From the beginning of time, hospitality has been used to reach out and touch people. Placing the word “biblical” before “hospitality” changes everything.
Biblical hospitality is different from what the world offers. Why? Because of the motive. It comes from a heart that goes deeper than just meeting physical needs. It’s about reaching the spiritual condition, presenting the good news — Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).
In other words, the need for physical food presents an opportunity to share the Bread of Life.
In the book “The Joy of Hospitality,” Vonette Bright and Barbara Ball give this definition: “True hospitality doesn’t wear us out or make us feel pressured; life sharing is not entertaining in our own strength. It flows from a heart full of love for others. Christ’s love, which doesn’t come from our self-effort, is a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The love of Christ is what draws people to God. This love transforms a party or other event into true hospitality … it is genuine concern for another’s well-being.”
“Come to the table and see what He has done,” is the invitation. This can be done in many creative ways, and many churches across the state are serving biblical hospitality through the ministry of food pantries, special meals around Thanksgiving and Christmas, or monthly programs throughout the year.
Downtown Rescue Mission
“Hope Lives Here” is the tagline for the Downtown Rescue Mission in Huntsville. For more than 40 years the facility has been a haven of shelter for homeless men, women and mothers with children. Currently, they provide emergency services consisting of a meal, shower and a place to sleep for approximately 240 individuals per night. A recovery program also is available.
Jay West, senior director of ministry, said many churches across the metro area support the mission, including area churches Whitesburg Baptist Church and Rivertree Church. Volunteers and funds are valuable assets and always needed.
During Thanksgiving, “Turkey Boxes” were prepared for 1,000 families for distribution Nov. 22 and 23. Individuals must sign up to receive the box, which is filled with a complete meal.
To learn more about the mission, volunteering or donating visit www.downtownrescuemission.org or call 256-536-2441.
Greater St. John Baptist Church
Greater St. John Baptist Church in Birmingham offers a food pantry, which, according to their website, is open each 4th Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to noon.
The ministry is available for low-income individuals and those living in ZIP codes 35211 and 35221.
“Nearly 70% (88,000) of Birmingham residents are living in areas that have been designated as a ‘food desert’ (a term used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to describe a residents’ access to healthy food),” the website says, adding, “the church’s desire is to start targeting hunger within our immediate community and neighborhood.”
Visit greatersjbc.org or call the church office 205-925-5975 for more information.
Linden Baptist Church & Bethel Baptist Association food ministries
Linden Baptist Church in Linden does not provide a holiday meal, but purchases food from the Selma Area Food Bank (SAFB) for monthly distribution, every 3rd Tuesday. The SAFB also provides the church with a mobile food pantry several times a year.
Three and a half years ago, when the ministry started, the Marengo County Department of Human Resources was contacted regarding families who might be in need. Then, families were asked to submit an application. Today, 55 families have grown to 115, providing for 225 individuals. The church anticipates a greater need this year and plans to purchase more than their regular monthly food procurement.
Initially, funding for the ministry was through a line item in the church budget. However, thanks to donations and funding from Bethel Baptist Association and the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), they haven’t needed to tap into budgeted funds, even with the increase in need.
Presenting the gospel is part of the distribution, according to John Osborne, director of the Bethel Baptist Association food ministry.
“Until Covid, we had a one-on-one meeting with each family; we desired to learn about the family, were they saved, going to church?; ask about prayer requests, and pray with them. Now, we are not doing one-on-one because of the virus, but we inquire about their needs and prayer requests during food pickup. Our goal is to have a personal relationship with each family.”
And they do — if someone misses a pickup, Osborne or another volunteer follows up with a phone call and an offer for a makeup date.
Volunteers play a significant role in the ministry, Osborne said. Assisting Bethel Baptist is Calvary Baptist Church, south of Linden, as well as other churches in the area. Teenagers from a local high school, home-school children and 20 young adults from a Methodist church in Demopolis have played a significant role in preparing and distributing pre-packed food boxes.
Another component to the ministry is working with seniors over age 60. The church assists the SAFB to help individuals get approved for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP).
“Trusting that God will provide is required to be successful in this ministry,” Osborne said. “He has always provided whatever has been necessary.”
Contact information: John Osborne, firstname.lastname@example.org, 334-813-2918.
Shelby Baptist Association
Delight Davis, administrative assistant/treasurer, with Shelby Baptist Association, said their unique and successful annual food distribution usually is held a week before Thanksgiving.
This year, people who had been helped throughout the year through the association’s food pantry were contacted before the Nov. 18 distribution date. Forty-five families, representing 95 individuals, were given designated times to arrive at the association building.
When they got there they were greeted and a representative of the family was invited to come inside.
A host welcomed them, then each of eight chaplains met with them individually, sharing the Good News of the gospel and praying. Pastors and others from churches throughout the association served as chaplains.
Just before Christmas the association also provides an emergency meal box filled with nonperishable items. While the office is closed for the holiday, it provides for individuals until regular hours resume. In 2020, some 20 families requested the boxes; this year the association expects that number to increase.
Contact the association office online or at 205-669-7858.
How to extend hospitality
Remember, hospitality is not an “event.” It is a vital part of the Christian life (Rom. 12:13). Begin with prayer and ask God how and where to get involved. Hospitality begins in the home and extends outward.
- Material possessions: money, clothes, furniture, a building, a vehicle
Talents and abilities:
- Can you organize?
- Are you a servant leader?
- Can you teach others how to grow and harvest vegetables?
- Do you have the spiritual gift of teaching?
- Are you an evangelist?
These are just a few ways to use gifts and talents.
Everyone struggles with the issue of time. We make time for the things that are a priority, and a commitment must be made regarding time to engage in hospitality.
The holidays present an excellent opportunity to use possessions, spiritual gifts and time to touch the lives of others. What is happening in your county? How can you be involved? It’s not too late to help fill a plate and serve others this holiday season!