A car pulled into Emmanuel CRC’s parking lot. The church runs a food pantry, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, anyone picking up food needs to remain in their vehicle. At first, it seemed like another disconnect caused by Covid-19—but church members and volunteers have found a way to build relationships with their neighbors.
Pastor Jeff Hale approached the woman inside the car to gather her information, but he didn’t stop with the facts he needed. They talked a bit, and then, before she moved on to pick up her food, he asked: “Can I pray for you about anything?”
The woman opened up. She said she was worried about her daughter, who struggled with alcoholism and was away from family. Jeff prayed with the woman for her daughter to come home.
A week later, the woman returned, rolled down her window, and waved to Jeff.
“My daughter came home,” she said.
A Different Approach to Local Outreach
Emmanuel CRC has a long history of serving their community, including operating a food pantry and a thrift store. But when they participated in Go Local, a Resonate Global Mission initiative, they began to think differently about their outreach opportunities.
“I believe that our church is starting to see our local outreach activities for what they actually are,” said Gary Dykstra, chair of Emmanuel CRC’s outreach committee and a key organizer of the church’s food pantry.
“Yes, they provide for some physical needs of those in our communities, but more importantly, these activities are really just a mechanism to enable us to develop relationships, which in turn, lead to opportunities to participate in what God is already working on in the lives of the people we are interacting with.”
Emmanuel CRC first started the Go Local process two years ago. A discipleship opportunity, Go Local coaches church members to grow together in listening to the Holy Spirit and stepping outside of the four walls of the church building to show Christ’s love to neighbors.
Jeff said he has seen members of the church both grow in relationship with the Lord, and in their passion and ability to find ways to show Christ’s love to their neighbors. They’ve picked up several practices from the Go Local process, including “Dwelling in the Word”—a practice of reading and reflecting on Scripture—and experimenting with different ways to connect with neighbors.
Paul Vanderaa, a key organizer of Emmanuel CRC’s food pantry, served as the chairman of the church’s Go Local cohort.
“It has made us become more intentional, better listeners, and better neighbors,” said Paul.
While the church’s food pantry, thrift store, and other programs are important, the church is finding ways to go beyond the transactions of the program and to create more space for building relationships with neighbors.
An essential part of the Go Local process and practice is “experimenting” and seeing how the Holy Spirit works. Through the course of participating in Go Local, Emmanuel CRC has set up a place to serve coffee in the church parking lot and in the thrift store. These coffee tables have provided more opportunities to strike up conversations with people and get to know them better.
They’ve even been able to form connections despite the Covid-19 pandemic. At first, Gary was worried about the church’s thrift store and food pantry. The thrift store needed to close until it was safe again, but the money from the thrift store funds the food pantry.
“I wondered about how [we were] going to be able to continue to finance what I expected was going to be an even greater need for food,” said Gary.
But then the food the church was purchasing through the Greater Chicago Food Depository was suddenly given to Emmanuel CRC for free—and in much greater quantities than they had ever been able to purchase before.
“They have literally given us tens of tons of food. Probably into the hundreds of tons of food,” said Jeff. “That’s just the hand of God.”
During the first few months of the pandemic, Jeff said that the church was serving, on average, somewhere between 80 and 120 families each week.
But the church did not just want to care for their neighbors’ physical needs—they also wanted to care for their neighbors relationally, emotionally, and spiritually. They became more intentional about asking people if they needed or wanted prayer for anything. It can take boldness, but that’s something that members of the church have grown in through Go Local.
Witnessing the Gospel at Work
Jeff said that being more intentional about connecting with neighbors has been a transformative experience not just for the community they are serving, but for the church members and volunteers as well.
“It has just been such a blessing that people open up their lives to us, and we get to pray for our neighbors about really deep spiritual things and physical things,” he said. “You have opportunities to share the gospel and be encouraged by the gospel at work.”
When the woman returned to the food pantry and told Jeff that God answered their prayer, and that her daughter returned, they celebrated.
“Now, pray with me that she will come back to the Lord,” said the woman.
They prayed, and a couple weeks later, the woman returned.
“My daughter asked me for my Bible,” she said.
Are you interested in rethinking your church's outreach activities, or discovering new ways to join God at work in your neighborhood? Resonate is here to partner with you! Learn more about Go Local at www.resonateglobalmission.org/go-local