Teenage volunteers from Christ Journey Church working in the Feed Miami food pantry. (Photo provided by: Christ Journey Church)
Four elementary-aged girls helped launch one of our congregation's most vibrant ministries: Feed Miami.
After hearing a missionary speak about food insecurity, these girls wanted to do something about it. That "something" was one big idea: to feed the city of Miami.
Their response began as a food drive and now has grown into a ministry meeting the needs of multiplied thousands of people.
The need for food in Miami is great - 16 percent of households in South Florida fall under the poverty line, with more than 1 million people in South Florida seeking emergency food assistance each year.
Gifts given to Feed Miami provide food support to domestic and global ministries, such as The Miami Rescue Mission (downtown Miami), Touching Miami with Love (Overtown), Open House (homestead migrant workers and their families) and Food for the Poor (Haiti).
Annually, Feed Miami grocery bags are distributed not only to the members of Christ Journey Church, but also to area schools and businesses that have joined the effort.
Today, Feed Miami meets the needs of 400 to 500 families, who visit our onsite food pantry, and helps other local ministries who provide food in their communities.
It also extends other social services, such as access to food stamps and job training. To date, more than 300,000 meals have been provided.
Open House Ministries, The Miami Rescue Mission and Food for the Poor have each received more than 10,000 pounds of nonperishable food to enhance their ongoing support to those living in poverty.
In addition to these local initiatives, we're engaged in many global mission efforts.
Our church has had a mission presence in Cuba since 2008 with trips led by Cuban Americans desiring to share Christ with the people in the land of their birth.
It is usually a deeply moving experience. Betty Lara, one of our first team leaders, said, "When I got off the plane, I started to cry."
She would later note that the people they were serving "were very grounded and knowledgeable in the word of God, but were also happy we were there to teach and bless them."
Congregation members have served in Pinar del Rio, Havana and Santiago de Cuba. We have encouraged the believers, purchased a car for a pastor, helped build a church, constructed a home and hosted a summer camp for youth.
The local seminary approved us using their facility and offered nine of their staff to help with the camp.
"In that effort, we housed 60 kids from the street and the church for three days, and another 75 for four days," team leader Maura Gonzales said. "We taught Bible classes, crafts, games, sports and fellowship. Many of the young people opened their lives to Christ."
Another trip offered training for pastors and their wives from almost two dozen churches. The believers had asked us for years if we would come and train them.
After we did, they reported that as they applied the knowledge we shared, two of the churches experienced explosive growth and revival.
The process of engagement has been an extremely personal one for those involved. Emotional anguish, turmoil, growth, prayer and risk are common.
It has not been uncommon for families of exiles to be resistant, not wanting their loved ones at risk or our money being intercepted by the dictator.
We know of at least one family meeting that was held where a vote was taken by the family to allow their loved ones to go on the mission.
The trips are not without controversy, but the blessing of God has been palpable.
A dear member, Mari, shared her concerns with me when she learned I was going to lead a pastors' training retreat in 2015.
"Pastor, you are taking my heart with you. I could never go back after what happened to my family," she said. "My husband's father's business and property were seized. He was then humiliated publicly and executed by a firing squad. But I am praying for you."
In Miami, if you love a neighbor, you love a nation. In our church, we are the world, with scores of other countries of origin represented in our congregation.
We are the world. But in following our John 3:16 God, we love the world in Jesus' name.
Bill White is senior pastor at Christ Journey Church in Miami. You can friend him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @pastorbillwhite.
Editor's note: This article is part of a series on missions and local churches / denominational organizations.
Previous articles in the series are:
Sharing the Gospel, Saving Lives in West African Nation
CBF of Georgia Connects Youth to Mission Projects
How Your Church Can Break the Fortress Mentality
Sustaining Ministries Through Indigenous Missionary Support
Cooks on a Mission Shares Love of Christ Through Food
Missouri Baptist Church Meets Medical Needs in Guatemala
Teaching Missions to Kids in Our Self-Centered Culture
Health Professionals Serve Through Short-Term Missions
4 Principals to Ensure Short-Term Missions Succeed
How Christian Hospitals Must See Past the Bottom Line
Church's Medical Mission Teams Save Lives, Treat Thousands