With the City, For the City: Kansas City Church Teams Up to Serve Up Hope
By Carl Stagner
Near the onset of the coronavirus crisis, hand sanitizer and household cleaners fell immediately into short supply. At points, certain meats and staple foods were hard to find as grocery store shelves were emptied. When states began requiring facemasks, the demand was greater than the supply for several weeks. Few can forget when there was even a limited supply of toilet paper. As the pandemic persists and racial and political tension grip the country, it seems hope, for many, is also in short supply. Thankfully, Bethel Family Worship Center in Kansas City, Missouri, took notice and took action.
The Church of God congregation quickly concluded from the headlines and the heartache that hopelessness had spread far and wide this year. Kicking off their redemptive response in July with a “Hope Rally,” the church mobilized participants and gathered resources to bless their neighbors through a one-time event. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the church, led by Pastor Dennis Lester, identified and established partnerships with existing city entities and community organizations.
“After many discussions,” Pastor Dennis explains, “we realized that our community struggled in three major areas—food resources; emotional, substance, and mental abuse; and [the need for] spiritual encouragement. Consequently, we collaborated with churches and organizations in an effort to discover who did what the best. This effort was to promote synergy and decrease duplicity. In other words, if a church around the corner from me does really well with food pantry assistance, while another really champions substance abuse recovery, then it is incumbent on us to support each other rather than compete.”
Complete with a Christian band, an entertaining and Christ-centered weightlifting ministry (strength presentation), times of prayer, and the presence of a variety of community organizations—including the police department—the Hope Rally KC, held at a local high school, was designed to address directly the three major challenges the church recognized. Drug abuse prevention resources were given away, as well as rent and utility assistance, and other basic necessities.
Hosting an event for the public isn’t the simplest task in light of COVID-19, of course. While the event wasn’t as well-attended as the church had hoped it would be, it did prove to be a successful launching point for other life-giving community ministries that would begin to take shape. Additionally, the congregation demonstrated their obedience to unite in servanthood, and took advantage of expanded opportunity to intercede, on public school grounds, for “the helpless and the hopeless.”
Since the Hope Rally was held, the church’s consortium of community leaders committed to bring hope to the hopeless grew from an initial three to five ministries, to a total of more than twenty. Then on Sunday, September 27, the church hosted a different kind of outreach, this one dubbed “Because We Care.” The church canceled its virtual worship service to distribute, on public school grounds, essentials like facemasks, underwear, socks, soap, tissue, paper towels, and more to families in their local school district. Beyond that, Bethel Family Worship Center has partnered with a local nonprofit to open their facility for remote learning. “We have forty students that have the opportunity to come to our church for remote learning in a safe environment,” Pastor Dennis explains, “so parents can go to work without worrying about food, Internet access, and education at home.”
Pastor Dennis Lester concludes with a prayer: “…for my church to see this time as a sacred moment that God has positioned us to be the hope of the world. When I came to the church in 2018, I explained that I had no vision or plan for the church at that time. Instead, I had one prayer that continues today—I pray that God will make me the pastor that my church needs me to be, and that he will make our church the church that the community needs us to be.”
Help churches like these respond to urgent needs in their communities as a result of COVID-19:
Learn more about the response of Church of God Ministries to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including resources for you and your church, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/theway.