Churches, associations meet needs through compassion ministries
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — Compassion ministries almost always involve a personal touch, whether it’s a hug, handshake or simply sharing the gospel up close and personal.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements, the personal touch may be gone but churches and associations across the state are still showing God’s love through compassion ministries.
“Compassion ministry is all about meeting needs, developing relationships, sharing Christ and connecting people to Christ and His church,” observed Joe Sorah, compassion ministries specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“The coronavirus pandemic is presenting the church an opportunity to minister in unprecedented ways,” he continued. The crisis is causing so many needs: financial, food, grief counseling, substance abuse and more, Sorah said.
“The ministry introduced by Jesus in Luke 4:18 is right before our eyes.”
Numerous churches and associations across Tennessee are continuing compassion ministries while adhering to the guidelines of social distance and precautions suggested by the CDC and local and state governments.
Rick Myers, co-director of the Chilhowee Baptist Center, sponsored by Chilhowee Baptist Association, based in Alcoa, praised the association’s churches for “responding well to these days of uncertainty and food shortages.”
They also give clients toilet paper, cleaning supplies and toiletries. “We have more toilet paper on our shelves than Walmart,” he joked. “Every time we think we’re going to run out, someone drops off more. That’s the way it has been for two weeks.”
Myers said they have been able to meet the needs of about 160 families per week at the center during the pandemic while adhering to social distancing. They also have provided between 300 to 550 food boxes each week for church distribution. He said they anticipate providing between 300 to 400 boxes for several weeks.
“It is an ongoing thing. We want to make sure no one in Blount County has to worry about having food,” he said. And though churches can’t have personal contact, they are still building relationships with the people who receive the food, Myers added.
At Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, the church “is still at the beginning of the situation and is just beginning to see what needs are going to rise in the community,” said missions pastor Ben Taylor.
He noted that Bellevue so far has assisted with emergency food assistance, food shopping and delivery to the elderly and immunocompromised, as well as financial assistance to those hardest hit. “We believe that it is going to get worse before it gets better,” Taylor observed.
Taylor said Bellevue has about 200 volunteers ready to assist as needed. “We are keeping everyone’s safety at the forefront of our minds and are following CDC recommendations and the requests of our local government,” he added.
In Dandridge, the God’s Willing Vessels Food Pantry of Swannsylvania Baptist Church has distributed hundreds of food boxes since the pandemic began and has added to its normal third Thursday of the month distribution day, said pastor Mike Hensley. The church also has emergency food boxes to be distributed as needed.
Needs have increased significantly in recent weeks, Hensley said. “The needs are greater now,” he observed, adding that the church is meeting those needs while following distancing guidelines from the county and state.
The Dandridge pastor noted God has blessed the church. “He is doing it. We are along for the ride and we are really enjoying the trip,” he said.
In Cleveland, the Bradley County EMA sent out a request for help in providing meals at the Cleveland Emergency Shelter. The center does not have kitchen facilities so meals had to be ready to eat. Churches in CrossNet Baptist Network responded immediately, said Randy Bonner, CrossNet mission specialist.
“We have some amazing churches with incredible pastors and leaders that did not hesitate to answer the call for help and become the hands and feet of Jesus to a special community in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis,” Bonner said.
Feeding began April 7 and will continue through May 3. Several of the association’s churches are taking one day each week to provide meals — Philippi Baptist, First Baptist, Cleveland, Candies Creek Baptist, Public Church, Westwood Baptist and Waterville Baptist.
Each church is enlisting volunteers and making arrangements for gathering the lunches and delivering the meals, all while practicing safe distancing guidelines and other safety precautions, Bonner said. He added that he has discovered that some of the churches are using this as an opportunity to help support local restaurants that are financially struggling because of lost business in light of the crisis, and purchasing boxed meals from them.
Demetrius Ramsey, the director at the Cleveland shelter noted the shelter “is now being stretched thin as it scrambles to meet the needs of the vulnerable people we serve every day. The meals provided by CrossNet Baptist Network Churches have been an answer to prayer.”
These are just a few of the hundreds of churches across Tennessee that are meeting needs that have arisen from the pandemic, Sorah observed.
He noted churches are not only responding, they are considering seriously how they do respond. “Every effort must be made to practice safe procedures, such as social distancing, hand washing and the like.
“It is a challenge for those in the midst of ministry but it must be practiced. The last thing we would want to do is worsen the situation by spreading the virus or harming our volunteers,” Sorah said. “When in question, always choose the side of caution. Better safe than sorry,” he observed.
Though personal contact may not be an option, still share the gospel, Sorah urged. He noted that tracts and Scripture and resources on dealing with emotional or substance issues can be shared in the food boxes as well as an invitation to view the church’s services online.
“If Facebook worship view times are showing us anything, it is that people are searching,” Sorah said. “They are watching our virtual services. They are calling on the church to help.
“What an opportunity to share Christ. We must not miss this opportunity.”
Sorah shared a thought expressed by Terry Dorsett, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England. “If a church does nothing to serve its community during the greatest crisis in our lifetime, the community will consider that church irrelevant once that crisis is past.”