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Lenten Devotional

Central Bay District youth respond to hunger

Opening Devotional from Rev. Paul Perez, Director of Connectional Ministry

Children are hungry in Michigan.

COVID-19 disrupted the food supply and caused record setting unemployment across the state. An initial report from the State of Michigan’s Food Insecurity Council reveals the number of people who are food insecure increased during the pandemic by 38%. The number of children who are food insecure increased by 63%. 

Over half the children living in Michigan do not have enough food to eat on a regular basis.

Lent is traditionally a time of fasting. For many, especially those of us, myself included, who live comfortable lives, the Lenten fast often consists of giving up a favorite food or a guilty pleasure. This year -- after so much lost life, grief, and suffering, when so many children are going to bed hungry – those “convenient” fasts simply do not seem adequate to honor a Savior who multiples loaves and fishes.

How should we fast this year? I suggest turning to Isaiah’s prophetic poetry for guidance …

Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them,

and not to hide yourself from your own kin.

Isaiah 58:6-7

 

Isaiah brings a strong word from God. A word of compassionate sharing, just relationship, and loving kinship.

This Lent, I invite you to read and reflect on how some of our Michigan Conference EngageMI organizations are in ministry with people, especially children, who are facing food insecurity.

I also invite you to deeply consider how you might “learn,” “give,” and “act” along with these organizations and join in this important ministry.

Might this not be the fast God is calling us to choose this Lent?

 

Cass Community Social Services
Cass Community Social Services

Cass Community Social Services

3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted… Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 

For the last two years, Cass has been able to grow vegetables year-round utilizing a shipping container outfitted with drip irrigation and what look like vertical blinds for seedlings and hanging energy efficient light strips. The “freight farm” has meant that our soup kitchen has been able to avoid packaged foods which tend to have high concentrations of salt and/sugar. But that’s really only half of the story.

Staff members and volunteers have taken some of the vegetable plants to area schools in the back of a Ford pickup truck. Their mission is to teach the students about gardening and nutrition. When the classes come outside, the children climb up on a set of stairs and look into the domed the garden. Our adults help them identify each plant, occasionally stopping to snap off a leaf of something like mint for them to smell.

It is an amazing thing to watch. It is apparent from the looks on their faces that everything is new to them – that most haven’t had experiences with planting, watering, weeding or harvesting a garden. In fact, it is not unusual for a child to remark that he or she thought food came from the grocery store or even the gas station.

Once the class is back in their schoolroom, the Cass adults talk about nutrition with the students, describing the five food groups and the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables. To emphasize that what’s good for you can also taste good, they then take time preparing and eating treats from the mobile farm. One afternoon, the young students at a girls’ school (pictured) enjoyed crackers with cream cheese and fresh chives. To say that they were a hit would be an understatement. One of the children ate nine.

Always the Cass team thanks the teachers, assistants and students by presenting them a plant for their room before leaving. It is our hope that the lessons about growing and eating will continue throughout the semester.

During the shut-downs related to Covid-19, Cass’ mobile farm has been redirected to the emergency shelters in the City. Since the number of computers and internet access for remote leaning is extremely limited at social service agencies, providing an outside, hand-on, educational activity has been especially appreciated by the parents, staff members and the children living in the shelters. They, too, have come to see that fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, peppermint and dill dip make for delicious snacks.  

PRAYER: Lord, who has ordained the seasons of the year and the seasons of our lives, we intercede for people living in food deserts. Help us recognize the chance to serve you in sharing with others. Show us how to be generous with all that you have given us. Amen.    

 

Community Ministries Program
Community Ministries Program COVID-19 Response

Community Ministries Program

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

As COVID-19 came to light and the Governor's stay-at-home orders brought our lives to a slower pace, our program wondered what our future would look like. We are in ministry with local elementary school children and their families through our Wednesday night Kid’s Club where we offer fun activities and serve homestyle meals. Without being able to meet in person, we feared that these children might not get a regular healthy meal option.

There were many questions about where to even start to make sure families in our community were care for. Our leadership team decided that we would provide our families significant monetary gift cards for immediate needs. Then, by working with the school principal, we determined some families needed specific items and children in our program could pick up activity bags and prepared meals for families to take home. We wanted to make sure that these families were not going to fall through the cracks. Feeling that we had a plan… we wondered what other ways the church could serve the community.

In a weekly meeting of community leaders at the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown, the Hispanic Center of West Michigan was voicing a concern about a large number turning out for their food distributions. They were asking for additional food to help supplement their main food collections. Knowing that we needed to make a bigger impact than we could alone, we began collaborating with the Kauffman Interfaith Institute and were able to make a significant impact. We pooled our money. Our program provided weekly shoppers and the Kauffman Interfaith Institute handled transportation vehicles to deliver purchased products for several weeks. We came together to help serve our community during a crisis and made sure children and families had access to good quality food in a time of need.

At the start of the pandemic we didn’t have a plan on how to respond… but God did. We prayed a lot and reflected on being open to trying something new. We re-envisioned what our ministry could look like for the weeks and months ahead. God didn’t just have a plan, God wanted us to grow and prosper too! We adapted our programming and did not stop serving our community. New doors were opened, and relationships were strengthened with our community partners like the local elementary school, neighborhood associations and local non-profits. By being open to these opportunities we have hope and excitement for our future knowing that we can adapt and respond and continue to help families prosper too!

ACTION STEP: Start building relationships with local organizations and/or schools today. Look at your community and see where you might be able to plug in. It is a difficult time to start building relationships and it’s not impossible. Be mindful of the pressures due to COVID-19 on these businesses/organizations and go slow. Sometimes just showing up as a patron or advocate helps start that process.

PRAYER: Dear God, we ask for your help in remaining calm and seeing infinite possibilities for ministry amongst a crisis. We ask that you open our eyes and our hearts to those who are struggling and give us the strength to take one step when it often feels so easy and safe to just retreat. Make our joy and light shine for all to see and brighten our communities. Amen.

Cros-Lex Project Blessing
Food pantry at Cros-Lex Project Blessing

Cros-Lex Project Blessing

Psalm 96 (UM Hymnal)

1 Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
4 For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
6 Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

As Cros-Lex Project Blessing serves the community, we encounter adults who are frazzled, depressed, anxious, and searching for help to get them through the day. 

The children that come along sense the frustration of their parents and you can see it in their faces.  However, while the parent fills out the intake form, we are able to focus on the children by asking do you go to school? who do you play with?, what do you like to eat?

“The children, you see, haven’t done anything to make themselves undeserving.  They haven’t made bad choices that landed them in this mess. They can’t be blamed for failing to do what they can, because children can’t help themselves anyway.”(2) Soon the children begin to relax, smile, and start talking or asking questions.  In the end, this relieves the parent and children of some of the stress that came in with them.  It also lifts our hearts and allows a thorough understanding of how we can help.   

The community has supported Cros-Lex Project Blessing with food drives and special offerings from churches and community organizations.  Also many individuals donate food and money to assure our work continues.  The community has made a difference in individual's lives following the Bible verse “ I was hungry and you gave me food to eat.” CEB Matt 25:35.

 “It is important to take care of other people, because it shows that we love God.  Because of that we want to share His love with those around us.  God lets us be a part of His plan to serve people.  He sends people our way who need God’s Care, and then we have opportunities to help them.”(4)

 Help comes in the form of listening, encouraging, and providing groceries for 4 days for the family size, payment of a bill, or collaborating with one or two other community help organizations to pay a total utility or rent bill.  Help comes to every person calling by telephone or stopping in.  Age as well has no limits.  One woman in particular called for help with a utility bill. I will never forget her words through her tears: “I am 76 years old and I have never before been in this situation of not being able to pay a bill.”  We paid it. We are glad to be able to serve.

DEVOTIONAL: New every morning is your love, great God of light and all day long you are working for good in the world. Stir up in us desire to serve you, to live peacefully with our neighbors, and to devote each day to your Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. (1)  Amen

PRAYER: Dear God, thank you for letting us be part of your work when we serve other people, we serve you.  Help us look for ways to do that and to care for those around us. Help us Share your love. We love you, God! In Jesus Name, Amen!

  1. Morning Praise and Prayer (UM Hymnal, page 877)
  2. Bishop K. E. Untener, The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mi, March 1991.
  3. Psychology Today, The Possibility Paradigm, Pamela Gerloff
  4. Ministry-To-Children.com by Kristin Schmidt-Permission granted.

 

Food Pantry Church Team
Food Pantry Church Team

Food Pantry Church - Inner Saginaw

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Luke 4:18-21 NIV

Hunger is real.  In this area, 85% of families are classified as “Economically Disadvantaged.”

A new ministry emerged called, “Food Pantry Church.”  It’s not just an opportunity to receive free groceries, but a warm breakfast too.  In Food Pantry Church they receive a relevant Biblical message of restoration, hope and love, followed by prayer.   We are seeing firsthand that this direct approach of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ is making an eternal difference, as people accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and deepen their relationship with God.  Food Pantry Church has become an entry point into the life of the church, through an invitational process.  It is breaking the chains of family poverty into the freedom we have in Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, hearing scripture moves us into action!  It isn’t easy to hear truth, especially when we hear of child hunger.  Yet, Jesus said, God’s truth always sets us free to do what is right.  Our faith, in believing God’s truth, leads us into some type of action.  What action is God calling you to take?  We see in Luke 4:18 that Jesus isn’t just calling us into feeding the poor, but to share the good news of his redemption.  The Bible is clear.  Jesus is the only way, truth and life and no one can come to the Father (God) except through Jesus! 

ACTION STEPS: Consider volunteering at New Heart Outreach –Various Mission Day Trips available for you or your church can to participate in.

Financial support for mission outreaches, including food pantry and building fund.

Volunteer support at a nearby food pantry.

PRAYER: Gracious, loving God, you call us to proclaim the good news to the poor and set the captives free!  Your truth calls us to do what is right and good in your sight.  Increase our faith, so we can be obedient to serve those in need.  Let our actions be in word and deed, as we serve the poor, lost and brokenhearted. In Jesus Name We Pray.  Amen

GAP Kids Camp
GAP Kids Camp collection

GAP Kids Camp - West Branch

‘When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.’ John 6:5-6

As opportunities to serve kids and their families through our regular GAP Ministries Kids Camp programs were limited by COVID restrictions, God brought new opportunities to serve people in our area. Our church and parking lot have been utilized for weekly food trucks since the pandemic began, and we began to brainstorm ways to connect with the families while they are in line waiting for food. Thus, the Parking Lot Ministry was born.

Families see a smiling volunteer passing out scripture-based activity pages and short video selections to help them pass the time. When they bring a page back to the next food truck, they receive a reward. It has been a great way to make connections with people we might not normally see in church, and a blessing to see many of​ these families fed spiritually as well as physically.

First United Methodist Church of West Branch’s GAP Ministries & Kids Camp programs are always changing and growing to fit our community's needs. We welcome volunteers in several areas throughout the year and would love to have you participate with us to spread God's love and bounty.

To see our work in action, visit our Church Website page at https://westbranchfumc.org find the donate now button, attn; GAP Ministries and on our GAP Ministries and Kids Camp Facebook page found ​@GAPHeroes, like and follow us.

Inquiries can be sent to Linda L. Hall, BSW, GAP Ministries Director at hall4thee@gmail.com.

Donations can be mailed to our church office:

West Branch First United Methodist Church, 2490 W. State Rd., West Branch, MI 48661  Attn: GAP Ministries

Joy Southfield Food Box Distribution
Joy Southfield Food Box Distribution

Joy Southfield Community Development Corporation

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; 2 Corinthians 9:10 (NRSV)

The COVID-19 virus has highlighted existing social determinants within underserved and marginalized populations. Our communities are visibly impacted by COVID-19 and are in need of adequate health and food resources in response to these times. The Joy Southfield Community Development Corporation (JSCDC) operates Sowing Seeds Growing Futures (SSGF) Farmers' Market, to bring fresh produce within walking distance to Cody Rouge, Warrendale, and surrounding neighborhood residents of District 7.

For 20 years, JSCDC has been instrumental in bringing together the voices, expertise, and resources to support Detroit residents and businesses in building a healthy and a thriving community. The residents District 7 have limited access to nutritious foods, and do not have a grocery store in the immediate area. The Sowing Seeds Growing Futures Farmers’ Market, addresses the needs of individuals, their families, and the surrounding neighborhoods of District 7.

The SSGF Farmers’ Market connects local produce growers and vendors within the community. In the Spring, the market becomes a meeting place to offer nutrition education, cooking demonstrations, and physical education, in addition to an array of new healthy food choices. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a hiatus during a time when food became scarce for many people. Food insecurity was at an all-time high. Families and children that depended on school meals were initially left in limbo. Further exasperating the disparities amongst minorities.

Joy Southfield Community Development Corporation (JSCDC) was founded by Second Grace United Methodist Church, with a mission of neighborhood revitalization. The SSGF Farmers’ Market has made a direct impact on hunger and food insecurity through the pipeline of food and education. In 2020, in conjunction with Eastern Market, JSCDC deployed over 100 boxes of fresh produce weekly during the Summer and Fall seasons.

The JSCDC staff are committed to supporting the residents of Detroit’s seventh district. We serve and strive toward a healthy community, a healthy economy, and healthy people. Volunteers are needed to make an impact. To learn more on how you can contribute, visit joysouthfield.org. For questions, please contact info@joysouthfield.org

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, You entrusted to us the fruits and harvest of all creation so that we might care for the earth and be nourished with its bounty. We pray for those who hunger in our community. We pray for those who never knew food insecurity but now find themselves in an unknown place of not being able to provide food for their families. We come to you in fervent and collective prayer for the hungry and vulnerable in our families, churches, and neighborhoods.

Please guide us in ways we can feed your people whether it be hands on or calling on organizations to respond to the needs of the people.  Help us to act with charitable focus.  Open our eyes, hearts and mind to the movement of your Spirit to find just and charitable solutions to end food insecurity and hunger and assure that all God’s people enjoy the right to food.  Amen.

Two women smiling

Justice For Our Neighbors (JFON)

This is my commandment:  love each other just as I have loved you.  John 15:12 (CEB)

Last winter, we met Maggie (her name has been changed), a mother of three, when she came to a Justice for Our Neighbors Michigan clinic in Traverse City.  JFON-MI provides pro bono immigration legal services to low-income immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in communities across Michigan.  Although our clients do not usually report struggling with food stability, that problem often becomes apparent once we begin helping them obtain lawful status in the United States.

Several years ago, Maggie and her daughter came to the United States from Mexico, ready to start a new life and a new family.  She entered the country with a visa, married a U.S. citizen, and then applied for a green card based on that marriage. Her family grew with the births of two younger daughters who are natural-born U.S. citizens.  Unfortunately, her husband was very violent and abusive.  Maggie eventually escaped for the safety of herself and her daughters, but before she was able to obtain her green card.  As a result, Maggie lost her legal status and was placed in deportation proceedings. 

Because she was a victim of domestic violence, JFON-MI legal staff helped Maggie defend herself from deportation by applying for lawful immigration status for herself and her oldest daughter under provisions of the Violence Against Women Act. To qualify, Maggie must demonstrate, among other things, that she is a person of good moral character. Before coming to the JFON-MI clinic, Maggie had been convicted of stealing food from a local grocery store so she could feed her children.  Her case is still pending with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, but that criminal conviction may hinder her chances of obtaining a green card.  While Maggie waits for the government to make a decision on her case, she remains unable to work legally.  She finds herself in the difficult position of having to work "under the table" in order to support herself and her three children.

Maggie and her daughters have infinite, sacred worth.  They are children of God, they deserve compassion, and they have love to give.  There must be justice for them and countless other neighbors across Michigan caught in similar, dire situations.  Immigration law is a complex specialty and services are not affordable for many families.  JFON-MI provides free and trusted legal advice, giving people hope and dignity. It is for the common good of our society that families are kept together, and people are given the agency to take their place in our communities and care for their children.  Jesus commanded us to do so when he said to love one another just as he loves us.

PRAYER: God, may our love for each other guide us to listen to our neighbors, give them the dignity to learn their stories, and support them on their journey.  Help us to love kindness, do your work of justice, and walk humbly with you. Amen.

At Bishop Judith Craig Children's Village, Liberia

Liberia Ministry Partnership

“Man shall not live on bread alone but on every Matthew 4:4  word that comes from the mouth of God.” 

I have been to Liberia twice. On both of the trips we stopped at the Judith Craig Children’s Orphanage which has been one of the recipients of our Annual Conference Offering. On both trips there have been over 70 children there. Many of them lost parents to the Ebola crisis. Previously, the orphanage was home to children who lost their parents during Liberia’s civil war. 

Imagine you were five, orphaned, and living in Liberia through the pandemic. The healthcare system in Liberia is not like the healthcare system in the United States. There are only 400 doctors to care for Liberia’s 4.5M people.  Resources including food are hard to come by. Nearly 1 million people lack access to clean and safe drinking water. 

During my trip in 2016, I had the opportunity to meet the current Director of the Orphanage Rev. Robert Sieh. During that time there were financial challenges that had made it impossible for anyone on his staff including himself, to be paid for almost nine months. I asked him, what kept him going? His response still challenges me to this day… He said “That’s why they call it a calling right?” His words challenged my sense of calling. How long would I have lasted if our places were switched. 

 

How long could you go without food? How long could you last without a pay check? One might think that after 23 years of struggle for higher paying jobs, safe drinking water and food would leave Liberians exhausted, hopeless and faithless. Quite the opposite is true. Churches are filled every Sunday. Schools including the one attended by the children at the orphanage are jam packed with students eager to learn. 

 

When I go to Liberia the words of Jesus come alive to me. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. 

$300 - Sends a kid to school for a year 

$2,600 - Provides clean safe drinking water for an entire village preventing the spread of disease

$10 - Buys a kids uniform to attend school for the year at a Methodist School 

$50 - Will provide enough rice to feed a family for a month 

We invite you to contact the Liberia Ministry Partnership Team if you would like more information about how we can support our partners in Liberia.  ~Rev. Jon Reynolds

Packing food at South Flint Soup Kitchen

South Flint Soup Kitchen

But he answered, "It is written, "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.' Matthew 4:4

South Flint Soup Kitchen is a lot more than giving out bagged lunches and sending folks on their way. When I read these words in Matthew, I think of how we provide more than bread alone, but also a place to provide folks with Christmas gifts for their children or a safe space to attend community events in the wake of Covid-19.

We offer folks lunches made with love, but also words of wisdom for the downtrodden, a shoulder to cry on when things get tough, life skills that can be transferred beyond these walls and into the mission field. We see God at work with every volunteer, staff member and client that enters these four walls and with every blanket, scarf, hat and piece of clothing we get donated to us.

We address food insecurity 6 days a week. We send each client on their way with a bagged lunch that contains a cold cut, snacks and bottled water. We also provide personal hygiene items every Wednesday, host appointment only Angel Closet days for clients to come in and get items such as clothing, winter wear, household goods, seasonal decorations, presents and more.

We have quite a few kids come through our doors too. One of the best things we see is when a kid gets excited about fresh fruits and veggies! We put out extra food on our front porch and we had put out some green peppers one day. I saw a little girl's eyes light up when she saw that box of green peppers and exclaim to her grandma, "there's green peppers today, grandma!" These moments show me that God's love is at work.

I come into the Soup Kitchen every morning at 8:30am and the sun hits the glass in the sanctuary just right so that you know for a fact it has to be God's loving light illuminating our big stone church on the South side. Man shall not live by bread alone, but rather by God's loving light, wherever it may shine through.

If you are interested in helping us out at South Flint Soup Kitchen, there are many ways to answer the call to action! We are accepting volunteers Monday through Saturday 9:30am-noon, we are accepting donations of books, toys, household goods, non-perishable food items and frozen meat. We also accept cash or check donations. Checks can be made out to South Flint Soup Kitchen and sent to 3410 Fenton Road, Flint, MI  48507 OR we take donations online at https://engagemi.mightycause.com/donate/South-Flint-Soup-Kitchen. You can call 810-239-3427 or email us at southflintsoupkitchen@gmail.com for any inquiries or volunteer opportunities. SFSK is a ministry of Asbury (FlintAsbury.org).

PRAYER: Dear heavenly father, please continue to bless us as we feed the hungry, clothe the poor and enlighten a community with love and compassion. We pray that your hands will guide us each day and that your loving light will always shine down upon us, wherever we may be. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

Food Collection at South Lansing Ministries

South Lansing Ministries

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  James 2:14-17

Saint Basil said: “  The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry, the garment in your wardrobe is the garment of one who is naked, the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of one who is barefoot, the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor, the acts of charity you do not perform are so many injustices you commit.”

PRAYER: Heavenly Father remind us of all that we have and make us grateful, and in turn let us help those of our brothers and sisters who are in need.  Amen.

Feeding the hungry in NC
Gathering of food for Society of St. Andrew

Closing Devotional from Rev. Paul Perez, Director of Connectional Ministry

As this holy Lent comes to an end, we reflect on Jesus’ death during Holy Week and proclaim his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

These stories contain moments of Jesus sharing food.

Before his arrest, torture, and execution, Jesus shares a “Last Supper” with his disciples. Breaking bread and passing wine, Jesus asks his friends to never stop sharing food and drink with each other as a way to remember him; as a sign of his suffering and death; as a foretaste of God’s dream for compassionate sharing, just relationships, and loving kinship.

In the days after his death, Jesus appears on the lakeshore welcoming his grieving disciples with freshly grilled fish. Even the Risen Christ loves to share a meal with hungry friends!

Children are still hungry in Michigan.

As United Methodists … as disciples of Christ … as Easter People, what is this Risen Christ calling us to do? What meal does he long for us to share?