Members Spread Hope, Compassion in Columbia
Story by V. Michelle Bernard with reporting by Kimberly Maran / Photos by Lauren Lombard and Bernard
While distributing flowers, hugs and balloons last Sabbath at the Columbia Town Center in Columbia, Md., volunteers gave a child a balloon and two women tulips. The older woman said, “Wow, you must have come from God because we were just talking about tulips.”
Leaders from re:generation (pictured above), the Chesapeake Conference’s young adult ministry, say the woman shared a Bible verse they had just read and then told them about their desire to go back to church. “She said God had answered her prayer by sending us to her,” they add.
Re:generation leader Lauren Lombard says, “[At first], I was thinking I don’t see this as having so much value as feeding the homeless or something more tangible. But, something so simple as giving out a balloon to a kid or hugs … They go away with a smile on their face and run into someone else [and cause a chain reaction.]”
Lombard was among nearly 30 young adults from re:generation that participated in the North American Division’s (NAD) Day of Hope and Compassion. Organizers planned four additional outreach events focused on the Columbia, Md., area where the Columbia Union Conference is located and the NAD will soon move. Many churches across the NAD territory also held similar outreach events in their communities.
Jose Cortés, Jr., associate director of evangelism for the NAD (pictured interviewing Pastors Shawn Paris and Jason Decena), says, “We planned the Day of Hope and Compassion with the objective of celebrating what we as a church are meant to be doing every day, sharing a hope for a better future and facilitating hope in the here and now by blessing those around us in practical ways.”
One of the ways that volunteers (Columbia Community church members Particia Pinkney and Phyllis Ballard pictured below) helped on Sabbath was serving food to the residents at Sarah’s House, en emergency and transitional housing and homeless shelter in Fort Meade, Md.
Organizer Dionne Finney says that this type of event helps create relationships with residents. She says "God is not in the number business: He's in the heart business, and I pray we touched some hearts!" Finney’s church, Allegheny East Conference’s Columbia Community Center in Columbia, Md., and the Chesapeake Conference’s New Hope church in Fulton regularly serve food to Sarah’s House residents. “It may take a while, she adds. "[This weekend] we were able to give personal care and forge new friendships."
Other volunteers on Sabbath afternoon prepared and served a cookout to residents of Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center in Columbia. “It’s a good support for Grassroots,” says Nathan Taylor, who leads New Hope’s monthly outreach to the shelter. “They rely on donations and people to come and serve in order to function smoothly. … You don’t really need to have any sort of cooking experience necessarily. It is one of the easiest, fun experiences you can have volunteering.”
"Be As Ninja As Possible"
More volunteers returned on Sunday to disassemble and then construct a new playground set on the campus.
"Grassroots relies on the faith community and our many partners to carry out our mission to provide shelter and support services to homeless individuals and families with the goal of helping them resolve their housing crisis," says Andrea Ingram, executive director of Grassroots. "For example, we feed 51 people three meals a day here in our shelter and most of the meals are brought in by volunteers from the community including churches, synagogues, community groups, businesses, families, youth groups and more."
That same day, volunteers (pictured) also gathered in the parking lot of the Target in Columbia with the intent of surprising eight local families with $200 worth of groceries, clothes and toys. Volunteers split into groups, purchased the items with funds donated by NAD, the Columbia Union, and Chesapeake conference, then drove to the homes of the eight families recommended by Howard County Social Services.
Jason Decena, New Hope associate pastor and event organizer, encouraged the group, made up of mostly families, to “Go to be His hands and feet and deliver what you purchased. … And to be as ninja as possible. Can you imagine what their reaction will be when they find this stuff? Maybe they’ll see this and think that God is looking out for them,” he said. (Watch a video here.)
Amber Krein, a 12-year-old from New Hope, volunteered with her parents, two sisters and brother. “It is really fun and inspiring. It really makes me think about how many people need help and how excited they would be to find this stuff at their door.” She adds that she would like to do it again.
Decena wants a repeat event also. “I think we’ll make every effort to make this happen again. Being reminded of how much fun it is to be part of what God is doing in the lives of others. If we make ourselves available, those opportunities present themselves,” he says.
Cortés hopes this event, part of the Compassion 10 Mission initiative to inspire members to collectively volunteers for 10 million hours in 2016, will inspire a “lifestyle rather than an event,” he says. “If each one of us personally dedicates between 10-20 hours during 2016 to loving and serving people in our communities, we can do much more. Can you imagine an Adventist Church filled with members and friends who love others regularly and spontaneously, just like Jesus did as He walked this Earth?
Want to Get Involved?
Frank Bondurant, one of the event organizers and vice president for ministries development at the Columbia Union, reports, “The NAD, [Columbia Union and conferences] have provided funds for each conference to choose a church that will [host] 2016 Compassion projects. These churches will plan and host community service events every month this year. Stay tuned for updates on the impact they are making.