ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) -- The search for the neglected is not a difficult one. Most people don't have to look any further than their local public school.
That's what Jackson's Macedonia Baptist Church did in Jackson, Ga.
The congregation decided to do something to help the hundreds of students in their community who may not get regular meals during the summer. For 10 weeks last summer their church joined two other congregations in providing lunches for more than 200 local children whose families said they needed help.
"I hope sees the love of Christ coming through us," Lane Sanders, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church, said. "We don't look at ourselves as separated unto ourselves, but we have a mission and an investment in the community."
Jerry Daniel, the North American Mission Board's LoveLoud team leader, said Macedonia Baptist is one of a growing movement of Southern Baptist churches that are demonstrating God's love by meeting significant human need while sharing Christ.
"There's a movement happening among Southern Baptists," Daniel said. "God has created a groundswell of churches that are loving their communities like Jesus would. We want to highlight this and encourage other churches to get involved."
Macedonia Baptist delivered lunches in neighborhoods they had never visited and met people struggling with great need, Sanders said. Several of the children they fed last summer attended the church's Vacation Bible School. At least one of them committed her life to Christ.
Discovering a similar need among students in Philadelphia, Chuck Kieffer thought of a solution. Kieffer, a church planter and pastor of Philadelphia's The Foundry Church, led his congregation to reach their urban neighbors by growing fresh produce. Their urban garden naturally provided teachable moments, along with a 500-pound annual yield of fresh produce. Garden Camp, an urban gardening-based Vacation Bible School, was the next step.
"We teach gardening techniques and nutrition, which are easy to bridge to biblical concepts of our Creator," Kieffer said of the weeklong VBS. "Doesn't every church have some piece of ground they are not using? Every church can do this.
"We live in an area in Philadelphia that is a true paradox. We are just a few blocks from some of the wealthiest residents of the city, but within our immediate area one out of three children go to bed hungry each night. We have to do something to help feed them and reach them for Christ," Kieffer said.
As part of its efforts to help foster a LoveLoud movement through churches, NAMB is shining a spotlight on activities like those championed by Macedonia and The Foundry in hopes that such examples can serve as a model for other churches.
"We are collecting data and identifying churches and ministries involved in mercy ministries," Ryan West, NAMB's national director for LoveLoud, said. "We are furthering the conversation of what churches are already doing. We are attempting to help foster and build networks."
One of NAMB's goals is to help those involved in mercy ministries feel more connected to others doing similar work, West said.
"There are some common issues among caregivers," West said. "Many struggle with the feeling of isolation. They think they are attempting to assist the neglected in their community by themselves. One thing we can do is help them find partners and others who are helping the neglected in their communities in other ways. This helps alleviate that sense of becoming overwhelmed by pressing needs."
An aspect of the LoveLoud movement that makes it attractive to cities is how those deeply involved in mercy ministry are instruments of peace in their cities -- personal peace through the presence of Christ and peace within the community.
"Many cities have a dry environment without connection to a vibrant faith community," West said. "LoveLoud brings a refreshing peace. The Gospel brings the fountain of life to the desert."
It is this result that often opens the doors to Gospel conversations and faith encounters, West said. Mercy ministries with ties to local churches are important when people come to faith in Christ. Established relationships help new Christians feel welcome when they come to worship and join churches.
Explore how your church can expand its mercy ministry to neglected neighbors, communities and children near you through LoveLoud at www.namb.net/loveloud. To hear an interview with Ryan West, visit namb.net/RyanWestInterview.
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. Tobin Perry contributed to this article. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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