A couple of weeks ago Carol and I visited with the good folks at the Hemley Road Church of Christ. We are always so encouraged and built up in our faith to just be with them and observe 1st century Christianity up close. One of my experiences was on Thursday morning at the food give away.
I arrived at the Civic Center in Bayou La Batre to find the parking lot full of cars. I drove to the side of the building, found a place and entered through the service entrance. When I entered I saw a long line of people who were waiting to have their ID’s checked and then receive a large box of Hungry Man dinners. The Mobile County Bar Association was present offering pro bono legal work for the citizens. Medical personnel were there checking blood pressure, trying to get a snapshot of the health of those who wanted the service.
Each week a semi trailer of food is distributed. This week about 400 family units received about 1700 meals. They also received tooth brushes, tooth paste, and other essentials most of us take for granted. Perhaps 30 volunteers helped in the effort. The local jail’s trustees, dressed in their horizontal striped black and whites carried cases of food out for people, ladies at a long table checked the necessary paper work so food and other supplies would go to those who most need it.
I studied the faces of those people in line to get food. Most of them entered the line showing no emotion. Their faces were those hardened by days in the sun on shrimp boats, working in ship yards, and a history of fighting for survival in a place where drug abuse and alcoholism is as common as the sun. Their faces did not reflect hope, just a determination to survive. Most would force a faint smile as they said “Thank you” when they received their allotment of food.
A series of storms topped off by Katrina, the Gulf Oil Spill, and stupid government policy has forced this once thriving fishing community to its knees. Will they ever recover seems to be the question of most people I spoke to. It is difficult to be optimistic when you and most of your friends are unemployed and only a fraction are eligible for any benefits.
When the local network affiliates come from Mobile or Pensacola, or CNN, and PBR come calling to find how and why all this is going on in south Mobile County they find that the Hemley Rd Church of Christ is responsible. It is an amazing story of God’s faithfulness to a hand full of people who believe He can do anything.
Only 4 1/2 years ago they were less than a half-dozen common folks who together decided that they would make a difference in hurting people’s lives. They were distributing what ever they could find that the people needed. They started to repair storm damaged houses and people began to come and help. Soon, they decided they would worship together and they met at Hardees, the Odd Fellows Hall, on the beach, and finally in their own building. They have gone from nothing to being the leading church in the area, touching lives both for time and eternity.
Not only have they fed thousands, repaired almost 500 homes, given tons of bedding, furniture, and large appliances, they have also baptized people regularly who have decided to follow Jesus. In God’s providence, funds, goods, and volunteers have come to help from all across the U.S. Not only church of Christ people but perhaps a dozen or more other groups continue to be staunch supporters both with funds and people on the ground.
Recently a church gave a 28 passenger people mover, another church purchased a 2010 van, and a local denominational church opened its heart and check book to help them help the community they serve well into the next year. The stories are too numerous for this format. Again and again, when the funds are almost completely gone and bills are due God supplies every need and more. I had not seen this kind of faith first hand in a long time. I’ve read about it, but when you see it up close and personal there is no denying that God is faithful to those who are depending only upon Him.
Carol and I spent a week working, worshiping, laughing, watching, and being amazed at these simple and unlikely hero’s of the faith as they feed the hungry, heal the broken-hearted, love the unlovable, and give out of their poverty in Jesus name.
Want to see some first century Christianity at work in 2010? Drive down to south Mobile County, Alabama and ask someone where the Christians are. They are easy to find.