousands of boxes of life-sustaining food, reaching out to their neighbors.
First Baptist Church in Mount Dora, loaded 22-lb boxes of fresh produce, milk and meat into hundreds of vehicles lined up at its church—each box containing more than a week’s worth of groceries, said Pastor Thomas Jamieson. The gospel was also served up as the pastor walked along the line sharing a Christian witness with the vehicle’s occupants.
As they delivered 5,000 snack boxes initially and followed it up with more than 5,000 larger boxes of fresh produce to their rural community Bethel Creek Baptist Church in Mayo members “went from pew sitters to door knockers,” said Pastor Chad Little. “These boxes opened the eyes of many to the fallen, hurting and disenfranchised in our community and has created a desire within our hearts to truly love our neighbor.”
Jose Garcia, pastor of New Hope Esperanza, planted a church through weekly food giveaways to Miami’s low income Allapattah neighborhood in the past three years. The pandemic only exacerbated the need among its residents, causing Garcia to step up to respond, supplying additional food almost daily. Working hand-in-hand with the convention, the bivocational pastor also provided his warehouse as a distribution point for food to other Florida Baptist churches. Having seen hundreds of professions of faith, Garcia baptized 30 new believers in recent days.
In the month of October alone, dozens of churches reported professions of faith resulting from the convention-sponsored food distributions, including Iglesia Bautista of Jerusalem in Miami, 11 professions of faith; Eben-Ezer Haitian Church of Haverhill in West Palm Beach, 3 professions of faith; Iglesia Bautista Adonai in Miami, 21 professions of faith; and United Haitian Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, 3 professions of faith.
Dowdy said serving Florida’s communities is certainly not a new undertaking for the churches but the unique challenges of the coronavirus have provided the impetus to take a new look at the opportunities that have always been there in plain sight.
In the true spirit of Florida Baptist churches’ long legacy of supporting their communities, they have stepped into the much-needed “last mile distributor” role to get food to God’s people, providing the manpower to place food boxes directly into the hands of those who need it.
Church mission outreach has traditionally entailed going out into communities to make an impact. The current pandemic has brought the community back to the church and shown the real need for God’s love in the lives of its people.
Jeffery Singletary, the convention’s central region catalyst, was instrumental in acquiring the truckloads of boxes with food through his long-standing contacts in the state.
“The pandemic shut down the churches and these food distributions have reopened the churches. God has brought the community to the church through these distributions, once again putting the church at the apex of the community.”
Yet not a single box is delivered without including a link to the gospel of Jesus Christ, he explained. This can come in the form of a spoken word by the local pastor while handing out boxes, an encouraging conversation with a member of the church, or even a pamphlet/track leading the family to resources where they can learn more about God’s love.
These countless interactions and gestures of encouragement are leading directly to professions of faith. Marc Johnston, Florida Baptists’ community ministries catalyst knows this firsthand. He has been the recipient of multiple communications from impacted members of the Florida community.
Johnston also shared how God has blessed several churches facilitating food distribution as local organizations have given back to the churches. First Baptist Church in Hudson received $20,000 to purchase a refrigerated truck; and First Baptist Church in Floral City and Palm View First Baptist Church in Palmetto both received grants of $30,000 from community agencies to purchase walk-in coolers.
Of all the ways to be charitable, or benevolent, or even evangelical, there is nothing purer than handing somebody food.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]