In just eleven days, Sharon SDA Church will celebrate one year of the Mobile Food Pantry Distribution in partnership with Feeding Westchester. The Holy Spirit has inspired this partnership and ministry. For eleven months, an average of 20 -25 volunteers gather at the parking lot adjacent to the administration building on 5th Avenue in Mt. Vernon; to set up tables, roll up their sleeves, put on gloves, and distribute food to the surrounding community. Our most significant partners in this endeavor are our volunteers, who range from as young as 10 years old to 79 years old. There are volunteers from the Sharon Church congregation, the immediate community, and volunteers from Creative Lifestyle Inc., which is a local organization that provides an average of 6 volunteers at each distribution.
Last month, March, the COVID-19 pandemic decreased our volunteers by 70%, because many of our volunteers were in the high-risk group. However, unknown to us, volunteers from the community called into Feeding Westchester’s volunteer department, and two people were assigned to our Mobile Pantry. For the first time, we had two Spanish speaking volunteers, plus a dedicated core of volunteers from the church that were not within the high-risk group for COVID-19. For eleven months, God has blessed Sharon Church with an opportunity to distribute food to an average of 350-400 individuals each month.
However, this is not the testimony. The testimony always lies in the “how.” How did we get here? How did God lead us to have a ministry in a location where we have not even taken permanent residence as a congregation? I’ll break it down in three steps.
1. God positions people for His Will in advance.
In late December 2017, a coworker and a friend of mine died of a heart attack. He was apparently in the midst of completing group notes at the outpatient clinic in the Bronx where I worked when he died. I recalled hearing his voice filled with enthusiasm facilitating as I was leaving the office that evening. I thought to myself it could have been me. For four years, we worked 13 hours a day, side by side, doing groups and individual sessions. And in the end, the machine of work stopped only for 1 hour to say goodbye to someone who spent more time at work than at home. I decided something had to change. It had become an unhealthy place to work. In May of 2018, God blessed me with a job within Westchester Government. It was a pleasant relief from 10-13 hour days. In 2019, I was nominated and accepted the role of Community Service Director. I didn’t take the position because I thought my years in the social service field made me fit for the task. I simply believed God would do the work.
Isaiah 45:2 states, “I will go before thee and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron.”
2. Be still and listen.
The year began, and I had no idea really what I was doing. I attended my first board meeting and was somewhat impressed as people clamored for dates on the calendar for the year. Many seemed to have a vision of what they wanted to do for the year. I didn’t raise my hand, I didn’t pick a date, and I literally had no idea what I was doing yet. However, I spent time speaking with Elder Bellot, who held the position a year or two before me, as I was told he did an excellent job. Big shoes to fill, I thought, but we spoke, he gave ideas and his blessing. I felt a little more assured after talking to him, but I was still listening and being still. I prayed, and I listened and prayed, and I listened. The other departments seemed to have planned more than half the year already. I decided to block out what everyone else was doing and decided to be still and listen.
While at work one day, I noticed a buzz in the air. Diapers had arrived for one department to distribute to recipients of a particular program, and I overheard a conversation about food for a shelter. I distinctly heard a caseworker say the name Feeding Westchester. I inquired about them, and I immediately thought to myself this could be it. Since our church required renovation and there was no space to store the food, a pantry would be out of the question I thought, but I saw on the Feeding Westchester website that they offered a mobile pantry. I spoke to Miss. Dobson, the manager responsible for mobile pantry distributions. I asked how the Sharon SDA Church could be of service, and she stated the phrase, “We have a need for a Mobile Pantry in your area.” Sharon Church listened and responded with, “we will fill that need.” On March 14, 2019, we received distribution dates for April 24, May 22 and June 26, 2019. On April 17, 2019, at 11:00 am, the training of volunteers by Feeding Westchester was conducted. In attendance were Bro. R. Lendor, Sis. L. Lewis, Donna Case from Creative Lifestyles, Sis. R. Osi, Sydone Burey, Heather Brown-Joseph, and myself.
3. God provides the resources in advance.
Psalms 24:1 states, “The earth is the Lords, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” It’s quite clear everything in this world; all the resources, including people, belong to God. However, if you want to challenge your faith and gain more in-depth insight into the resources available to you, read John 16: 14-15. “He (The Holy Spirit) will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine (belongs to Jesus). That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
If you don’t get it, reread it, let the Holy Spirit reveal the power within this text. It will change your prayer life; you will never beg in your prayer; you will just ask. If you are praying in the Spirit, meaning the Holy Spirit has revealed to you what to pray for, will the Holy Spirit withhold anything from children reborn and baptized by the Holy Spirit and who are praying under the influence of the Holy Spirit? Answer that question for yourself.
The two most valuable resources in any endeavor are access to the insight and direction from the Holy Spirit and people. On the Community Service Committee, God provided two former Community Service Directors, a Pathfinder Director, and a host of other hard workers and leaders in their own right who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get dirty. The Community Service Committee also has someone who is a ranking member of another committee in Westchester that gives grants to Feeding Westchester. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson had a saying while he was a wrestler, he would ask, “Can You Smell What the Rock is Cooking?” I didn’t think the people on the committee were there by accident, and I certainly knew God was in the kitchen cooking something spectacular. The power of the community service ministry comes from the over 25 volunteers from the church and the immediate community, filled with the Holy Spirit that has brought us to 12 months of serving the community. But it doesn’t end there. The first 4-5 months of distribution required a $150 service fee to be paid to Feeding Westchester. Financial volunteers from the church paid that bill. They would drop anywhere from $20 up to $100 in my pocket without me asking on Sabbaths until I told them that Feeding Westchester had decided to pay the bill for us. So we currently pay no service fee. When was the last time your landlord paid your rent or the bank paid your mortgage? Well, Feeding Westchester pays our monthly service fee.
Due to the partnership with Feeding Westchester, there is now an opportunity to partner with Montefiore and Albert Einstein to provide health information, seminars, and dietary counseling focusing on increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables for the consumers who use the mobile food pantry. There is no space for the seminars yet, but we believe God has already provided. There is a core set of people that helped launch the mobile food pantry. I can’t list everyone, but I must list a few; my wife Heather Brown-Joseph, Marlon & Tyece Sheppard, Rupert Pearson (Creative Lifestyles), Holden & Edwina Brown, Karen Graham, Sydone & Daslyn Burey, Rosemond Osi, Bro. Johnson, Bro. R. Lendor, Bro. Craig John, Olivine Lewis, Bro. Compton, Sis. Scullark, Dr. Deonarine, Bro. Travas Lendor, Sis. L. Brown, Sis. L. Lewis, Sis. Pearson, Sis. Dacosta, Karlon Cromwell, and from Feeding Westchester, Nicole Dobson, Peter Pozo, and Will.
I hope this story serves as encouragement to anyone faced with challenges in their personal, spiritual, or professional life. During our current pandemic, know that God is with us, he has already smoothed out a path for us to be victorious. He has already positioned you to receive His insight and resources through the Holy Spirit. Stay encouraged and stay safe. This is my testimony.