Social Capital: Ministering to Immigrants, Feeding the Hungry


Many children that we've tutored at Rockford Elementary have never worshipped at our church, yet they tell their teachers that Piney Grove is their home church, Reece says. (Photos: Piney Grove Baptist Church)
I knew EthicsDaily.com's "Gospel Without Borders" was a documentary we needed to see after I received a complimentary copy from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.

Piney Grove Baptist Church is a rural congregation with around 200 active worshippers just outside of Mount Airy, North Carolina.

We boast beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but poverty, hunger and injustice can be discovered through the woods and down the dusty dirt roads.

The community around us has changed significantly in the past two decades. Once upon a time, rural farmers worked together to cultivate and harvest the land, often putting in additional hours in textile mills.

Nobody went hungry, and the community saw itself as one large family. Many walked to church; others caught rides from neighbors. Often, more than one generation lived in the same home and worked the same land.

These are often considered the "glory days" of community life by elder members. We're trying to recapture those days, and the key has been rediscovering who our new neighbors are in our multiracial community.

Our neighbors are no longer blood kin, but their narratives share a great kinship.

Most are not United States citizens, and like the families in the past century, they're working in a variety of jobs sunup until sundown to provide a future for their families.

When I became the pastor at Piney Grove, I knew I was in the right place when I saw the church's eagerness to continue expanding their mission beyond the borders of the stained-glass windows.

In 2011, the Kid's Cafe tutoring ministry was born out of a desire to meet the needs of a growing number of underprivileged children in our community.

The majority of these children are Latino, and their parents don't speak English.

Our passionate visionaries contacted Rockford Elementary School to confirm our fear that the children under the shadow of our steeple were falling behind in school because they simply lacked reading partners at home.

Eileen Kidd, the first woman to be ordained in the congregation, took the lead role in a new initiative.

After three years of working with Rockford Elementary School and several great volunteers who followed her lead, the children in our neighborhood have become our children.

The tutoring ministry meets at 4 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays. There are few better images of Piney Grove being the hands and feet of Christ than when I see children getting off their bus and flooding into our fellowship hall hungry to improve their literacy skills.

We are also involved in a trio of food ministries that work together to fight hunger in our community.

The Grove's Helping Hand is a food closet that provides weekly groceries for partner families that have young children; it serves as a crisis pantry when needed.

We also have a friendship meal that strategically takes place at the end of each month when our neighbors often run out of resources.

The meal provides a restaurant-style atmosphere for our guests, offering them the chance to get off their feet and be served.

The meal has also drawn several group homes, including many who are a part of our ministry to special needs adults, giving employees of the group home an opportunity for rest and renewal.

Finally, our community garden is a two-acre field that provides fresh vegetables for these feeding ministries.

When vegetables are ready to harvest, the garden is also open for the community to come and pick vegetables at their leisure.

At Piney Grove, we're always looking for new and creative ways to fight hunger, recognizing that one approach is insufficient to meet the growing needs in our community.

Our efforts to serve our neighbors have not gone unnoticed. They continue to build social capital with local schools, agencies and statewide organizations.

We've received more than $7,500 in grant money from the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina in three years.

The Mount Airy News helps to spread the good news of what God is doing through our community of faith.

Many children that we've tutored at Rockford Elementary have never worshipped at our church, yet they tell their teachers that Piney Grove is their home church.

Most of all, our church family is growing in the likeness of Christ, and worship gets more powerful and dynamic with every passing week. We have much for which to praise God.

There are a host of words that one might use for our model of ministry.

For us, we're just celebrating and living out our past with the great hope that our neighborly focus will give us 115 more years as meaningful as the 115 years that are behind us.

Mark Reece is the pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Mount Airy, North Carolina.

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of articles on local churches bringing social capital to their communities. An article by Bill Ross, pastor of First Baptist Church of Marietta, Georgia, will appear on Tuesday. You can find out more about "Gospel Without Borders" here. You can watch EthicsDaily.com Skype interviews with Eileen Kidd here and Tommy Haymore here.

Previous articles in this series are:

Social Capital: Congregations Investing in Their Communities

Social Capital: Medical Apartment Ministries

Social Capital: Investing in the Lives of Children

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Tags: Gospel Without Borders, Immigration, Mark Reece, Social Capital


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