By Gabriel Stovall

J.D. Greear’s book Gospel Above All stoked a fire for outreach in a group of young adults at New Salem Baptist Church in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. And a Send Relief ministry guide helped give direction to their passion.

Pack with Hope is the new ministry that was birthed out of that passion. It seeks to provide backpacks and duffel bags filled with basic essentials for children who are going into a new foster home.

New Salem pastor, Alan Rogers, is excited about how it began.

“Back in the fall, our young adults were working through the Gospel Above All study, and they came across the part in the book that asked the question, ‘Where can we bring great joy to our city as a demonstration to the gospel?’” he said. “That made them say, ‘What can we as young adults do in our town to demonstrate the gospel?’”

The foster care need emerged when one young lady in the group, who had been a foster child before eventually being adopted, shared the needs and challenges that many kids going into foster care face.

“She mentioned the fact that so many of these kids picked up by social workers only get about 10 to 15 minutes to gather all the belongings they can into a garbage bag or some sort of duffel bag,” Pastor Alan said. “And what kids think are important things to grab isn’t always the same as what adults think.”

Which means, often kids show up into their new homes without basic needs. That’s where Pack with Hope comes in. Once New Salem’s young adults felt this was where God was calling them to serve, they worked with Pastor Alan on ways to get started.

“That’s where the Duffel Bags for Foster Care ministry guide really became helpful for us,” he said. “We had some other resources that we used, especially to help us get a great response in donations, but the ministry guide from Send Relief kept us from having to reinvent the wheel. The beauty of the Send Relief ministry guides is they show you what’s possible, educate you about the need and provide inspiration, but there’s also the step-by-step practical reality that really helps you plan how to execute the ministry.”

As New Salem’s young adults started executing the plan, Pack with Hope soon morphed into a church-wide initiative with a vision to reach the entire county. Not only that, Pastor Alan said the backpacks, duffel bags and items donated for them actually came in handy for a non-related foster care ministry opportunity.

“With the foster care portion, we’ve had great response as far as donations, but hadn’t had much opportunity to specifically serve foster families yet. But one thing we were able to do around Easter Sunday when terrible tornadoes hit our county, we were able to pivot toward those needs and offer bags for kids who may have lost clothes during those storms.”

Because the COVID-19 pandemic hit just at the time when New Salem was ready to push its duffel bags for foster care ministry, things had to slow down a bit. But now, Pastor Alan is excited about working to get the word out about what his church can offer to foster families in need.

“We’re working on building some contacts, starting with our local police and surrounding communities, to get the word out,” he said. “We’ve mentioned it on our website, but don’t have a place specifically dedicated for it yet. We’re wanting to expand that. We’re using the things we’ve learned from the ministry guide and other resources to let people know we’re here and we have something to offer.”

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