Sunday-morning volunteers amass 100,000 meals
The idea of offering a mission opportunity for people was not new to leaders at UM Church of the Servant in Oklahoma City. But offering such an opportunity on a Sunday morning, without canceling worship services, was unprecedented.
The "Stop Hunger Now" meal-packaging project began as a dream for church leaders more than two years ago. It became reality on March 7. Its off-the-chart success already has triggered plans for a similar effort, said Pastor Robert Gorrell.
When the mission event was introduced to the congregation, initial goals were to raise $20,000 (to purchase the food) and to make 80,000 meals, according to project leader Scott Smith. To package all those meals, organizers hoped to have 500 volunteers sign up to participate in shifts.
"God had bigger plans," Smith said.
By the day of the event, the congregation had given $43,000, more than twice that original goal. More than 1,200 children, students, and adults had volunteered.
The volunteers participated in making 101,160 meals, by working in shifts from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The meals will be distributed by Smile Africa, an organization that supports school feeding programs in Angola, Ghana, and South Africa.
"This was probably the best intergenerational thing I’ve seen," said Rev. Dr. Gorrell. He observed 5-year-olds working next to people in their 90s. Some people worked two shifts as well as attending a worship service.
The pastor said leadership is crucial for such an event, to train and organize people in advance for an effective mission.
Gorrell continued, "Worship is a priority for us; we were seeking to enhance that. We asked each person to make a commitment to be in worship as they also took part in the mission—and then we made it possible for them" to do both.
"Mission, when it’s done like that, is evangelism. It brought in new people. Younger adults want to be a part of transforming the world. They want to go beyond talking about faith to doing."
The church offers opportunities to be in mission throughout the year, Smith noted. But schedules make it difficult for some people to carve out time to participate in weeklong trips or even one-day projects. Other factors he listed that can deter mission involvement are the expense of trips, not knowing other volunteers, or having to take off from work.
By hosting the event on a Sunday morning, Smith said, organizers envisioned people serving during time already carved out for church, working with others they knew, and no additional cost for volunteering.
Worship and mission were intentionally entertwined that morning, Gorrell said. The food was taken into the sanctuary and blessed. Emphasis in worship was given to Christ’s calling to be his hands and feet in service.