Eastridge Baptist Church in Amarillo and its mission center serve an international group of immigrants and refugees who work in the city’s meat processing plants.
More than 12 years ago, Pastor Mike Garman recognized the need for multicultural ministry in northeast Amarillo, home to about 10,000 foreign-born residents representing 26 language groups.
Garman wanted to develop a mission center that could minister to community residents, only 8 percent of whom speak English. But he questioned how a congregation that consisted then of about 20 senior adults could meet that great need.
“I had to wait on the Lord,” Garman said. “The Lord had a better plan than I could have ever imagined.”
Help from an unexpected source
For several years, someone left groceries by the church door for hungry people in the community. No one saw who was making the deliveries, but the person who left the groceries included a note indicating the gifts were from “Mr. Eastridge.”
After an extended time, Garman learned Bill Hughes—a person in the community he did not know—died and left Eastridge Baptist his estate. Years earlier, Hughes had been a member of the church and been involved in its bus ministry.
When Hughes drew up his last will and testament more than 35 years ago, he left his entire estate, including several properties, to the church.
When Garman went to the deceased Hughes’ house, he sat down at a desk and opened a drawer. Written on a stack of cards was the name: “Mr. Eastridge.”
That bequest made it possible for Eastridge Mission Center to open its doors in 2013. Garman does not accept a salary as pastor of the church, but he is paid as executive director of the mission center, which is incorporated now as a separate nonprofit organization.
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Ministry center provides community service
The mission center, adjacent to Eastridge Baptist church, is located across the street from the largest elementary school in Amarillo, which serves 1,000 students.
Families need afterschool care for their children, and Eastridge Mission Center supplies it at no cost. The Kingdom Kids afterschool program, offered from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, provides food, supervised play, a Bible lesson and prayer time.
Local business and civic groups have shown their appreciation to Eastridge Mission Center, naming it as Outstanding Community Service Organization in 2020.
The mission center offers housing for visiting volunteer mission groups. Bunk beds, showers and kitchen are provided. Church groups are asked to supply their own food.
Multiple mission service opportunities are available in Amarillo. The mission center welcomes church youth groups who conduct Vacation Bible School and day camps for refugee children in the community.
Volunteers are needed to unload produce, organize the items, pack boxes and distribute food to people in the community. Volunteers also can work in the center’s community garden, preparing the soil, planting seeds, caring for plants and harvesting vegetables.
Providing food for children and families
Before the pandemic, Eastridge operated a monthly food distribution that provided groceries for up to 100 families per month, and the Mission Center served about 50 children per day after school.
“During the pandemic, we began serving families with food boxes,” Garman said. “During the summer, we distributed about 3,000 food boxes.”
Many of those food boxes were delivered to homes of families who were forced to quarantine, and the mission center also provided a daily lunch delivery to children when the center temporarily had to close its doors to visitors.
“With the help of High Plains Food Bank and its Kids Café program, we home delivered about 30,000 meals,” Garman said.
He recalled the home deliveries he made last summer.
“A group of children would stand on the street in front of their house waiting with anticipation for the food. It was like a hero’s welcome,” he said. “One little girl drew me pictures every time I delivered a box. Those smiles are something I’ll never forget. I miss that now.”
Eastridge Baptist Church has received ongoing financial support made possible by the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering, as well as Community Care Grants from Texas Baptists’ Christian Life Commission and Woman’s Missionary Union of Texas.
At one point, Amarillo was a COVID-19 hotspot, but the need for food is subsiding slowly, Garman said. Still, it continues to be greater than before the pandemic, he added.
Pandemic presents new ministry opportunities
Other ministries have grown, even as the pandemic continues.
“Attendance to our afterschool programs is up because of new mentoring programs,” Garman said.
Eastridge offers worship services both in English and Karen, a Burmese cultural and language group, and a Laotian congregation also meets in its facility.
“Church attendance is back to about 100, which is about what it was before. But one of the differences is about 150 watch online, which wasn’t available before the virus,” Garman said.
“With refugees from so many countries, they tell relatives and friends about our Facebook page and online services, and they watch also. The message of God’s love is reaching people all over the world.”
Like other ministers, Garman had to adapt ministry during the pandemic, but he is grateful for new doors that have opened.
“I was reminded that the building isn’t the church. The church is the people,” he said. “I was reminded that new ministry opportunities would come that would go beyond the crisis time.”
Each day is ‘a gift in its own way’
Garman acknowledged early in the pandemic, he prayed for “a better day tomorrow.” Then he was reminded of Psalm 118:24, which says, “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
“Now I realize all days are good. They are his days,” Garman said. “They are filled with opportunities, challenges and blessings. Each one is a gift in its own way.
“So, I learned to be thankful—no matter what. Of course, this was not easy when we lost people, we had to plan outdoor services—even drive-by funeral viewing—and I had to tell the refugees they couldn’t gather and have celebrations in their homes. But in all those days, each one made us lean on God and trust him. I’m grateful for that.”
Carolyn Tomlin writes for the Christian magazine market. She teaches the Boot Camp for Christian Writers.