TEXARKANA—In the New Testament, Jesus looked at the crowd that gathered to listen to him teach and took compassion on them, instructing his disciples to distribute the few loaves of bread and fish they had to feed the masses.
Two thousand years later in East Texas, crowds still gather and volunteers at the Texarkana Friendship Center International continue spreading Christ’s teachings and caring for the needy around them.
The outreach center, begun as a ministry of several area churches, provides food for about 1,000 people a week. Donated food and free warm meals create an avenue to connect with people and meet their deeper needs, said Bryan Bixler, Texarkana Friendship Center International executive director.
One-on-one relationships enable the center to help people with job skills and placement. The ministry helps people become nurse’s assistants and teaches auto-repair skills.
“I believe we’re building relationships,” he said. “We’re showing them we care. Then when a crisis comes about—when they have an electric bill that needs to be paid—they can come to us. That’s when we really get to talk to them one on one.”
The Friendship Center, supported by Texas Baptist through the Baptist General Convention of Texas Cooperative Program, exemplifies the goals of Texas Hope 2010, an initiative that encourages Texas Baptists give every Texan an opportunity to respond to the hope of Christ by Easter 2010 and to ensure nobody in Texas goes hungry.
Change comes in small steps, Bixler said. Sometimes it’s a person admitting they he or she lied on an application for aid. Other times, a person gets a job or a home, he explained.
For some, change comes from the inside, he added. They begin attending weekly chapel services and God works in their lives, changing their behavior.
“Feeding is core because it gets them here,” Bixler said of the center’s ministry. “But we want to do more. We want to offer more than that for their soul and their relationship with the Lord.”
Many of the people who find assistance at the center come back to help others. Raymond Rudd receives food from the ministry, but also volunteers some of his time. He enjoys visiting with the people, relishing the selflessness of the people related to the outreach.
“It’s love,” Rudd said. “It’s real love. They will help you if there’s a way they can help you. If you’re starving or anything, come down here. They can help. If you need a place to stay, come talk to them.”