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Church members step up to share gospel during COVID-19

A free snow cone goes a long way

September 1st, 2020 / By: Shawn Hendricks | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

Church members step up to share gospel during COVID-19

Inglewood Baptist Church in Grand Prairie hosted Tuesday night snow cone fellowships in neighborhoods around town to give members a chance to witness to their neighbors. Photo by Gary Ledbetter

Gayla Sullivan says her plan this past May to build relationships and start gospel conversations with her neighbors started with a snow cone in the middle of the pandemic. 

She knew it wasn’t the best time to hold a “social gathering” since many people were staying home during the COVID-19 quarantine. Still, she couldn’t shake the Lord’s calling on her heart to reach out to those living around her. So, she decided to invite “Daesy’s Tropical Sno” to her neighborhood in Arlington and buy her neighbors a snow cone.

“I had no idea what the turnout was going to be, and honestly, I was shaking in my boots,” said Sullivan, a member of Nolan River Road Baptist Church in Cleburne, where her husband Doyle serves as the music minister. “I knew I needed to do it right away … what had been laid on my heart, or I might not fulfill that urgency. Also, I’m kind of an introvert.”

Sullivan is a communications assistant at the SBTC, and she wasn’t the only one there with a desire to reach out in recent months. Others also have reached out to their communities in creative ways during the pandemic.

‘Hungry for conversation’

The key, Sullivan emphasized, is to move on the idea as quickly as you can. 

Sullivan’s 29-year-old daughter, Kaley, helped her distribute flyers in her neighborhood, and something unexpected happened on May 14: neighbors showed up. Nearly 20 people wearing masks and ready to social distance dropped by for a snow cone. 

“It just seemed like they were so thrilled to get out,” Sullivan said. “We were in masks and spread out, but they were just so grateful for the opportunity. Everybody was so hungry for conversation.”

Sullivan has already noticed some progress with her neighbors. One of them, who “never would have said hello,” has started initiating conversation. Following the snow cone social, Sullivan noted, the neighbor who had hardly spoken to her came over one day to see if she needed help with her car that was acting up.

“Just little things like that,” said Sullivan, noting she’s just getting started. “Even a ‘hello’ now is just awesome.”

Gary Ledbetter, director of communications and ministry relationships at the SBTC, and his wife, Tammi, also decided to put together a similar outreach event a few weeks later in their neighborhood. And their church, Inglewood Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, went on to reproduce several other snow cone events in nearby neighborhoods. 

Pastor Shawn Paschal of Inglewood Baptist Church echoed Sullivan’s assessment of the effectiveness of the need to connect with neighbors. Inglewood has gone on to hold half a dozen snow cone events in area neighborhoods where church members live, attracting as many as 40 to more than 80 people per event. 

“We were able to connect with neighbors, many we had never connected with before,” Paschal said. “We got to take the church to people instead of expect them to come to us.”

“The Blessing Box”

Amanda Kennedy, a receptionist at SBTC, also felt called to help those struggling through the pandemic. 

Kennedy is a member of Foundation Baptist Church in Euless. She shared how the pandemic prompted her to reach out to those with financial challenges, struggling with anxiety or those who maybe didn’t want to go to the store during the pandemic. With the help of an old newsstand placed at the main entrance of her church building, the “Blessing Box” allowed people to come and go and get a little help with no hassle. 

“They can just come in and take what they need and they don’t have to justify it to anybody and there’s no red tape,” she said on the Southern Baptist TEXAN’S podcast, “Just Good News.” “They don’t have to apply for anything. If they have a need they can just come and take what they need.”

Every time Kennedy and her son Ethan would pick up groceries, they’d buy a little extra to put in the box. As unemployment numbers went up during the pandemic, the response from the community continued to grow. About six tubs of non-perishable food were soon lined up alongside the little newsstand that was stocked full with food and various evangelism materials.  

With the need for more space, the church eventually purchased an outdoor storage compartment. It’s around 6 feet tall—about the size of a kitchen pantry and fits “perfectly” at the main entrance—to provide more room for food, toiletries, gospel tracts, Bibles, the pastor’s business card and more. 

It’s based on the “honor system,” and Kennedy noted “it’s not always a perfect operation.” Sometimes people drop off items that can’t be used—these have included perishable items like small lunch-size cartons of milk and a roast beef sandwich.

“I pulled up one day and there’s like a queen-size mattress sitting right outside next to the Blessing Box,” she said. 

But she says it’s all just part of the fun that comes with community outreach.

“I would love for this to show smaller churches you can do something, even if it is something super small and simple,” she said. “You don’t have to come up with something elaborate in order to share the love of Christ and meet needs.”

Water, prayer and hope

Rod Minor, pastor of Anderson Mill Baptist Church in Austin, said he and his wife Camille began praying in January for a way to spark gospel conversations with their community.  As more and more church events were cancelled, Camille Minor, who used to work with women’s prayer mobilization at SBTC, suggested setting up a “prayer station” near the church. 

 Since launching the prayer station in July, the couple has seen how a simple table, free bottles of water and a sign advertising prayer could encourage the community. 

“We wanted to get back out into the community—and I think churches are really desiring that,” he said.

The prayer stations, Minor noted, have helped the church find a way to connect with people who are desperate for some sense of normalcy—and, most importantly, need to hear the gospel.

“I think it’s been a good tool to say to the community you don’t have to come to church here but we’ll pray for you,” he said. “Most of all we want you to know Jesus—and to grow in him.”