Where can we find a meaningful small town ministry around here?
By Rev. Sherri Sandoz, Bethel Lutheran Church, Lester Prairie
No doubt about it, social ministry in a small town is challenging.
To whom do we minister? And how? We don't want our poverty to show. We are ashamed to air our family troubles. We desperately avoid the deep humiliation of local gossip.
In rural Minnesota and in small towns in general, saving face is incredibly important. So, Christian friends, how can we minister in meaningful ways to our neighbors without causing them embarrassment? It's an age-old question.
Social ministry in urban areas is much easier. There are scads of worthy causes right outside the front door. Food distribution centers and homeless shelters are already in place. It's anonymous. Volunteers are easily recruited.
On a given day one can minister just as little or as much as desired. And there is no doubt in my mind that we long, even hunger, to be good neighbors.
I believe the desire to be good neighbors is innate in faithful Christians. It comes with the territory with our initiation into the Christian family. Ministry to others comes naturally in a compassionate person, but as a member of God's family, it runs deeper.
Our faith calls us to love God and neighbor above everything else. In Lutheran terms, this love is known as a "living out" of our baptismal mission. The work we gladly do for others is in response to the love God first showed us. Ministry to our neighbor is a joyful reply to having been already saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In rural Minnesota we do the obvious social ministry very well. When a natural disaster strikes, we pull together to dig out and clean up. It opens the door for a word of consolation and a prayer or two.
The same is true when a death occurs. People don't even hesitate when asked to help with a funeral. When food shelf stocks gets low, we need only to beg the question and people generously respond. It's beautiful.
I've seen the generosity of people time and time again. What this says, is that given an opportunity to make a difference, we will gladly respond.
And why not? There is a payoff in the significance and purpose it gives to our lives God's will and purpose.
I've just learned of an opportunity to minister in our area that sounds like great fun. In Stewart, Minn., John Neisen, the owner of Cactus Jack's Café on Highway 212 has begun a Kids Against Hunger international food relief campaign.
The mission of Kids Against Hunger is to eradicate hunger among the children of the world by distributing a specially designed, fully nutritious meal, packaged by children, their families and volunteer organizations from around the globe.
Every first Wednesday of the month, volunteers can come to Cactus Jack's in two separate shifts at 4 and 6 p.m. to form packaging teams.
In assembly line fashion, on long tables at the back of the restaurant, the team packages a food mixture developed right here in Minnesota by Cargill, Pillsbury, General Mills and Archer Daniels Midland.
Each poly food packet provides enough food to feed a child 6 one-cup servings and contains rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and chicken stock fortified with vitamins and minerals.
It is a food that is easily distributed world-wide and is simple and safe to prepare by boiling the packet contents in water for twenty minutes. Each volunteer brings $20 to purchase more of the food supply. That's what keeps the ministry going.
Here's the beautiful thing. Neisen has often prayed for his life to have significance on this earth. God's response was to point the way for him to begin this specialized ministry in rural Minnesota.
Neisen's personal goal is to feed one million starving children. One million.
Here's another really beautiful thing. Neisen and his brothers own a number of bar/restaurants across southern Minnesota. Between them they have purchased several used metro transit busses with the intention of taking this ministry on the road.
One day soon, those of us who live in Winsted, Lester Prairie and Howard Lake may have an opportunity to join the Kids Against Hunger campaign. Perhaps your church or your town's ministerium can make an effort to contact John to see what can be arranged.
Here's the most beautiful thing. People coming together for the purpose of social ministry will naturally begin to talk to one another.
The Kids Against Hunger campaign provides an opportunity to "check in" with neighbors and friends in a non-threatening atmosphere.
Perhaps there may be reason to share an encouraging word or even a prayer or two. The cost to you is $20 and a couple of hours. The gift to you is the satisfaction of knowing that your life has been about God's purpose.
This is how ministry in a small town happens best.