Church of 50 feeds hundreds, spreads Gospel
By Allen Palmeri
October 26, 2004
MOBERLY – Immanuel Baptist Church, Moberly, is living proof that a church with 50 people in Sunday worship can aggressively share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its community.
A simple idea of hosting a mobile food pantry once a month has resulted in several hundred new contacts streaming onto church property. Pastor Mark DeShon said the church was expecting 250 and 600 people, respectively, on Sept. 1 and Oct. 6 to partake of free food offered by the Central Missouri Food Bank. Instead, 468 and 873 people showed up.
“We’re really trying to touch people not only physically but eternally,” DeShon said. “I’m excited to be part of a church that looked at this and said, ‘Hey, we can do that.’ It’s so easy in a small church to have a small-church mentality—there’s not many of us, we can’t do a lot. This church has just never had that attitude.
“We’ve been trying to make sure we keep our focus not on providing food but on providing the ‘Bread of Life.’ That’s why we wanted to make sure that we got at least a (Gospel) tract into everybody’s hands. We ideally would like to have enough volunteers that we can have folks mingling and talking to people while they’re getting their food. As it is right now, we’re so overwhelmed with clients that it’s about all we can do just to keep the line moving.”
DeShon, who has served five years as Immanuel’s pastor, is pleased that half of his congregation, 25 volunteers, has been helping distribute the food. He said it is “astonishing” that 50 percent of the members are involved, but he could use even more help Nov. 3 when the mobile food pantry rolls into town again.
“We’re really struggling with just keeping things running smoothly, but that’s a good problem,” DeShon said. “It sure beats standing around wondering where all the people are.”
Moberly, a city of around 12,000 north of Columbia, has a lot of single-parent families who are in need of financial assistance, DeShon said. A Central Missouri Food Bank official told the pastor that Moberly is one of the neediest cities being serviced. The food bank reaches out to 31 counties and 120 agencies/food pantries in central and northeast Missouri. It is one of only three food banks in the entire America’s Second Harvest Network of more than 190 nationwide that distributes food free of charge.
“We’re in a neighborhood that is probably needier than other parts of town,” DeShon said. “We’re in the northwest quadrant of the city. In reality, there are no other evangelical churches in this part of the city.”
Three years ago, Immanuel Baptist Church began a program through the food bank to feed children free lunch in the summer. The program started with five participants and has grown to 120-140 children a day. When the food bank started the mobile food pantry in the spring, it was looking for churches to partner with, and two other Missouri Baptist churches – Lockewood Park Baptist in Mexico and Ashland Baptist – decided to get involved.
Immanuel eventually discussed it at a business meeting in July. DeShon summarized the church’s options by saying the issue could be tabled, voted on in August, or referred to committee.
“I think it’s pretty obvious,” one of the members said. “We all can see this is a ministry we need to do, so let’s set a date and start.”
Immanuel is attempting to obey Galations 6:10 by showing mercy to those who do not call themselves followers of Christ because such activity is part of doing good to everyone. Feeding those neighbors in the name of the Savior is an act of mercy, the church believes. Or, as George Roach, director of missions, Mt. Pleasant, Mt. Zion and Monroe Baptist Associations, told DeShon: “The difference between ministry and welfare is the presentation of the Gospel. If you’re doing this and not presenting the Gospel, then you’re providing welfare.”
Immanuel aims to keep on delivering food on the first Wednesday of each month as it spreads the love of Jesus.
“The Mobile Food Pantry gives us the opportunity to make contact with people and establish relationships so that we can reach them for eternity,” DeShon said.