FRESNO – Thousands of migrant workers’ families in 42 towns across California have been blessed by this summer’s Feeding Those Who Feed Us ministry of churches affiliated with California Southern Baptist Convention.
Hundreds of church members and their families likewise were blessed by their participation, according to pastors and leaders across the state.
“This really is the Body of Christ working together,” said Rodney Cox, pastor for the last 21 years of First Baptist Church in Hilmar, who coordinated several churches’ involvement in the migrant feeding ministry in Atwater. “It’s amazing what together we can do for God when we join forces.
“It was a joint effort,” Cox continued. “Everyone did what they could, and it all came together beautifully.”
Oscar Sanchez, CSBC migrant ministries field specialist, reported 1,250 spiritual decisions during this year’s outreach, which took place in July and August at 22 migrant centers and 20 other areas near Highway 99 with high concentrations of migrant workers.
“This year there were about 1,200 volunteers, and 150 churches involved,” Sanchez said. “I want to give the volunteers all the credit.
“I do the logistical part but I give thanks to the Lord for the volunteers willing to do the Vacation Bible Schools and the evangelistic rallies,” Sanchez continued. “That makes this ministry happen.”
Feeding Those Who Feed Us is now in its 12th year, having started when Tom Stringfellow, then pastor of First Baptist Church in Beverly Hills, noticed how the hope-stealing poverty of migrant workers contrasted with the decadence often obvious in enclaves near the world-famous Hollywood sign.
Now director of missions for Sierra Butte Baptist Association, Stringfellow in 2002 led his Southern California church to extend a summertime Christian witness, plus food, clothing, shoes and school supplies, at the state migrant center in Dixon.
Stringfellow’s initial motive was as much to create a missions opportunity for his upscale congregation as it was to minister to the families of migrant workers, he said at the time. As a result, 37 people made professions of faith in Christ, and the Beverly Hills pastor thought about adding a second site the following year, if he could get more people – more churches – to help.
Word spread of the feeding ministry’s success, to the point that the next summer similar ministry took place in not just two, but in 21 of the state-owned migrant centers scattered for the most part along the San Joaquin Valley.
Twelve years later, the feeding ministry has grown to include medical/dental care, food, clothing, shoes, VBS-type activities and fun times as well as spiritual instruction, New Testaments and God’s love expressed by Southern Baptist volunteers.
Local churches near the migrant centers take responsibility for a four- or five-day ministry at apartment complexes surrounded by chainlink fencing, and elsewhere at locations selected by the churches that minister throughout the growing season to migrant workers.
Local churches also raise as much as possible of the $3,500 cost per location, which pays for the items purchased in bulk by the state convention and then distributed by the local churches.
“One of the things I liked about this ministry was that it could involve everyone in the church,” Cox said. “We had women at the church every night who chose as their contribution to stay at the church, filling backpacks and grocery sacks.”
The backpacks were stuffed with school supplies; each child in the complex got one. The grocery sacks came from a bank where a church member was manager; they were a leftover promotion that included calculators, which were added to the backpacks.
“I must have thanked her a dozen times,” Cox said. “She just said she was glad they had found good use.”
Cox said his missions director (and daughter-in-law) Lisa Cox first learned about the Feeding Those ministry last year, when she was looking for a Southern Baptist ministry that would make good use of their VBS offering.
“When I first sat down with Oscar (Sanchez), I really had no idea what they did,” Cox said. “I was just going to come alongside someone else to help.”
But an organizer was needed.
“Yes, we took the reins, but it was totally a joint effort that involved Delhi First Southern, Hilmar First Baptist, Atwater First Baptist, Newman First Baptist and Winton First Baptist,” Cox said. “Winton had their Spanish people come and do the music, and a couple of Winton people who were nurses worked in the (Convention’s) Mobile Medical Unit Monday night.”
The Hilmar, Atwater and Newman congregations all gave their VBS offerings to help cover the cost of providing food, clothing, shoes and school supplies to the families who live in the Atwater Migrant Housing Center. With other donations, the final amount given by the churches was $2,800.
“Literally my greatest role was organizing meetings and making phone calls,” Cox continued. “I was Lisa’s helper. We were very much under pressure to get it done quickly – we had only a few weeks – and in the middle of this (preparation) time I went to El Salvador on a mission trip.”
Lisa Cox handled all the logistics, the pastor said. Upon his return, all that was left to do was find someone to man the grill for the Thursday night evangelistic rally.
“There were some salvations and several prayer requests,” Cox said. “Andrew Cantrell (of First Baptist in Atwater) gave the gospel presentation while his wife Gabby interpreted into Spanish. We had probably eight or nine kids who gave their life to Christ. Both Atwater and Winton will do follow-up.”
This was the first year for Hilmar, Atwater and several other churches across California to be involved in Feeding Those.
Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon was among a similar-sized group of churches that have participated in the ministry for many years.
“This was our ninth year,” said Jim Shankula, responsible for Shadow Mount-ain’s border ministries. “Feeding Those Who Feed Us is a very worthwhile ministry, valuable in many ways.
“In the first place, to serve and show love to these Spanish-speaking people who need to hear the gospel, and to be an encouragement to the Spanish-speaking churches working with them,” Shankula continued. “It also is a great opportunity for our churches to be involved in international missions where they don’t have to go overseas.
“We have whole families involved,” he said. “It’s a great way for them to experience missions. They come back just really thrilled about being able to serve, and excited about what God has done in the lives of people.”
First Baptist Church in Lemon Grove has partnered for several years with Shadow Mountain, which this year swelled the group’s number to 55 volunteers. They spread out to four locations, hosted four five-day Vacation Bible Schools, and worked with churches in door-to-door outreach.
Shadow Mountain’s children’s ministry packed what they called “Love in a Box” similar to the Operation Christmas Child shoebox ministry, and adult small groups put together hygiene bags. These were given out to those who participated in VBS. The food, clothing, shoes and school supplies were left with the churches, to distribute after church the following Sunday, as a way of encouraging people to attend the service.
California Southern Baptists have ministered to migrant workers for 46 years, Oscar Sanchez noted.
“We have close to a million migrant workers,” he said. “There are 2.5 million in the entire US. The ones we work with come in May or June and leave in November. They work in the sweet melons, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce – we just have a variety of so many fruits and vegetables – grapes and raisins, too. Citrus.”
Sanchez credited the ongoing ministry of Stringfellow, who is the non-paid president of Feeding Those.
“He purchases all the clothes, materials, got us the Medical and Dental Units and does so much more,” Sanchez said. “He has done a wonderful job of helping the migrant ministry; we owe him so much.”
For food, the individual locations receive vouchers from CSBC, which they spend at local grocers, to help boost the local economy and spread the word of what God is doing through Southern Baptists.
“We must first and foremost learn to be servants of God,” Cox said in explaining why he involved his Hilmar congregation in Feeding Those Who Feed Us. “We are not only to be servants to each other in the church, but outside the church to reach others, to serve them by ministering to them.”