Everybody has heard the Bible verse that says to love your neighbor as yourself, but how do you really do that?
Ten churches in 10 countries are actively motivating people to do exactly that by showing love and kindness through making tangible improvements in their communities.
A global movement called “Spread the Love” was started last June by people from Mavuno Church in Nairobi, Kenya, who were inspired by a conference to answer the question, “What would the world look like if we worked together and were intentional about changing things?”
The simple idea to spread love in neighboring communities caught on and quickly spread on a global scale to churches in Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, Germany, Sri Lanka, China, Haiti, Mexico and the United States. Serving 25,000 people over the course of 100,000 hours in 10 countries has added up to a staggering amount of cleaning, painting, and reaching out to those in need, but also to a significant amount of life change for those volunteering.
“Mariners Church got involved because we’re excited to be part of what the church around the world is doing,” explained Matt Olthoff, Mariners’ pastor of mobilization. “Part of my job is finding creative ways to help people take the next step. There are lots of barriers that keep people from serving and we try to eliminate those because once people get involved, they get excited. It’s so much better to be an active part of something than to just write a check. It’s about heart change.”
“The American Church has been more focused on church attendance than on going out and being the church in the community, and we want to model ministry after what Jesus did,” Matt continued. “Jesus showed up; He came to serve, not to be served. The Western Church has a hard time embracing that. We want to really be the church in our community, and we have put together simple ways for people to do that as well as encouraging them to be creative with their own ideas of how to go out and be the church.”
Mariners kicked off their 60 days to “Spread the Love” in mid-October with a massive food drive. Church members met the challenge to “fill a bag, feed a family” by collecting more than 40 tons of food, which was then distributed to local food banks, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, foster homes and Miracle Ranch Children’s Home in Mexico.
Next came the bus experience, where volunteers came ready to serve, not knowing where their bus would take them.
“To make it easy to serve, we told people just to show up, and we’d take care of everything for them,” Matt said. “We eliminated all the questions about where to go, how to get there, where to park and what to do. It was great! We had eight buses and 400 volunteers.”
Newport resident Kathy Artz loved her bus adventure and enjoyed sharing it with a group of friends.
“Not knowing where we were going added to the excitement,” Kathy said. “I wanted to serve and the way the church organized it made it really easy, everything was taken care of for me. Our bus went to Minnie Street in Santa Ana, which is a ministry that began 20 years ago by two college girls who decided they could help make a difference on a tough street. They began tutoring kids faithfully week after week. Today there are over 100 volunteers weekly, tutoring all ages, leading Bible studies, and some of those first young students are going to college. The rain changed some of what we could do, but it was all so inspiring; it makes me want to help.”
The buses also delivered eager helpers to Olive Crest, Lighthouse Community Center in Santa Ana, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Lighthouse Church in Costa Mesa, Boys Town in Mission Viejo, and to serve the homeless in Santa Ana.
Mariners created a new event called “Thanksgiving As It Should Be” for those in the church and local community who didn’t have family nearby or who were struggling to provide a meal for Thanksgiving. Over 500 people enjoyed the opportunity to join with others and share a sense of extended family along with a delicious feast, complete with all the trimmings.
Christmas is the time for giving, and Mariners has organized many ways to help people give while getting in the Christmas spirit by spreading love to others, be it buying gifts for children in need or helping with a Christmas party for foster children. There are plenty of days, and plenty of ways, to reach out to someone and help him or her enjoy this most wonderful time of the year.
For more information, go to www.gospreadthelove.com. Cindy can be reached at [email protected]