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Churches Give Back to their Communities
It’s one thing to express love by putting money in the offering plate. It’s another to be an offering of love. Here are four churches that are creatively loving their communities.

Quinte Bible Chapel

For the past three years, Pastor Ken Wiles of Quinte Bible Chapel in Belleville, Ontario, together with Outreach Co-ordinator Joan Burton, has organized a bi-annual clothing give-away for those living in the government-funded housing of East Hill in Belleville. “The vision we have is to be a community-building church from the inside of our lives and our church, outwards,” says Wiles.

Quinte Bible Chapel organizes a bi-annual give-away of clothing.

The ministry was birthed after Burton, who became the Outreach Coordinator in 2005, realized that due to government cutbacks, families and individuals in their community were struggling to pay for enough clothing. A local consignment store already donated clothes to the church each November for Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes. For this reason Burton felt a clothing ministry would be a natural fit.

“I went to the store and asked for clothes on a regular basis,” says Burton, who keeps the donations in her garage to give as needs arise. The first major give-away occurred in October of 2006.

Burton admits it’s difficult to find space in her garage for all of the clothing and to collect seasonal outfits. “The store takes summer clothing off [the racks] and I need winter [clothing],” she says. “This is a big challenge.”

Members of the 55-person congregation have assisted with each of the four give-aways, distributing clothes to the hundreds that come. Most recently, the ministry has expanded to include pizza and bread donations, thanks to church members who own those kind of businesses.

“The congregation itself is very supportive and encouraging,” says Wiles. “Some are able to give more than others, but a big core is 100 percent behind it.”

Granville Chapel

Jennifer Lee of Burnaby, British Columbia, says if it wasn’t for the generous support of her church, she wouldn’t be able to continue Gather and Give, a ministry which provides kits of home essentials to more than 70 low-income families per month.

Simple demonstrations of love offered by caring Christians, such as those profiled here, extend hope to an unbelieving world. Yet not by human strength; as Jennifer Lee says, "It's the Lord's work."

“Granville Chapel kind of grew with us,” the 32-year-old mother-to-be explains. Not only do her board members belong to the congregation; the church itself is continuously fundraising and collecting items to assist with Lee’s vision.

It all began with a businessman who owned an empty warehouse. When he asked Lee if she would put it to use as a storage and redistribution centre, she dared to dream. “I had to create something from the ground up,” says Lee. Having observed that agencies didn’t have the space or staff to be able to take in donations and sort them, Lee now could offer a place for the overflow donations of kitchenware, bedding, towels and linens. Together with 12 volunteers, Lee packs kits and delivers them to the doorstep of families in need. “We provide kits to families that are moving into a new home – usually within 30 days of a move,” says Lee. Today Gather and Give is a unique, Vancouver-based service, offering assistance to 80 partner-agencies with clients needing household items.

In addition to assisting families in the community, Gather and Give also provides meaningful volunteer positions for people who are unable to find employment. “We seek to provide volunteer spots for persons who have barriers to employment,” says Lee, who admits that this is one of the most challenging aspects of her job. “We try out best to find tasks they can succeed in, so eventually it will help them succeed in a work environment.”

University Chapel

Another Vancouver-based ministry, University Community Children's Choir, was initiated by the University Chapel. Directed by Charissa Bagan, the two-year-old outreach began when Bagan first started attending the church. When asked by the associate pastor what her ideal job would be, Bagan shared her desire to create and conduct a community choral group. To Bagan's surprise, Pastor Geoff Chapman responded by saying the church would be interested in such an initiative.

University Community Children's Choir performs twice per year at Advent and Remembrance Day services. They were winners at the 2008 Vancouver Kiwanis Music Festival. The choir is warmly embraced by members of the University Chapel, who built choir risers and raised $5,000 for proper performance lighting.

Since its inception, the choir has grown from 40 to 64 children between the ages of six and 14. With half from un¬churched homes, it's served as an effective way fox the local church to care for a lonely and stressed-out city. "The congregation saw it as a way to connect with the greater community in a way that could lead them to practical encounters with God's love for them," Bagan explains.

Bagan says her biggest challenge is learning to be patient—waiting on God versus rushing ahead with plans of her own. Overall, however, she's encouraged by the effectiveness of the outreach.

"Coming from a Brethren heritage, University Chapel takes a grassroots approach, encouraging individual church members to use their giftings as they are led and as God provides. The choir is just one way in which the chapel is now involved with the community."

Yorkview Community Church

For Yorkview Community Church, outreach extends far beyond its home base of Newmarket, Ontario. Pastor Kevin Fleetwood credits the church's Ugandan ministry to a "key couple" whose interest in a radio station led them into an AIDS-infected community which would subsequently change their hearts and the hearts of other members of the church forever.

The opening of the Nakyessa medical clinic. L to R Nurse Susan Wagner (Newmarket), Dr. Linda Douville (Newmarket), Nurse Florence (Uganda), Dr. Heather Patterson (Calgary), Nurse Esther (Uganda).

Nakyessa earth block library under construction.

Ongutoi camp returnees receiving medical support from Yorkview Community Church. "Jajja" (grandparent), Ken McReynolds, from Yorkview greets a Ugandan "Jajja" who is one of the 100 patients served daily at the Ongutoi Clinic

"They found teachers, caregivers, and children meeting for class under a tree," Fleetwood recalls. "The whole area was suffering from the destruction of AIDS   families were split apart by death, children being cared for by ... someone willing to take on one more orphan."

When the couple returned to Yorkview in 2003, they shared their vision with the church. In short, "We needed to care for the poor and follow God's heart for them," says Fleetwood.

The congregation decided the most effective way to assist was by building a centre of hope and learning. "(We knew) if we ever wanted to do something effective about the needs, we'd have to `take on the system,'" explains Fleetwood. "There was a system around these sufferers that conspired to keep them in their suffering without hope for lasting release."

As a result, for the past six years, many of Yorkview's 95 members have taken over 100 personally-funded trips to Uganda, to assist with the building of The Nakyess Day/ Boarding School. Architects, businessmen, teachers, doctors and nurses all assisted with the project, offering training, physical labour, and medical care. Today more than 600 orphans call the school home.

The spill-over from this ministry has been huge, says Fleetwood. "Serving this school has meant serving the region in which it's located. We identified foundational needs in the community: water, health, hunger, medical care, schooling, economic base, safety... and as we've worked in each area, we've seen more and more `ownership' on the part of the general community."

"Sicknesses—fevers, cold, and tummy upsets    are now way down because of safe, clean water," says Pastor Kevin Fleetwood. "Children can now study effectively and achieve, because of a regular supply of veggies, goats' milk, meat and clean kitchen buildings."

In 2009, trips are planned for both February and July so teachers, businesspeople, trades people, medical workers, Bible study leaders and teachers can continue to assist in Ugandan communities.

"We feel that we've seen God's blessing flow out on this work because we've chosen to fit in with His clear intent to care for the poor and suffering," Fleetwood explains. "We got with the program!"

Since 2003, Yorkview Community Church has:

  • built and funded a fully-stocked medical clinic, and provided a nurse-practitioner serving 50 people/day
  • initiated other clinics run by volunteer physicians and nurses from North America
  • donated $70,000 worth of vaccines, resulting in two immunization programs for 1,400 people
  • donated an ambulance, beds, and other medical supplies
  • through various partnerships, donated well-drilling equipment and training on how to drill a well
  • developed a four-acre garden, including a 400-tree orchard to supply fruits and vegetables
  • birthed a local church
  • donated playground equipment to another Ugandan school community
  • funded the salaries of two Ugandan nurses, reaching up to 50,000 patients/year
  • paid for a brick-making machine

Yorkview Community Church received an honourable mention for Willow Creek's 2008 Couragéous Leadership Award for its work in Kampala, Uganda.

Emily Wierenga is an author based in Blyth, Ontario. Her book, Save My Children, is available through Castle Quay Books.

Originally published in Thinking Ahead, Vision Ministries Canada, Christmas 2008.




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