O’FALLON—In Matthew 10:42, Jesus encouraged His disciples to give even a cup of cold water, but First Baptist Church here gave cookies, popsicles, and quarters.
The church designed Project Connect as an avenue for church members to serve the community with various acts of kindness.
“We were impressed to have more of a presence in the community,” Richard Young, senior pastor, said. “Our people wanted to have a positive impact on the community and to represent Jesus. This gave us an opportunity to get beyond the walls of the church and to show His love in a practical way to our community.”
The love was shown by about 300 members at 35-40 venues throughout the community. Project Connect conducted three block parties, delivered 8,640 cookies, washed many cars and worked a laundromat. In addition, hot athletes received popsicles at Little League practice fields as well as in the parks around the area.
The cookies were delivered to the staffs of schools, banks, civic offices, fire and police stations as well as hospital and nursing homes. “We wanted to thank them for their service,” said member BT Clemons. “Project Connect gave us an opportunity to talk about our church family and to witness one-on-one to people and talk about their spiritual well-being.”
Clemons spent several hours working one of the block parties. “I’m just a big kid at heart,” he said. “I went first on the face painting when some of the kids were a little hesitant. Then, after a turn at the face paint, they ran over to show me what they got painted.”
The face paint also got Clemons additional opportunities to witness. “As I drove home from the block party,” he said, “I stopped at a convenience store. The clerk asked me why my face was painted, so I had another chance to talk about Jesus. It was an open door to talk about her spiritual need.”
The connection didn’t stop there. “I visited my daughter-in-law in the hospital and a nurse asked about the face paint,” Clemons said. “When I told her what we were doing and why, she immediately tied a cookie delivery from a group of second grade girls to our church.”
The wide variety of venues and methods of service was the plan of the organizing committee. “Our strategy,” Pastor Young said, “was to energize a lot of people in all age groups during a concentrated block of time to show acts of kindness and a verbal witness.”
The church youth did the 30-hour Famine program while serving in Project Connect. Approximately 100 students fasted and slept outside in cardboard boxes in 30-degree weather. Some worked the block parties, some washed cars, and some cleaned a stream.
Some high school students went to a laundromat to minister. “As folks came in to do their laundry,” said Linda Mabry, adult leader of the youth, “we would feed their washers and dryers with quarters. They were shocked. One older lady, a grandma, came in and she said she was down to her last $13. She didn’t know whether to use the money for laundry or food. Then we were there and she was able to leave with that $13 in her pocket.”
Another member, Mike Marx, went with a team to another Laundromat. “We set up a table for free snacks and we used quarters for all the customers. We talked to those coming in and used listening ears as we offered free prayer. We understand the concept of clean hearts as well as clean laundry.”
“Our experience of love and faith,” Marx continued, “helped us reach beyond our church comfort zone into other socio-economic groups. Our heart joy is to help others know Him and to help them grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
The final component of the weekend was a celebration service on Sunday night to share what happened. “We had story after story of God opening doors,” Marx said. “We’re not waiting. We already have plans to follow up with specific contacts.”
Mabry agreed that the Project Connect participants were eager to continue. “The teens were so excited about helping other people,” she said, “that they wanted to do it every month. It was a real jumping off place to help them think about others instead of being focused on themselves.”
Marx enjoyed the result of Project Connect. “This should be the normal fabric of what the Christian life is all about,” he said.
VICKI STAMPS/contributing writer