Neglected neighbors find hope as church helps

Baptist Press
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Posted: Sep 05, 2014 5:52 PM
EDITOR'S NOTE: On World Hunger Sunday, Oct. 12, Southern Baptists congregations will address the hunger crisis across North America and around the world by focusing on the theme "Hunger Happens Everywhere." Donations received are channeled through Global Hunger Relief, which uses 100 percent of each gift to meet hunger needs. For more information, visit www.globalhungerrelief.com.

NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- Victor is one of thousands of people left homeless and hungry after Hurricane Katrina stormed through New Orleans in 2005. The trauma drove Victor to become significantly dependent on alcohol. He began to seek help from a feeding ministry at Gentilly Lowe's, a neighborhood in Louisiana that was severely damaged by Katrina.

This feeding ministry falls under the umbrella of The Care Effect, one of a dozen community engagement ministries First Baptist Church of New Orleans uses to serve its neglected neighbors. Nearly 100 volunteers assist each week, some of which are church members while others are community residents.

"The Care Effect was born when our staff began to pray and brainstorm ways to rejuvenate our Wednesday night programming," said Christi Gibson, First Baptist minister of missions and discipleship. "We began to wonder what would happen if we invited people to 'come with us' instead of 'come to us.' How would our world, and we ourselves, change if we really began to care for our community?"

For Victor, the world changed around Christmastime.

"He decided that he was going to give himself a Christmas present, and that present was going to be Jesus," said Mike Edens, retired International Mission Board (IMB) missionary and First Baptist member. "Victor accepted Christ that night and then showed up a week later completely sober. He has not had a drink since."

Along with Victor, many more lives have changed as a result of the hunger ministries that fall under The Care Effect. There are four specific programs that focus on hunger relief: a feeding ministry to the homeless at The Ozanam Inn, the hunger ministry at Gentilly Lowe's, the Fuel The Future backpack program that feeds hungry students and the Community Care program that feeds the homebound. All of these ministries are supported by the Southern Baptist initiative, Global Hunger Relief.

Formerly known as the World Hunger Fund, GHR was introduced at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Houston in 2013. GHR provides a channel that, unlike many other non-profits that keep as much as 70 percent of funds for administrative overhead, directs 100 percent of donations directly to hunger relief.

A resolution passed at the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in Baltimore designated 80 percent of GHR receipts to be used for international hunger relief through IMB, and 20 percent to be used for domestic hunger relief through the North American Mission Board (NAMB).

Through GHR, Southern Baptist churches are now able to take advantage of more opportunities to aid and minister to the 870 million people worldwide who do not have enough to eat.

In 2013, Southern Baptist hunger ministries fed more than 5 million meals to the hungry in North America. The number of hunger ministry volunteers increased from 170,000 in 2012 to 200,000 in 2013. The number of new hunger ministry volunteers who were trained in evangelism also increased from 19,500 in 2012 to 26,500 in 2013. The contributions to GHR led to more than 22,000 professions of faith and 4,400 baptisms in 2013, as a result of church members sharing the Gospel with their neglected neighbors.

"These are real people with real needs. They don't just need money. They need family, redemption, and community," Edens said. "Because of Global Hunger Relief and the ministries it funds, we are not just able to give these people food, but to give them a verbal witness, which is the most important thing."

Victor continues to serve the Lord through the ministry that helped bring him to faith in Christ. He still volunteers regularly with the feeding ministries through The Care Effect and helps those who are dealing with the same struggles he faced.

"One of the most encouraging things we have seen happen in this ministry is as people get on their feet, they return to share with the others we feed," Gibson, First Baptist minister of missions and discipleship, said.

Southern Baptist entities are hoping the GHR resolution will encourage more local churches to focus resources on helping their community and hopefully see more lives changed the way Victor's was transformed. The ministry goal is the core of LoveLoud, a NAMB initiative that encourages churches to demonstrate God's love by meeting significant human needs while sharing Christ.

"Look where you live for the needs where you live," Gibson said. "If we're driving past hungry people on our way to the airport to go feed hungry people somewhere else, there's something wrong. Believe me, there is someone hungry in your city, and we are called to care for our neglected neighbors."

To learn more about Global Hunger Relief and how your church can be more involved in meeting needs in North America and around the world, visit www.globalhungerrelief.com or Twitter (twitter.com/globalhunger) or Facebook (facebook.com/globalhungerrelief).

Kristen Camp writes for the North American Mission Board. For more information on LoveLoud, visit http://www.namb.net/loveloud/ www.namb.net/loveloud. 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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