Sarasota Church Loves on its Community

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Wearing bright blue t-shirts proclaiming “I love Sarasota,” nearly 500 Sarasota Baptist Church members–from toddlers to octogenarians–fanned out across the county to shower their community with the love of Christ during the first week of February.

“We challenged our people to take a one-week mission trip to Sarasota,” said Pastor Mike Landry. “We are on mission to our community, and to just love on our city.”

In all, the volunteers participated in 30 projects across the city–visiting nursing homes, where they sang and read to residents; delivering homemade treats to police stations and sheriffs’ offices; and handing out gift bags for mothers at a pregnancy center. They built homes with Habitat for Humanity and provided food at the Salvation Army homeless shelter.

At local schools, church members rocked babies of teen moms attending classes, stocked books in a media center and installed a garden wall.

Volunteers donated clothes and hygiene products and distributed them to the homeless in downtown Sarasota.

Families with children of all ages took out their scrub brushes to clean the white, marbled markers and gravesites of veterans at the Sarasota National Cemetery. The church sponsored a luncheon for veterans and a second one for widows in the community, all designed to shower them with love, compassion and dignity. Free babysitting was provided on Friday night for the parents of the church’s preschool, many who are unchurched.

“Behind what we are doing is to lead people to Christ,” Landry said. But first, “We have to love them and meet practical needs, loving them unconditionally and not expecting anything in return. When they ask why we are doing this, we will tell them it’s because of Jesus.

Additionally, church members made commitments for personal ministries such as to distribute tracts at their places of business and schools, perform random acts of kindness and donate to the ministries.

“We want to mobilize our people to use their gifts to help others,” Landry explained. “As a result, we hope people will find their own ministry and it will spur them on to do more.”

Carol Wheeler had often considered taking a mission trip but could never manage to find the funds for travel, she said. But being on mission in her own hometown gave her the opportunity she desired.

Handing out hot meals, clothes and Bibles to the homeless in downtown Sarasota allowed her to pray with and talk to the men and women there. “This was my first mission trip and I didn’t know I could do it. It softened my heart,” Wheeler said. “I had tears streaming down my face the whole time.”

She prayed with a middle-aged man who said he had AIDS. “He asked why I was there,” she said. “I told him ‘because Jesus loves you and we do too. It is my honor to help you.’”

She assured him that God is always with him, even in his darkest moments.

Sarasota’s minister of youth, Jared Windham, shared Christ with the group of men who play basketball at the church each Monday night. That week, the church grilled hot dogs for the “mostly unchurched” men, said Windham. After presenting the gospel and walking them through the plan of salvation, eight of the 40 men in attendance made professions of faith. One of the players, who is also a church member, will begin a ministry to follow up with this new group of believers.

On Tuesday morning Windham shared the gospel with students in a club meeting at a local middle school. Two gave their lives to Christ,” he reported. Another meeting at a local arts school resulted in 12 students praying to receive Christ.

Volunteer Rose Pelot coordinated the activities of the week-long event. She began contacting schools and groups where church members previously had ministries. “I had no idea where this was all going. God just kept putting people and needs in front of us.”

“We have had such positive feedback from our volunteers, many who want to keep doing the ministries. And others who said it has given them a new sense of belonging.” 

“This week has been tremendous,” said Rod Boatwright, Sarasota’s mission pastor. “Our own people are getting excited about ministering to others. It’s amazing.”

Pastor Landry said he had hoped and prayed that the week-long mission trip in their own community “would mobilize a very large portion of our church body to participate.  My prayers were answered and over 50 percent of our average weekly attendance participated.”

“I believe the effectiveness of a church ministry is based more on how many people are on mission in a given week than are in attendance at a worship service on a given Sunday.”

By Barbara Denman

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