By Caroline Lusk
In the middle of crisis, your missionaries around the world and across the street are still feeding the hungry, supporting the poor and shining a light for Christ where shadows threaten to linger.
In the United States, an extraordinary group of Send Relief Journeyman missionaries is spending their first two years after college working daily to alleviate the suffering of those around them.
With determination and resolve, each of these remarkable young people is joining hands with others in their respective communities and changing lives for Christ. Two shared their compelling stories of ministry and the transformational power of a living God amid a global pandemic.
CONSIDERING THE BIRDS
When Brianna McKinney began her tenure as a Journeyman in Washington, D.C., she had a directive, a plan and a graduate degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Liberty University—she was well-equipped to see this project through.
“I was working on launching a coffee shop that would provide transitional employment for those in need,” she explains. “But then COVID hit, and it wasn’t a great time to start a business or program, so we had to determine how to reshape our efforts.”
It didn’t take long for needs to emerge. As soon as lockdown restrictions took effect, the fabric of the city began to change, elevating and illuminating those who were most vulnerable.
“D.C. is a ghost town,” says Brianna. “Strip all the thousands of people away, and you’re just left with D.C. residents and our homeless neighbors. People are hurting on the streets. And the organizations that had been helping them don’t have the sanitation or safety measures to keep helping right now.”
By coordinating with other relief efforts, Brianna and her team were able to identify a window of time during which no food support was available. It was a gap they were ready and eager to fill.
“We were told that there were gaps in food service, so we began to fill that,” she explains. “We’re open every day from 9-11 in the morning and provide free bag lunches with a sandwich, chips and other items to hold people over until they can find dinner somewhere.”
Operating out of the church she attends, the entire operation is run by volunteers and is growing every day.
“We have doubled everything this week,” Brianna shares. “Last week, about 26 people a day would come in. This week, we serve 42 people in two hours. These peaks keep doubling.”
Currently, Brianna and her team plan to keep serving food until the Pandemic is over, but chances are the need won’t be ending anytime soon.
“I don’t think D.C. will be a rapid re-opening,” says Brianna. “We’re currently following very strict sanitation measures, and I think we will all be mandated to wear masks and gloves for a long time. It’s going to change the makeup of the city. I’m fortunate to have a great boss who reminds me that this is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. It’s easy to get wrapped up in anxieties, wondering how we’re going to be able to keep feeding all those people, but I go back to Matthew 6:26. The birds aren’t worried about anything. How much more valuable are we than birds?”
Each day, Brianna spends time in the Word and prayer. She encourages others to continue to pray for more volunteers and resources as she and her team prepare to launch a second food distribution location.
Brianna hasn’t abandoned the plans for a coffee shop and looks forward to continuing to serve the people in a different capacity.
“Once this is over, we can become a different kind of resource,” she explains. “We can focus on opening the coffee shop, so those same people we’re serving today can have a job.”
Until then, she continues to serve faithfully, trusting that God is greater than her fears. And when she needs a reminder, she simply returns to words of truth and the birds of the air.
“He cares for them and makes sure they’re taken care of,” she says. “He knows my fear and sees the need. How much more is He taking care of us.”
EMBOLDENED TO SERVE
For the last several years, Iman Bolden has selected a “verse of the year,” a single Bible verse to meditate on for 365 days, inviting God to speak to her and teach her through the words and repetition. This year, her scripture couldn’t have been more appropriate.
“‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Phillippians 4:6-7). That’s been my verse of the year,” she says with a smile in her voice.
“I can be a fearful person,” she shares. “He’s given me confidence, showing me I can trust Him more. I wouldn’t have done the things I’m doing now a year ago.”
Those things include moving from a suburban town in South Carolina to Little Haiti in Miami, a multi-cultural, multi-lingual melting pot now in desperate need due to COVID-19. A first-year journeyman, Iman immediately took action as jobs began to disappear and schools began to close. After reaching out to the Florida Baptist Association and others, she and a team of volunteers mobilized efforts to support struggling families.
“A lot of kids here depend on the school system for food and stability,” she says. “We knew families would be struggling to feed their kids, so we raised some money, went shopping, put together bags of groceries and created this pop-up tent outside of the church. We gave out bags of food until we ran out.”
As the severity of the virus’s presence in the Little Haiti community increased and guidelines change week to week, Iman and her team have made adjustments to their service along the way.
“Each week, I get a reset,” she says. “We just have to expect that everything’s going to change.
But we’ve been able to reinvent things over and over. For the past two weeks, a Youth for Christ partner gave us leftover food to pass out. Right now, we have a new partner with a local restaurant. We’ll be giving out 200 meals every Tuesday and Thursday from a local sushi restaurant.”
Able to adapt on the fly, Iman and her team have maintained their focus on the most vulnerable members of their community.
“We’ve been working hard to make sure the elderly people are taken care of, and we’re working on a plan to supply book bags filled with snacks, family care kits, toiletries and supplies for homeschooling for every child at the local elementary school,” she says.
Their goal of supplying 350 bags each month for the next three months requires continued partnerships.
“It’s so important to collaborate and begin by reaching out to who you know,” she advises. “You have to be open to having a lot of conversations. I always make it clear that I’m not calling about money. I want them to know that I care about what they’re doing, and I want to try to help.”
The sensitivity with which Iman has approached ministry during this unique time in history reflects that which she has cultivated in her personal and spiritual life. Her time in Miami has not come without challenges. The urban lifestyle requires a particular vigilance when it comes to navigating the Pandemic.
“Social distancing has to be intentional here. City life pushes people together. There are a lot of multi-generational houses here. Families have to act as a unit,” she says.
Sacrifice has hit home for Iman, who chose to move out of the house in which she was staying so they could remain quarantined while she continued to serve.
“I feel a little displaced,” she says. “But it’s necessary. The coronavirus isn’t a distant thing. We know people who have had it. This is such a diverse place. When there is a threat to the world, it is a threat to our city.
“I feel safe, and I’m trusting that things will work out, and He will get glory from it,” she continues. “I love my job more than ever. Our whole team can rejoice that we have an opportunity to show God’s character to the people who are hurting around us, where the giving of faithful church members is being used. It’s a chance to see and understand all that the gospel can do and how God is glorified in different cultures.”
Each day, Iman commits to living boldly into the truth found in Philippians and encourages others to do the same.
“Don’t let aiming for perfection stop you from serving,” she says. “Pray. Pray a lot. Prayer is the best first response.”
Caroline Lusk writes for Send Relief.