This is the title of the previous week’s Sabbath school lesson, where we read in the introduction: “Jesus genuinely cared for people. He was more interested in their concerns and needs than in His own. His life was totally centred on other people. His was a ministry of loving compassion. He met the physical, mental, and emotional needs of the people around Him, and thus, their hearts were opened to the spiritual truths He taught. As He healed lepers, opened blind eyes, unstopped deaf ears, delivered demoniacs, fed the hungry, and cared for the needy, hearts were touched and lives changed.”
We live in a time of Pandemic, restrictions have been imposed, our freedom of movement has been restricted, many programmes, gatherings and meetings have been banned — churches stand empty after being closed. We cannot see people — including our loved ones. Initially, it wasn’t entirely clear what was permitted and what wasn’t. We locked ourselves away in our homes, avoiding almost “everything” and everyone. Already, a six month period of peril and trepidation having passed, we are somewhat becoming accustomed to our circumstances and are beginning to notice a greater interest towards our environment and surrounding — an interest in the people around us. We are noticing in others (perhaps not all of us are!), sometimes similar, sometimes the very same, experiences, problems and concerns. Noticing that others too sometimes await help or perhaps simply understanding.
To understand another person, journeying beside us — this is no easy task. Ilya Ehrenburg said: “It is more difficult to understand another person, than to observe a sea on a distant planet.”
This is true, but if you want to, you can achieve a great deal!
To understand another, it is necessary to look at yourself, to look at your own life experiences. Can one truly share joy, if they have not experienced it, or understand the tears and pain of another, if they have not experienced it themselves? To understand privation, when we lack nothing?
Can we share the faith and love of Christ if they have not entered into our own hearts?
It might seem that at a time when churches have been closed for so long and we are unable to meet to worship God together — to grasp hands, to talk to each other even if only a quick “how are you” in passing — that the life of our community might be at a standstill.
We sit isolated in front of our computer or mobile phone screens as we listen to sermons (which don’t always lift our spirits!), and we sigh longingly for a time when this might all be over. For many this is genuinely depressing!
Even though the current state of affairs means the church must be “closed” to the faithful — though internet transmissions, “mini services”, are performed by a pastor and a few people. Is it really the case that we are denied any form of action? Are we really isolated and alone? Are we unable to engage in any form of activity allowing us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus?
In May, during one meeting in the church hall, when ideas were being floated about possible alterations to church activities — perhaps it would be appropriate to refocus on community centred activities — not all received this enthusiastically. To some it seemed virtually impossible… after all, what about the restrictions!
However, there were some who began to do the rounds inquiring among various offices. Subsequently, under the aegis of ADRA, it became possible to obtain authorisation for community work, and so we set off! Many inquiries were made, many phone conversations, meetings in various shops and bakeries, and thanks to the work of four individuals: Józef Kasprzak, Tom Kasprzak,
Wojtek Klauza and Pr. Josh Stadnik, who dedicated a lot of time and effort, a permit was received for a community Soup Kitchen for individuals less fortunate than us, in the community surrounding the Polish-Australian Dandenong Seventh-day Adventist Church. It wasn’t necessary to wait long after the appeal for help was made — very soon, young and middle-aged members of our church began to volunteer. In this way, 4 groups were formed, each operating once a month. Whereas the older church members have been supporting this initiative with donations and prayers.
In the second half of June, when it was still possible to travel around, my wife and I dropped by at the church on a Monday evening, and we were pleasantly surprised by what we saw there. The kitchen was abuzz, filled with the joy and smiles of a group of young volunteers at work. Some were busy cooking meals in the kitchen, others were busy preparing breakfast boxes for the following day, and the young Pr. Josh was greeting and getting to know those who were arriving. A mobile café stood in the parking lot where young Damian Klauza, the owner of the café, was serving coffee, tea and hot chocolate. You could really feel the atmosphere present there — faces brimming with smiles, gratitude in people’s eyes — the joy that comes with a well fulfilled MISSION.
I asked Pr. Josh about his impression of this initiative and how it was being received by people. Here’s what he told me:
“You know I had certain expectations and goals coming into this year. It was my first year out from Avondale, I wanted to make an impact and make a difference, but coronavirus hit and threw everything out the window. How can ministry continue? What are we going to do? However, amongst all the chaos and stress and panic there’s been beauty and hope and we’ve still been able to carry out ministry during this time. What we’ve been able to do has far exceeded the expectations I initially had.
We as a church in mid-June were able to establish a soup kitchen, to serve the Dandenong community. Which by far has been a highlight this year. You may not know what goes on Monday nights, the time, the energy, and the effort that is poured in to make a difference. I just wanted to take a moment to share what goes on behind the scenes, and also share some stories of the people I’ve been able to interact with. Because this is a ministry, and it is making impact and difference in the lives of many.
Every week we have our dedicated volunteers come along to prepare meals and packs to give out. It’s no easy task, but it is worthwhile. We’re thankful for everyone involved, most of this happens inside and away from the people. So is this actually making a difference? Who are we actually impacting? What goes on out there?
Well I’d like to share a few stories. I’ve had the privilege of being outside every week, talking and mingling with those who come along each week. It’s been both a delight and a heartbreak to hear some of the stories shared.
Take for instance just yesterday afternoon, I received a call from a lady, she didn’t speak English all that well, but saw our sign and asked for help so I told her to come at 6pm when we would be there. She came with her husband and 3 young children. She shared that they had migrated here from Pakistan in early March, but due to the Coronavirus have found it impossible to find work. While they receive some assistance from the government it’s not much. All the money they get goes to paying rent and utilities, left with barely anything for food. As she shared her struggles, and how hard life has been I started to tear up, this family had left everything they had known to pursue a better life here, and it has fallen well short of that. So I reassured her we’re here to help and we’re here to love them. Her first response was “are you allowed to help Muslims?” I was shocked, what
has this family experienced? I said of course come one, come all. We are here to serve. So we gave them meals, and food packages to take home to get them through the week. We all got them to come round to our op-shop/donation area at the back. They were beyond happy. When they left with their stomachs full and their bags packed, their smiles said it all. They were beyond grateful for the support they had received. That smile was worth a million bucks
Or take for example another family of 6. The husband had recently lost his job, again due to the virus and the wife hasn’t been able to find any work. Again due to other reasons they are limited with government support they receive, they get some, but it's not enough to get by. This guy is a lovely gentleman, softly spoken, and kind hearted, he’s one of my favorites to talk too. He wants to continue to work and support his family, but due to the current situation, he feels defeated and lost. Yet he’s thankful for the support he receives from us and he doesn’t know where he’d be if it wasn’t for us.
Or yet another story. This young couple with a 3 year old daughter have both lost their jobs. They were in the retail section (not really essential during this time) due to being causal, they get no government assistance. These guys were doing okay, but now it's been tough just trying to keep their heads afloat. But they are grateful and fully supportive of what we do, in fact the husband even said he wants to serve with us. He wants to give back to the community that has been able to help him during this time. Now that put a smile on my face.
This is just a handful of the many stories. There will be more, this is only the beginning. When we started this kitchen we had 15 come, this past week we had just over 50. From 15 to 50 in only a few short months. This virus is impacting and affecting people in ways we will never understand, but we have the opportunity to be a community that responds to the needs and hurts of the people within.
This is ministry. This is what it means to preach the gospel. To love with no questions asked. This is what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I can preach on stage all I want, but if I don’t live that out, it’s not the gospel. This ministry has been a blessing. Not only have we been able to help and serve others, but we’ve been able to live out our faith. To me this is what Jesus envisioned in Matthew 25.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
These are the least of these. Let our actions speak louder than the words we simply preach.
Thank you everyone for your support. Both physically, spiritually, and financially.
If you would like to know more, simply call or email I’m happy to share more stories. I’ve got plenty.
Lots of love.
Starting 3 weeks ago, this venture has been expanded to also serve meals on Wednesdays… we don’t know when the state of pandemic will end. In the mean time — let’s serve the way Jesus did!!!
Author: Bogusław Kot Translation: Przemek Wrzos