LUBBOCK—Pastor Kenneth Jackson of New Light Baptist Church in Lubbock prayed 10 years ago, asking God to give him a vision for community outreach.
He found it in John’s Gospel, when he read a conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter.
Jesus asked if Simon Peter loved him, and the disciple replied, “Lord, you know I love you.”
“Feed my sheep,” Jesus responded.
“I realized that’s what God wants us to do,” Jackson said. “He commands us, ‘Feed my sheep.’”
Love in a Lunch ministry
Looking at the predominantly low-income neighborhood surrounding New Light Baptist, Jackson realized before its residents would accept spiritual nourishment, they first needed someone to help meet their basic needs. About eight out of 10 households are food-insecure, and many homeless people frequent the area.
So, the church’s Love in a Lunch program was born.
Jackson distributed fliers throughout the neighborhood, inviting residents to visit the church to receive a free sack lunch on Wednesday afternoon. The first week, Jackson and his wife, Ambra, prepared and distributed 15 meals, and the program continued to grow.
“When we hit 40, it was a big thing,” she said.
“When we hit 100, we were blown away,” he added.
Now the ministry provides an average 300 sack lunches a week, at least three Wednesdays per month, skipping the first week when many people have received their paycheck or government assistance. Toward the end of the month, it’s not unusual to surpass 350 meals.
‘A little cupful of committed people’
On a good Sunday morning, between 15 and 20 people worship at New Light Baptist Church, and sometimes as few as a half-dozen attend.
“Look at what the Lord has accomplished,” Jackson said. “I cannot say enough about how good God has been to New Light Baptist Church, allowing us to accomplish the vision with our little cupful of committed people.”
Youth at the church stuff paper sacks on Tuesdays with chips, cookies and a card imprinted with an evangelistic message—a “soft approach” to evangelism, Jackson said.
At about 10 a.m. on Wednesdays, women from the church begin preparing the sandwiches they add to the sack lunches they give away between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
“I thank God for these ladies who volunteer their time every week,” Jackson said. “They enjoy preparing the lunches, talking to the people and praying with them. … Some people have prayed to accept the Lord, sitting right around these tables, eating their sandwiches.”
Everyone who receives a sack lunch signs in. First-time recipients must complete a one-page survey to provide contact information to enable a representative from New Light to make a home visit to verify the information—particularly the number of children in the household—and assess needs.
Once the assessment is completed, Jackson makes referrals and helps families contact other social service providers to receive any benefits for which they qualify.
Sometimes, the needs are readily apparent. Ambra Jackson remembers a woman who arrived on a Wednesday with the grandchildren she was raising. When the family sat down to eat their sandwiches, the grandmother told the children to let her cut them in half, so they would have something to eat that day and something the next day.
“I told her: ‘Oh no, you eat it all. We’ll get you another to take home,’” she recalled.
Any sack lunches that are left over at 5 p.m. on Wednesday are distributed to homeless people. For an extended time, the church also delivered the meals to homebound elderly members, until those individuals moved into nursing homes.
‘The Lord kept providing’
For at least six months, the Jacksons paid personally for all the food they distributed.
“The Lord kept providing,” Ambra Jackson said.
In recent years, a Sunday school class at Southcrest Baptist Church in Lubbock has donated items on a regular basis, and some former recipients who have achieved financial self-sufficiency have returned to contribute to the ministry.
New Light Baptist’s Love in a Lunch program also receives financial support from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, made possible through gifts to the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering.
“Some of the people who come here drank their breakfast, lunch and supper, but we treat them with respect,” Jackson said. “These really are good people. They’re just having a hard time.”
Jackson remembered one man who showed up on Wednesday afternoon so high “he could fly a kite without a string,” but the pastor made a point to tell him God loved him.
Much later, the man returned to New Light clean and sober, eager to tell Jackson about the new business he successfully had launched and to thank the pastor for showing God’s love.
“He said: ‘You never talked down to me. You never criticized me,’” Jackson recalled, noting the man donated $100 toward the ministry. “People don’t need our criticism. They need our support.”
‘Gateway to the kingdom of God’
In addition to the Love in a Lunch ministry, New Light also provides about 450 backpacks, filled with school supplies and a Bible, to students the first weekend in August.
On the Wednesday the week before Thanksgiving, women from New Light—in conjunction with the Women on Mission from several sister churches—serve a sit-down meal for more than 400 people in the community rather than distributing sack lunches.
“We want them to understand what fellowship is all about,” Jackson said.
The church also wants them to understand what it means to live in fellowship with God and in obedience to him.
“The church is not an ATM. The church is not just a social service,” he said. “The church is the gateway to the kingdom of God.”
At some point, Jackson hopes to offer a money management course to help families learn how to make the most of limited resources and become good stewards.
However, before most hungry people are open to God or eager to receive instruction, they first need to see God’s people demonstrate love by meeting their immediate needs, he noted.
“These are some good people here,” Jackson said. “They’re just down and out, and they need somebody to offer them a hand up.”
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.
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