By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Midland Baptist distributes more than 3.5 million pounds of food annually
BELL BUCKLE — The premise behind the Journey of Hope Ministry Center is simple.
“There are as many hungry people in rural America as there are in urban America,” said Doug Mitchell, pastor of Midland Baptist Church in Bell Buckle which has operated the center since 2009.
In addition, he said, people need to hear about Jesus.
The ministry center actually began with former church deacon Dean Cantrell who would pick up bread from local outlets and deliver it to needy families in the neighborhood.
In January of 2009 Cantrell’s health worsened and he later died, but before he did he asked the church to take over his bread ministry. “We didn’t know what to do with it,” Mitchell admitted.
The church did it for a few weeks and word spread the bread was available. Before long Mitchell had to find more bread because they continued to run out.
Since that small beginning the ministry has grown “leaps and bounds,” Mitchell said.
It soon outgrew the church but God opened doors for it to move across the street into what used to be the old Midland School building.
The majority of their food now comes from Second Harvest Food Bank and a nearby Walmart Distribution Center. The Walmart items are donated while the church pays for the transportation cost only for the Second Harvest food. God has provided the funds needed for the ministry, the pastor said. “We have waited on God and the money always shows up,” he added.
The church also has begun to receive food and other items from additional sources as well.
Mitchell estimated Journey of Hope Ministry distributed between 3.5 and four million pounds of food, including meat and fresh fruits and vegetables, last year.
Food is distributed twice each week in four-hour blocks on Friday and Saturday. While at the center families can also select clothing and household items.
Approximately 600 families representing about 2,000 people, receive food during the two days. And it’s not the same families over and over, the pastor said. The center has a software program that tracks who receives food and how often. About 60 new families are reached each week, he said.
As Mitchell reflected on the ministry he noted that if God had “thrown this all on us at once we would have run from it.”
Instead, God grew the ministry steadily and always provided what the church needed at the right time to meet the needs of people in rural Rutherford and Bedford counties.
Besides the food, God has provided a stable of loyal volunteers.
When Midland began the ministry in 2009 the church had about 60 people who attended on Sunday mornings. While the attendance has almost doubled since then, it is still more than the church could do by itself, the pastor said.
The center has volunteers from local churches of all denominations. “It’s more than Midland Baptist,” Mitchell acknowledged. “It’s a God thing. Everyone here loves to serve.”
That was never more evident than just recently.
On the last Sunday in March (Palm Sunday) vandals broke into the ministry center and left an estimated $30,000 worth of damage, including destroying some refrigeration equipment.
Local media picked up the story and shared it throughout Middle Tennessee.
Randy C. Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, learned of the need.
The TBC then provided a gift from the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions to assist the center with some of its losses. The center did not have insurance on the contents, Mitchell said.
Without even being called about 60 volunteers showed up at the ministry center the following day to clean up and prepare the center for the next week’s food distribution.
“We did not miss a week,” Mitchell said.
While the ministry meets physical needs, that’s not its primary reason for being, he noted.
Every time the center is open for food distribution, the gospel is shared, Mitchell stressed. He presents a short message and prays with the people.
“There are a lot of people who have accepted Christ as Savior as a result of this ministry,” Mitchell said. “I can’t remember a time when at least one person didn’t accept Christ,” he added.
“That’s why the ministry is here — to spread the gospel.
“When a mom is worried about her babies eating, she can’t concentrate on anything else,” Mitchell opined.
When you feed the children, the parents will be more open to hearing the gospel, he continued.
Mitchell also has seen people who were raised in church “but were later hurt by a church” who have returned to church after receiving help through the center.
“This ministry is a good way to see the love of Christ,” the pastor added.
Roger Brown, pastor of Cedar Grove United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, volunteers at the ministry center.
“I see this as an opportunity to partner in the body of Christ to spread the gospel through sharing God’s love and feeding the hungry,” Brown said.
“The ministry is an example of the body of Christ working together in the kingdom,” the Methodist pastor added.
Diane Douthit, one of the codirectors of the ministry and a member of Midland Baptist, said she and her husband David are involved “because it is a good way to show God’s love.”
The couple spends numerous hours at the center preparing for the distribution as well as helping when the center is open. “It’s definitely a labor of love for us,” she said.
Joe Sorah, Harvest Field team leader and compassion ministries specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, has visited the center twice and has seen the impact it has made firsthand.
He noted there are lessons to be learned from the rural Concord Baptist Association church.
(1) One man’s vision can change a whole church and community. “This ministry began with the one man answering the call of God and now there will be people in Heaven because of his obedience.”
(2) Small churches can do great works for the kingdom of God. “We’ve got to stop making excuses why we aren’t reaching more people with the gospel. We must do what God calls us to do and stop thinking about what we can’t do.”
(3) See the harvest field. “Pastor Doug had to see his harvest field white unto harvest. When he did, he obediently presented the gospel. The results speak for themselves.
“What if he had never gotten his Bible out that first day and preached. Look at all that might have remained lost. We’ve got to take advantage of our opportunities.”
Sorah observed that “compassion ministry is more than sharing food or clothes. It is sharing those things to build a bridge to share Christ.
“Midland and Pastor Doug are faithfully fulfilling their calling. What an example they are for other churches to follow,” Sorah observed.
Mitchell noted he has been blessed immeasurably through the ministry. He has seen single moms who were helped through Journey of Hope return when “they were on their feet” and donate baby clothes and items to the center “because they want to give back.”
He also noted that people who receive assistance also volunteer at the center.
A firm believer in Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God materials, Mitchell noted that “not a day goes by that I don’t thank Him for letting me be a part of what He is doing here. I see God’s hand in all that we do.”
For more information about the ministry center, call Mitchell at 615-713-0572.