By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — Randy Harness started helping around the Briceville Friendship Center in Briceville after June Strunk, then director, met him one day as he walked past. They visited and she learned he was unemployed.
Strunk invited Harness to come back to obtain food and, if he wanted, to help her in the food pantry. He began working in the pantry and as they worked they “had the opportunity to talk,” said Strunk. She learned he had been in prison.
Harness was a Jehovah’s Witness but that didn’t keep Strunk from sharing her faith with him and trying her best to answer his questions. Years went by and other Baptists also got to know Harness at the Friendship Center.
“He was thoroughly indoctrinated and confused,” said Strunk, but as time passed Harness came to understand the promises of God in the Bible, said Strunk and Marcia Ellis, another volunteer.
Last year Ellis, who has served at the center for about eight years, and Harness were discussing matters of faith and Ellis felt led by God to ask Harness if he was ready to pray the sinner’s prayer. He said no again as he had several times before to Christians at the center, explaining that because he was so deceived, he was scared to make the commitment.
But soon Harness visited Laurel Branch Baptist Church, Briceville, which Strunk and Ellis had encouraged him to do.
In March, in a Sunday School class there, Harness prayed the prayer, said Ellis, now center director. Tom Byrge, who knew Harness because of his work at the center as director of missions, Clinton Baptist Association, was at the church that day and when he learned of Harness’s momentous decision, he was able to give Harness a hug.
When Byrge got home, he immediately called Ellis and Strunk to share the news. Harness couldn’t call them because he doesn’t have a phone.
Harness was baptized and has become a very active member of Laurel Branch Baptist.
“Randy is growing spiritually like you wouldn’t believe. He’s a different man,” said Ellis.
“There are people at the end of the month who wouldn’t have food if we didn’t give it to them. They run out of money and those who have food stamps run out,” she said.
“I share Christ with them because it’s just my life.”
Ellis has seen about 14 people make professions of faith during her eight years here but dozens of people turn to God and begin “growing spiritually,” she described.
At 5 Loaves Food Pantry
The young woman brought her mother-in-law to the 5 Loaves Food Pantry in Crawford for food last fall. While there Lois Wilson of Vine Ridge Missionary Baptist Church, Crawford, approached the young lady and asked how she was.
“Not good,” she said.
Wilson asked her if there was something she could pray for.
“I just have no hope,” the young lady said. She went on to explain that her rights to her children had recently been terminated.
Wilson quickly responded that God could help her and that she would never face anything that He couldn’t help her with. They prayed.
Then Wilson and another member of the church “led her to Christ,” said Doylene Farley, pantry director. Farley was able to rejoice with her when Farley arrived at the pantry and learned the news. The two women realized that they had a passing acquaintance in Monterey, where Farley works and the lady does business.
Farley stayed in contact with the young woman and amazingly was able to rejoice with her as the woman told her in January that she was being allowed to visit her children and in May that she was “going to get her children back,” recalled Farley.
A few weeks later Farley learned the woman had unexpectedly died as a result of a bad reaction to a diagnosed prescription drug.
Thankfully, Farley was able to inform the young woman’s family, who questioned the good changes they had seen in her life, the great news.
“I was able to tell them that I was sure she had accepted Christ,” said Farley.
“That makes all of our work worthwhile.”
“Our mission is to give people Jesus one box at a time. … The food is just a bonus.”
Volunteers have seen at least five people make professions of faith during the past three and a half years of the pantry.
Center in Briceville
The Briceville Friendship Center is one of the oldest Baptist feeding ministries in the state. It has operated for 39 years beginning in 1968 though it has not operated continuously.
The last two weeks of the month the center distributes food to about 50 families a month to help them because they run out of food toward the end of the month. They are not screened, but it is clear that they need the food, explained Byrge. Last year 80 percent of the students at the elementary school in Briceville qualified for two government-subsidized meals a day.
Big industry in the area closed years ago. That included coal mining originally drawing Welsh people from the United Kingdom and an Air Force base providing security for the Manhattan Project developed in Oak Ridge during World War II. The about 5,000 folks in the communities of Briceville, Fratersville, New River, Dovona, and Beech Grove now have to commute to Clinton or Oak Ridge to work although employment opportunities there are limited too, said Byrge.
The food comes from a Shop Rite grocery store in Rocky Top. It is bought by funds from the association (which gives the center about $7,000 a year), a small amount from the TBC, and direct gifts from churches and individuals. For instance, a Sunday School class of Bellevue Baptist Church, Nashville, regularly funds the food pantry, explained Ellis, who is a member of Central Baptist Church, Oak Ridge, where her husband Glenn is pastor.
Everybody, children and adults, who live with problems and can’t imagine moving away to change their situations, can “come to the center and be safe,” noted Becky Burris, a volunteer who grew up in Briceville and still lives there.
When she was growing up as part of a mining family “everybody here was poor so you didn’t feel poor. And everybody had big families,” said Burris. “Most of the people who grew up here have stayed.”
“Everybody here also takes care of each other,” noted Strunk.
Many people here are Christians, explained Strunk and Ellis, or believe they are Christians, but have so many problems that it is clear they need to learn more about God and living the Christian life, so the center leaders emphasize Bible studies and giving love and respect.
People here in this Appalachia area also are suspicious of outsiders, noted Burris, but mainly because they think outsiders look “down on us.” Strunk added that people from the outside also come to help but leave quickly so lack of trust becomes an issue.
“They need love versus condemnation,” added Ellis. Giving food and toiletries is just a way to show love while meeting a need, she noted. Ellis also can relate to the folks here. She experienced poverty as a child in Ohio and near Briceville for three years. Her grandmother lived in the area and she attended the Briceville elementary school.
Because of both the spiritual and physical needs, a short devotion is presented by a volunteer before each food pantry which is held twice a month. Of course, Ellis or someone representing the center staff is always available to explain the plan of salvation, she reported.
The center also offers a vast array of other ministries. For more information, contact Ellis at 865-274-1247, 865-426-6518, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ministry in Crawford
Like the Briceville center, 5 Loaves Food Pantry is also located in a rural area though it is in Middle Tennessee. Crawford is located 15 miles northeast of Monterey and 21 miles southeast of Livingston in Overton County.
The ministry in terms of feeding is much larger than the Briceville center. About 500 families a month receive food here.
The pantry is a ministry of Vine Ridge Missionary Baptist Church; the Tennessee Baptist Convention; Riverside Baptist Association, based in Livingston; non-profits which provide discounted food; and grants and gifts from the Volunteer Electric Corporation, Middle Tennessee Natural Gas Company, Cooper’s Recycling, and other entities.
5 Loaves Food Pantry has grown miraculously since it began three and a half years ago, said Doylene Farley, director. She also is wife of Richie Farley, pastor, Vine Ridge Missionary Baptist.
Amazingly the church began offering food to needy families when it only had 10 members and had gone through a split, she explained.
It was during an On Mission Celebration in 2010 that she was motivated to begin serving in the missions field in her own “backyard,” recalled Farley.
“We sat dead for so long but we knew there was something we needed to be doing,” she observed.
So soon with a very small amount of food donated by First Baptist Church, Monterey, Farley organized a food ministry at the church. Several church members helped her make up and deliver food boxes to six families.
They saw the needs of families and food became available so they continued.
Soon the volunteers had rented space in a community building and the food pantry was growing in leaps and bounds. But they also realized “that Christ wasn’t getting the recognition,” said Farley.
In 2012 God told her to build a building for the food pantry, but “I was like doubting Thomas. … I put Him off.”
About six months later, they learned that they could no longer use the community building space.
Members of Vine Ridge Missionary began to “seek the Lord,” and “broke ground with $200 and 10 active members,” recalled Farley.
Today Vine Ridge Missionary Baptist draws about 30 people to Sunday morning activities.
“We have grown due to our food pantry,” she reported.
Also, currently, 5 Loaves Food Pantry operates out of its new facility which is debt-free though it is worth about $150,000. It only cost about $50,000 because it was built by volunteers and because of gifts. The Farleys and their family led in the construction through Farley and Sons Construction.
Pantry leaders hope to install showers and a washer and dryer in the future. People live nearby in a tent city and could use them, said Farley. The pantry also has a meeting room, which the church uses since it does not have a fellowship hall. Community groups and families also can use the meeting room, said Farley.
What they see every week at the pantry are people needing a place to be with other people, she noted.
The pantry volunteers don’t screen recipients. “We take their word that they need it,” stated Farley.
“Our mission is to serve people Jesus, one box at a time,” she said.
For more information on 5 Loaves Food Pantry contact Farley at 901-704-2501 or email@example.com.
How to give
“If you don’t meet their need of hunger and thirst, how can we expect them to hear the gospel? That’s what Jesus did; He met the need then preached to them,” said Carrie Smith of the Tennessee Baptist Convention staff who assists with hunger ministries.
Joe Sorah, new church and community ministries specialist for the TBC who has just begun overseeing Baptist hunger ministries in the state, said, “Jesus gave us the example to follow. Because of the love of Christ, we should seek to meet human need, such as hunger.
” Upon meeting need, we are often given an open door for sharing the gospel,” he continued. “The love of Christ motivtes us to meet human need.”
Give through the local Southern Baptist church — Promote and give toward the World Hunger Fund Offering on Oct. 12. Local churches can send Hunger Fund Offerings through the TBC. Donations will be distributed according to the formula established by the Southern Baptist Convention: 20% to the North American Mission Board and 80% to the International Mission Board.
Give through the Tennessee Baptist Convention — A designated offering also can be sent directly to the TBC to help alleviate hunger in our own state.
Hunger funds can be sent through the TBC any time during the year.