- August 10, 2017
- By George Henson / Special to the Baptist Standard
HOUSTON—Volunteers at the Joy Mission Center in Houston not only work hard to have food for the families who come there seeking groceries, but also take seriously the mandate Jesus gave to provide spiritual sustenance.
Every Tuesday and Wednesday, families line up to shop in the center’s food pantry and clothing center. When volunteer Berta Torres interviews each family, she also shares the gospel and prays with them about the concerns they have in their lives. Torres, a volunteer for 22 years, oversees the Joy Center’s food pantry and clothing area, as well as the senior adult program.
About 40 families a week arrive each week seeking food and clothing. Texas Baptists help support the Joy Mission Center and other Mission Centers of Houston by giving to the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering.
Meeting social needs of senior adults
The senior adult program at the Joy Mission Center goes beyond providing for physical needs by also meeting social needs. Men sit down to swap stories and munch on pastries, women have their nails done, and everyone plays dominoes.
A Bible study led by a local pastor follows the fellowship time, and then seniors receive the food and clothing they need. About 85 people participate every two weeks.
The center also provides ministries for children and a sewing class.
Presenting the gospel
While Torres enjoys helping provide for the physical needs of those who come, she insists the spiritual component has kept her volunteering more than two decades.
“I feel very comfortable here; it is almost like a second home for me,” said Torres, a member of Iglesia Fe y Poder. “I really love to help others, especially helping them grow in their faith in Christ. That is the primary reason I’m here.”
“We have seen many people come to know Christ after constant prayer for them and with them and just a consistent presentation of the gospel. That is something that gives me great joy.”
Several of the people who visit the ministry seeking assistance have been coming since Torres joined the ministry in 1995. Many others are more recent additions. Regardless, she knows each person by name—first and last.
The Joy Mission Center represents the only faith connection for about half the people who visit the center, said Sandra Gomez, director of the Joy Mission Center, located in the Greater East End of Houston near the ship channel.
“They kind of view it as their church,” Gomez explained. “We redirect those thoughts, telling them we do what the body of Christ should do, and while we also have Bible studies, pray and share the gospel, we don’t hold services.”
The longevity of service of Torres and other volunteers makes it easier for those who visit the center to feel comfortable sharing their more troubling experiences, said Gomez, who became the center’s director last December.
Most of the churches in the area are small, and their limited resources allow them to do little beyond holding worship services, Gomez said. Other community programs provide for physical needs, but the spiritual component is nonexistent. Joy Center provides for both those intrinsic needs.
“We help them understand that these scenarios happen, these circumstances come and go—or sometimes they stick around a little longer than others—but when you are able to present the gospel to them, to present who Jesus is, and help them understand that in the midst of joy or sorrow God is still sovereign and Jesus still sustains me, they can see God’s involvement in their life,” Gomez said.
“The difference Missions Center of Houston makes is that we proclaim the gospel, and we bring a sense of hope—not in a sense that my problems are solved and my needs are physically met and I have no more worries, but that God is walking with me through this and he cares for me.”
Like Torres, Gomez has known many of the people who come to the mission center for nine years—since she arrived as a semester missionary. Their outward circumstances have not improved dramatically. Others fell on hard times for a short while and no longer need the center’s help to make ends meet.
“Regardless, we try to teach them that Jesus is their everlasting hope, and it is Jesus who sustains them no matter what their financial circumstance is,” Gomez said. “For that reason, they can rejoice in having the most or having the least.”
This is part of an ongoing series about how Christians respond to hunger and poverty. Substantive coverage of significant issues facing Texas Baptists is made possible in part by a grant from the Prichard Family Foundation.