Originally published in a Monthly Column for the West Michigan Christian News
Pastor Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church: Seattle, WA) describes a vision for the church as a city within a city, a tribe of people doing life together, differently. Jesus left an example that the Church should manage their relationships, businesses, and build families by different standards than the secular community around them. We are entrusted with the responsibility to transform the culture through the power of Christ, the word of our testimony, and the visible example of a transformed life.
Unfortunately, a local church’s impact can be easily perceived as limited to their most noticeable events, such as weekend services, concerts, and special seminars. Church staff hopes these programs attract the larger community, but often a local church’s resources are spent managing members rather than creating transformative influence on families and neighborhoods. In response to this perception problem, this new monthly column will highlight local ministries which live out Jesus’ challenge to build the kingdom through intentionally investing in and transforming lives, families and neighborhoods one person at a time. While Jesus taught about his Father and the Kingdom, He also ministered to the poor, fed the hungry, and restored relationships. James summed up Jesus transformative vision for the Body of Christ this way: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
Love in the Name of Christ (Love I.N.C.)
In the small, rural town of Hudsonville, a local Love I.N.C. office quietly makes significant impact on families and churches by meeting economic and social needs. For over 26 years, churches from 20 Christian denominations have pooled their resources to provide physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual assistance to families living in the greater Jenison – Grandville – Hudsonville area. While Love’s most visible event is their Budget Mentoring program, hosted Thursday nights at Hudsonville’s Hillcrest Christian Reformed Church, Love’s impact reaches far beyond the 80 to 100 households, which are formally enrolled each quarter. Love I.N.C.’s Hudsonville chapter is a national example of outreach effectiveness and has become a training center for other Love I.N.C. offices across the country.
Love’s formal mission statement is: “To mobilize the Church to transform lives and communities in the name of Christ.” A few of the following strategies used to reach this goal include:
- Love’s volunteers centralize material and financial resources of local churches throughout West Michigan and then match resources with needs on a one to one, personal basis.
- Love maintains a food pantry, collecting food staples from businesses across the greater Grand Rapids area which are made available to nearly 100 households weekly.
- During the summer, Love staff and clients plant a community garden, teaching individuals to grow their own food while highlighting spiritual lessons gleaned from the seeds and soil.
- At Hillcrest Christian Reformed Church in Hudsonville, 80 to 100 households are enrolled quarterly in the Loving Assistance Program. These 10-week classes offer practical training on financial management, family relationships, and spiritual growth. Participants can earn vouchers for gasoline, oil changes, and other material assistance which supplement their family’s budget in times of crisis.
- The staff at Love’s office coordinate 90,000 to 100,000 assistances annually, which can include a week’s groceries for a family, a set of winter hat and mittens, crutches or a wheel chairs for the impaired / injured, or rides for shut-ins to a doctor’s appointment.
While this list highlights some of Love’s impact on the local community, the greatest service Love provides is the opportunity for church members to serve in an environment which makes maximum impact out of their contribution.
The story is told the old man who discovered a little boy walking along the ocean’s shore just after the tide receded. The man watched as the boy picked up one stranded star fish at a time and tossed it back into the waves. Hundreds of the creatures littered the sand, and they would soon die under the scorching afternoon sun. None the less, the boy returned them one by one to the frothy waters.
“You know, you can’t help them all,” the man chided.
The boy stopped, and gazed down the endless stretch of shimmering sand before he turned to face the old man. “I know. . . but I can save this one,” he replied as he tossed another grateful crustacean into the sea.
Love I.N.C. has assembled a volunteer army which walks our neighborhood’s shores offering assistance to those stranded on the sands of diminished economic and social resources. Often as no fault of their own, the receding tide left individuals, and families of all ages and economic strata to suffer alone. Because of coordinated, compassionate care from Love I.N.C. and their associated churches, the needy are helped and local churches are transformed by extending the hand of Christ to their neighbors. Norma Berens, the director of the Hudsonville Love I.N.C. office expressed her passion for their work this way. “We empower volunteers to meet the needs of the community. There is no end to what we can accomplish together in the name of Christ.”
More information can be found at http://www.loveinc.org. Video coverage of the national Love I.N.C. organization can be viewed at http://vimeo.com/loveinc. From these contact points, readers will find information on the Love programs, local offices, and inquire as to how they can become involved, or apply for help.