Fruitfully Living

Serving the Gray: How a Small Church Can Make a Difference

How a small church can make a difference imageMost Fridays mornings, New Vision Community Church is bustling with activity. The parking lots are full, people are swarming in and out, and volunteers are hustling. This isn’t your regular church service activity. No, these are the days that New Vision Community Church provides free groceries to the elderly through their Silver Star Program. It is one of their many on-going ministries and my girls and I were happy and proud to be part of it all. We saw first hand how a small church can make a difference in the greater community.

Planning and Pre-Staging are Critical for Success

This is not a haphazard operation. On the contrary, it is a well oiled machine. Every week, the church and its volunteers prepare to host 150 to 300 people and provide them with free groceries. Early in the week, Pastora Lucy, as she is famously known in Laredo (and who also happens to be my mom), makes an effort to ensure that there is enough inventory of food products, to include baked good and fresh fruits and/or vegetables when available, to accommodate those that will be collecting their “mandado” on Friday. If the inventory is insufficient, a volunteer driver and/or my dad, the senior pastor, will pick up donated goods from various places around Laredo and have it delivered to the church so other volunteers can package it into grocery bags. Things like beans and rice are usually donated to the church in bulk so those must be packaged by volunteers in their own little bags first and be ready to be placed in grocery bags.

small church can make a difference

My girls packaging bulk goods.

There are a lot of moving parts and each part has a designated set of volunteers that ensures their part is functioning and ready. For example, a husband and wife team are responsible for the dry goods and packaging individual bags so that the elderly will receive a wide variety of product. They faithfully come every week and pack paper bags with things like rice, pastas, beans, chips, salad dressings, honey, bottled drinks, and yes, even chocolate or some other type of candy.

All Volunteers on Deck

The day of the event, everyone is in place. The church administrative assistant has a registration table set up where each person will present their ID and she will double check that they were indeed slated to pick up that week. This is done to prevent fraud and to make sure that every “grandma” and “grandpa,” as my daughters like to call them, will get their share for the month. The kitchen staff has coffee and pastries available for the elderly to enjoy before picking up their goods and a faithful servant leads worship and shares the gospel in the sanctuary for those that want to participate. The pastors will be walking around making sure everything is running smoothly, greeting the visitors, and pitching in whenever and wherever they see a need. In the back of the church, volunteers are moving bags and handing them out to the elderly as they show up. If a person is too weak to walk, they are kindly instructed to park, and a runner will gather their groceries for them.

small church can make a difference

Young volunteer patiently waiting before the big rush.

Sometimes it is a Leap of Faith

The same process is repeated week after week and it has happened many times where the pastors did not have enough inventory to meet the demand for Fridays, but this will rarely unsettle them. They do what they can, scrape from every corner of the church, trust in God and patiently wait for His provision. What they won’t do is cancel it. And God has been faithful; the elderly have received their “mandado” every Friday that the church has scheduled it since the beginning of this ministry in 2008. On several occasions when there has been a shortage, a major food donation arrives at New Vision the day before and sometimes even that same morning. The pastors and their volunteers are used to operating in this uncertainty. Personally, I would be pulling my hair out.

A previous team of missionaries greeting the elderly.

Learning from My Experience

I have been at the church many times in the past when I have visited my parents, but since usually I am just vacationing, I had not experienced the full scope of the work and preparation that goes into something like this. This time my daughters and I packed grocery bags, sorted and repacked bulk goods, moved inventory from one room to the other, and interacted with the sweet people that came to collect their “mandado.” I think I might have lost a few pounds that week just because of the physical aspect of the work. I was moved by the hard work of the volunteers and their faithfulness to service. And I was able to better understand my parents and the amount of logistical planning that goes into running this ministry and the many others that are part of New Vision Community Church. They have a large load on their shoulders. The Silver Star Programs runs in addition to normal church services on Sundays, Bible studies, prayer sessions, counseling and its other non-traditional ministries.

Their Secret to Success

Providing free groceries to about 1000 people each month (and this doesn’t include the free groceries that are given to poor people in the outskirts of Laredo) is not a cheap enterprise. How can the church afford this? The church has only about 100 members and most are people with limited means. The church tithings barely cover the church’s electric bill. So how is that possible? First and foremost, it is the strong faith of the church leadership and volunteers that God will come through. The second, is hard work. I could barely keep up with the people that worked along side me. Truly, they put me to shame and I always considered myself a hard worker (yeah, little did I know). Thirdly, the church through God’s grace has built an extraordinary relationship with organizations, companies, and individuals that provide donations to make some of these ministries happen. Lastly, the church operates outside of the box. They fund many of their ministries by running a non-profit café, a non-profit grocery store, and a working ranch.

Final Thoughts

My little girls will not understand anything that has to do with logistics nor appreciate all the moving pieces of these ministries. They will probably mostly remember the silly hats they had to wear when packaging food and having to work, “for hours, and hours without end,” as my five-year-old liked to complain (In full disclosure she really only worked about 10 minutes at a time, but if you asked her, she would have you believe she had been doing that for days.) But I do hope and pray that they took away that we serve, because we serve the King. That we do this out of love and we love, because God first loved us. I pray that they will cherish the smiles of those that we served. And I hope that they remember all the faces of the wonderful volunteers who not only served the elderly, and the poor, but also took the time to serve my two young daughters (sometimes against my pleas and wishes).

I leave you with the verse that was the genesis for the elderly ministry. It was the verse that drove my parents to move forward with this ambitious endeavor that is now in its ninth year.

Leviticus 19:32, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” (ESV version)

If you would like to make a donation to this important ministry, you can do so here.

Read Other Articles About Churches Making an Impact:

How to Make People Feel Welcomed at Church

If this article encouraged you, please be so kind to share it!

15 Comments

  1. Pingback: Family Mission Trip: Short-Term Mission to Laredo, TX • Fruitfully Living

  2. Jamie | One Word Faith

    What a great example of how each church, each family, each person can really make a difference in the world. I am always intrigued and amazed at the planning effort and detailed orchestration that make an even like this run. May God Bless this ministry for years to come.

    Reply
    1. Luisa Rodriguez (Post author)

      Thank you Jamie!

      Reply
  3. Galina Shelepen

    Wow! Very impressive! Thank you for sharing what goes on “behind the curtains” of the ministry. Being a part of a ministry team myself I know that sometimes it looks easy from the outside but it takes a lot of work and dedication on the inside. Loved your reflection on involving the little ones. I am glad that I introduced my daughter to volunteering at a young age. She is a teenager now and still continues to seek out opportunities to serve!

    Reply
    1. Luisa Rodriguez (Post author)

      I think hard work and service is something we can teach our kids by exposing them to it early. I pray and hope as my daughters get older that they too will continue to seek out opportunities to serve!

      Reply
  4. Beth Bingaman

    Wow, what a great show of faith! I love how the Lord provides when we trust Him to do so.

    Reply
  5. Melinda Viergever Inman

    Your parents’ church is truly inspirational! This is how it’s done, a model of a lifetime of ministry in a community. I’m so impressed with how lovingly and faithfully they are meeting the needs of the elderly. Their dedication and deep faith shows in every decision and action they perform. This is a great model for others!

    Reply
    1. Luisa Rodriguez (Post author)

      Thank you Melinda! They are a great example for our family and we only wished we lived closer to be able to help them out more.

      Reply
      1. Melinda Viergever Inman

        I bet so! Both your parents are wonderful spiritual leaders!

        Reply
  6. Melissa McLaughlin

    Dear Luisa, I am humbled and inspired to hear of your this outreach by your parents and their church. Wow. Thank you for sharing not only the details but the hard work, faith and persistence that these brothers and sisters are demonstrating week after week. Incredible. How wonderful that you involved your daughters. Though they can’t understand the magnitude of this church outreach, someday they will. God bless you and yours!

    Reply
  7. Jessie | One Lost Coin

    It is always about the heart of the church, not the size. Your church is an amazing example!

    Reply
  8. Brianna Martin

    Luisa, I have spent most of my life in small churches, and they have a special place in my heart! Your parents sound amazing, and I love that there are so many dedicated people working hard to be a blessing to their community there in Laredo. What an awesome example of being Jesus and reaching people first by meeting their needs. I love it!

    Reply
    1. Luisa Rodriguez (Post author)

      Thank you Brianna!

      Reply
  9. Edna Davidsen

    Dear Luisa!

    I’m always pleased to read about programs such as the Silver Star Program.

    It’s so important that our churches get involved in more practical things with people outside the church.

    One thousand people, that a lot of people who feel that the church is making a difference in their lives.

    With love!
    Edna Davidsen

    Reply
    1. Luisa Rodriguez (Post author)

      Thank you Edna!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: