By John Sloper
It’s the economy . . . well, maybe. At Broadway Christian Church in Mesa, Arizona, three separate ministries to help the economically disadvantaged are in place, and two of them began meeting needs long before the current economic downturn. Each has been responding to real needs on the east side of the Valley of the Sun in Arizona.
Begun in the 1980s (its emphasis at first was clothing exchange), the Food Box Ministry has continued to grow and assisted almost 400 families in July 2009 (almost 1,500 individuals). The need has grown dramatically in the past year, with an increase of 250 percent since July 2008.
Jan Lancaster, summer coordinator for this ministry, has many heartrending stories about people coming to Broadway for assistance—most due to circumstances beyond their control.
One man, who had never asked for help in his life, lost his job and home. His wife, unable to cope with the stress, walked out—leaving him to care for his two daughters. Father and children spent the Arizona summer months living in the camper of their truck! He has worked to keep the family together, determined to not let anything break them up. The assistance he receives helps to keep this family together.
Another woman who was forced to live on the streets came to the church office and asked if someone would buy her dog, because she had no food for it.
Yes, there are phonies, playing the system and asking for food, but help is offered regardless. Volunteers are ready to pray with those who come in, so more than just physical needs are being met.
Several sources offer provision and assistance to the food bank. Church member Jack Dooley and his wife spend virtually every Saturday, and also Sunday afternoons, going to a network of grocery stores, collecting their near-dated perishables and other items for distribution at the food bank. The freezers are kept full through their hard work.
The government-run Central Foodbank remains a solid source of supply, though it has declined as the economy has soured. Where the church could fill two trucks with food each week before the downturn, now only one-half truckload is available in better weeks.
The Broadway church body also responds regularly (and generously). Through bulletin or on-screen announcements at Sunday services, or through churchwide e-mail notices, the congregation is advised of current needs.
When the church recently announced the need for toothpaste, several people donated multiple boxes of it, along with toothbrushes, soap, and shampoo. These donations formed the basis for about 300 hygiene packets (sealed in plastic bags) made available to those in need.
With the new school year, Broadway members provided 70 backpacks filled with basic school supplies for needy kids in the area.
The Food Box Ministry is completely volunteer driven. What started as a part-time ministry run by the church receptionist has grown to a volunteer staff of 23, with different coordinators for summer and winter months.
People who need services can be embarrassed, stressed, and angry due to their circumstances, but they find acceptance and nonjudgmental assistance—both physical and, if desired, spiritual—at the Food Box Ministry.
As Broadway Christian Church has grown, many areas have shown the need for expansion and upgrade. This has precipitated a building project, completed during this past summer, part of which will provide a dedicated area to this important ministry.
Family Aid Ministry
The Family Aid Ministry has also been meeting needs of the neighborhood since long before the current recession.
Owen Murray, who has served as director for more than seven of the ministry’s 10-year existence, says he finds motivation in “helping those who truly need help—not to mention the three or four hugs I get each week.”
Individual financial assistance is limited to one time each 12 months, but other resources—job leads, residence and health-care contacts, for example—are available on an ongoing basis. The emphasis is on critical needs, not ongoing support that a government welfare agency would provide.
Remarkably, almost all of the calls to Family Aid are legitimate (Murray estimates the figure at almost 99 percent). This possibly is due to the process involved in receiving aid. Where most of the food ministry assistance is provided on a drop-in basis, Family Aid requires people requesting assistance to leave a message on the “hotline.” A staff member—currently there are six volunteers besides Murray—then calls the client back and verifies all information, whether or not they have received aid in the past year, and the actual extent of the need. Going through this process has probably helped to curtail scammers and other unnecessary calls.
One woman who contacted Family Aid had a job, but no car or home, a somewhat unusual situation. The church ministry was able to find her a residence near a bus line so she could get to work, and also provided the initial rent payment so she could move in.
Another woman reported her family had no drinkable water in their home, so the ministry provided enough water for a month.
Food, gas, medical assistance, transportation, help with rent . . . the list goes on. The Family Aid Ministry at Broadway Christian helped more than 600 families in the past year, a four-fold increase from a few years ago.
Currently, all funding for Family Aid comes from nongovernment sources, and most of the money is received in an annual November offering. Other funds come from what Murray calls his “angels”—those church members who have a heart for helping those in real need—and the means to do so.
The staff, including Murray, is comprised entirely of volunteers, so there is virtually no overhead. All the gifts go directly to assist those who need it most. The funds are kept separate from the regular church offerings, and are managed by the Family Aid team; the church pastor is not directly involved in any aspect of the ministry.
The third community ministry at Broadway is a fairly new addition to the mix, having officially started in November 2008. Headed up by Henry Kraayenbrink, an elder, Community Compassion Ministry tends to focus on more “practical” or physical needs. Finding (or purchasing) air conditioning units for those who can’t afford them (a real need here in the Valley of the Sun), fixing electrical problems in homes, clearing yards, trimming trees, and fixing cars are just a few of the tasks handled.
This ministry also uses a “hotline” recording for requests, so those needing assistance must leave a message that Kraayenbrink then follows up before anything is done. Kraayenbrink says he finds “a tremendous amount of satisfaction helping those who need help.”
In the comparatively short time the Community Compassion Ministry has been officially functioning, approximately 180 people have been helped. Again, the need has compounded as the economy has deteriorated. Some of those assisted are on fixed incomes, without any flexibility to absorb problems or breakdowns. Some are simply unable to keep up with necessary maintenance due to deteriorated health.
While the Food Box and Family Aid ministries are driven by special donations or outside sources, Community Compassion is funded primarily from the church budget.
Cooperation is key. The three branches of community ministry try to work together. A brochure explaining the Community Compassion Ministry is placed in every food box given out. The leaders of each ministry communicate with each other to avoid overlap and to advise when someone is abusing the assistance provided.
James 2:15, 16 says: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”
In a world that too often perceives the church as “all talk and no action,” Broadway Christian Church is putting the gospel of Jesus Christ into action.
John Sloper provides computer technical support for Hospitality Solutions International, Scottsdale, Arizona. He is an ordained minister, Bible teacher, former pastor, and former church camp manager. He and his wife of 24 years have three children.