Our pastor at Bowling Green, Kentucky, First Church of the Nazarene, Gary Curry, has been preaching for over three years about relationships and how we need each other. It has slowly been impacting me. What can I do to reach out to others? Do I really know my neighbors?
My wife, Gwen, and I have been part of a small group prayer time at our church every Monday for over two years. We share prayer requests and spend time in prayer, but it has also become a time of opening up to, and encouraging, one another. It has become obvious that we really do need each other.
A year ago as summer waned, we watched neighborhood kids playing in the street. Knowing the first day of school would be the following week, Gwen and I thought about what we could do to make the children excited and comfortable as they got off the school bus.
Gwen came up with an idea: kids like frozen treats, so we decided to pass them out on the first day of the new school year. I thought, one time wouldn't hurt-a one-day giveaway. The day and hour arrived and about 12 children eagerly grabbed the cold treats and scampered off to their homes, some saying, "thanks," and some wanting more. Much to my chagrin, Gwen said "Let's do it again tomorrow!" I complained about missing my afternoon nap, but she wanted to do this the rest of the week.
Each day we watched for the bus and did our routine. One thing we noticed was that two children cut through our yard and ran across the field to an apartment building behind us.
One evening during that first week, while we were walking into a local store, a woman approached us and said, "Aren't you the couple handing out treats?" I thought, "Oh boy, we are in trouble." But she wanted to say thank you because her son was so excited when he got off the bus-it was a great ending to his school day. Later that week, one of the mothers was standing in front of our house waiting for her children. We asked her name. "Lorena," she said.
Remember that for three-plus years our pastor had been encouraging us to build relationships outside the church. Recently, through the encouragement of David Samayoa, who was then our district Hispanic Ministries director, our church was trying to start an Hispanic ministry in our community. David and his wife, Sonya, were coming to Bowling Green every Sunday evening and holding services in one of our church classrooms. We were excited about their ministry and asked ourselves how in the world two senior adults like us could get involved. So, we would say things like, "Go get 'em, Pastor Gary!" and "After them, Pastor David!" We were off the hook.
But the Lord had planted some wonderful people in our lives as we distributed those frozen treats.
Lorena, the mom standing in front of our house waiting for her children, apologized for her kids cutting through our yard to get to their apartment. She said other neighbors had complained about them. We told her it was fine for them to cut through our yard. All of a sudden we realized that Lorena was Hispanic and her kids were Hispanic. Click! "Thanks, Lord, I can't wait to tell David and Sonya about them. They will get them in and connected." David and Sonya did make the visit as I listened at the front door of the apartment. Of course, I couldn't understand the language, but I smiled deep inside and said, "Go get 'em, brother." Lorena and her children came to one of the Sunday evening services. We figured we had done our part.
The frozen treat ministry went into the second and third weeks. Lorena came out once in awhile to meet her children at the bus stop. One day she told us something that grabbed us and helped us understand this was not just David's ministry, but we needed to be involved in our neighbors' lives and get to know them. She told us that her girls call us their grandma and grandpa. She wanted to make sure that was okay with us. Of course, that was fine with us!
Now, we had to be there every weekday and give up our afternoon naps to greet the bus. After a few weeks the bus driver called us over to the bus (again I thought we were in trouble). He said, "You need to do something different because you are blocking traffic. Do you see all those cars behind the bus? I won't leave until all the kids are safely on the sidewalk. And, could you do something else? The rest of the kids left on the bus want to get off on your corner because they see the treats!"
So, we moved the distribution point to our front yard. The ministry continued and we were having great conversations with Lorena and our "adopted" grandkids. She told us they didn't have any friends or family here. Because of her work schedule, she could not attend the Sunday evening Hispanic services. We invited her family to Sunday morning worship. They came and our congregation embraced them, even to the point that when discover later that Lorena and her husband had lost their jobs, the church family helped them get their van repaired and brought in Christmas gifts for them. Lorena could not believe she felt loved. They had not asked for this; they just wanted to feel connected to someone.
Now, Lorena and her children call First Church their church. The girls love the children's church. It thrills us as we watch Lorena listen intently to pastor's message, soaking in the Word. She tells us she has never been accepted like this anywhere before. We are her church family. I thought it would be the Hispanic ministry that would connect her, but it became the Sunday morning message and the people who love her that opened the door. Lorena's daughters and son have been baptized. Pastor Gary shares about Lorena, "She has a clear testimony of commitment to Christ as well as to His transforming work in her life."
Well, it has not ended for us. I am still missing my naps, and now with the cold weather, Gwen is passing out cookies to the bus kids, and we get hugs from our neighbors across the field because we have become their adopted grandparents. Frozen treats and cookies. I tried to find a scripture to support that ministry, but all I could find was something about a cup of cold water, "And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple . . . he will certainly not lose his reward" (Matthew 20:42a). Perhaps the message of the gospel is on an ice cream stick.
Anita Curry is from Louisville, Kentucky, where her husband is pastor of First Church of the Nazarene.
Jerry Henderson serves as Sunday School and Discipleship Ministries chair at Bowling Green First Church of the Nazarene. His wife, Gwen, is the church's Nazarene Missions International president.
Holiness Today, Sep/Oct 2011