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Ebenezer Christian Center food pantry
Ebenzer Christian Center in Sacramento, California, discovered that the hunger that existed in its community wasn't limited to the kids in their children's ministry. The church now distributes enough groceries for 11,000 to 14,000 meals a month.

When Karen Abrego first came to Ebenezer Christian Center (AG) in Sacramento, California, six years ago as an associate pastor, she was a very experienced children's worker and filled with confidence in her ability to reach children for Christ. 

But her confidence was quickly tested and then frustrated. She couldn't seem to get the children's attention, much less get them to settle down. Behavioral issues were rampant. Did the kids just not want to be there? Was it a lack of respect? What was she missing?

"I decided to kill them with kindness," Abrego says. "So, it was an Easter Sunday, and we made silver-dollar blueberry pancakes for the children." Moments later, the light went on for Abrego.

"When the children started to eat, I remembered hearing that sound before . . . it was this moaning sound as they ate — it was the same sound the malnourished children I had cared for in El Salvador made when they were fed," she says.

Albrego realized that many of the children were coming to church hungry.

Ebenezer Christian Center, a member of the Assemblies of God Northern Pacific Latin American District (NPLAD), is located in a low-income, high-crime part of south Sacramento. As Abrego investigated further, she discovered that the nearby elementary school was a Title I school and that 98 percent of the kids attending were on a reduced-rate or free-meal program. 

"The kids were coming to school and receiving breakfast and lunch five days a week, but on the weekends they were food poor," she says. Ironically Sacramento is known as a rich agricultural area, but the people living in the church's neighborhood didn't have the funds or transportation to readily access it — so they did without.

Pastor Dan and Dionna Garza
Pastor Dan and Dionna Garza

Understanding the need, Abrego met with Senior Pastor Dan Garza, and the church began serving healthy snacks to the children on Sunday mornings. They then partnered with a food bank to provide food for families through the church twice a month.

"In February, due to budget cuts, the elementary school lost the support of its food bank," Abrego says. "We went to our food bank and asked if they would pick up the school and its families — they agreed as long as we provided the volunteers." 

Ebenezer Christian Center has an attendance of 350-400. As many of those attending come from the community and understand (sometimes personally) the desperate need of so many of the neighborhood families, the church confidently agreed to the food bank's request for volunteers.

The church now gives away enough food for 11,000 to 14,000 meals each month.

Efraim Espinoza, director of AG Office Of Hispanic Relations, states, "Ebenezer Christian Center, under the leadership of Pastor Dan Garza, serves as a great testimony that the Assemblies of God wants to reach out in compassion to those around it." 

Although some may assume that because the church is a Hispanic church, its community is strictly Hispanic, Abrego quickly clarifies that the area is a "mixing pot" of multiple ethnicities, including Russian, Ukrainian, Filipino, Hispanic, Hmong and Middle Eastern — to name a few. 

Providing healthy snacks for the children on Sunday mornings has been transformational for the church as the children are now attentive. In addition, the food bank has made a huge impact on the church's community. The staff now calls their twice-monthly food distribution from the church their "Friday morning congregation."

Pastor Karen Abrego
Associate Pastor Karen Abrego with two gentlemen from the Ukraine who the church now ministers to through its food pantry.

"The difference between what we do and other food pantries do is that we pray over and with people who come," Abrego says. "The people ask us to pray for their needs. We recently had one woman come rushing in, not worried that she was going to miss getting her groceries, but that she had missed prayer!"

The efforts the church has made to supply groceries to the community has torn down walls, introduced people to the church, and built relationships between the community and church volunteers and staff.

"Now, I walk down the street and people are calling out to me, 'Hey PK [Pastor Karen]!'"

The school has also communicated its thankfulness, saying that children are better behaved and are able to learn more easily without the distraction of hunger. One teacher shared how thankful she was that she could direct parents who were needing food for their families to the church's food distribution at the school. 

NPLAD Superintendent Jesse Galindo affirms the efforts of the church by saying, "We need more pastors like Pastor Dan [Garza] that will empower and support their staff to fulfill the Great Commission through their specific ministry in the local church."

In addition to food ministry, Ebenezer Christian Center also has a ministry to the homeless, taking clothing to the homeless communities every other month; they have brought in registered nurses to give free flu shots; they've helped families register for healthcare; and opened their doors for all kinds of events to meet needs. 

"We're not a mega-church," Abrego says, "but we're consistently chipping away at the rock of poverty and making a difference in families and lives. We've become the hub of our community . . . , and isn't that what the church is supposed to be?"

 


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Pentecostal church wins big with 'Sin City' revival

Tue, 17 Apr 2001 - 12:00 AM CST

A Las Vegas church is on a roll. In the gambling capital of the world, hundreds of people have come to Christ through a dramatic move of God in a congregation where revival has been aggressively linked to evangelism.

Attendance at the International Church of Las Vegas A/G (ICLV) grew tenfold in just four years, with up to 50 people typically responding to the altar call during Sunday services. But the growth has not come without a price. Senior pastor Paul Goulet's family has faced a string of car accidents and two daughters' serious sickness.

"If I had known what it would take, I would have gone back to being a therapist," said Goulet, who arrived at ICLV--formerly West Valley Assembly of God--in 1992 with a background in pastoral counseling and psychology. "But at some point you are called to give your life to something, and we are called to give our lives to this city. People are getting saved and delivered. I really think we are a threat to the demonic powers here."

John Mazur is one of those whose life has been transformed by ICLV. A "die-hard drug user," the New Jersey native "would rather have been dead than alive." Then he met a man who gave him a card for the church and told him: "These people will love you."

Mazur attended the church, and God turned his life around. But then he discovered that his years of abuse had left him with liver disease and possibly cancer. After prayer for healing, further tests showed a completely healthy liver. "The Lord never gave up on me," Mazur said. "That's the love of Christ I found here. My whole family is saved now."

The church's impact on the city is anchored in its focus on prayer and evangelism. "Paul started preaching that it wasn't about blessings or falling down or goose bumps or manifestations, but about winning the lost," said his wife, Denise. "We were going to take what He had given us, the power of the Holy Spirit, out into the world and give it to people. That is what it's for."

Goulet himself said that "the more the power flows, the more I have to focus people on the lost. When we have a blowout service, I have to emphasize what it's for. That is the responsibility of pastors and leaders. We don't want to become introverted or people [will] get jealous of each other, and it becomes about going to the altar for the next experience, not winning people to the Lord."

In the midst of ICLV's growth, Goulet survived a snowmobile wreck that left him unable to walk for several months. One daughter came down with seizures and another was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. Both girls were healed.

"This city will devour you unless you fast and pray," Goulet said. "If I want to take Las Vegas like God wants to take Las Vegas, and I partner with Jesus Christ, then I will partner in His sufferings. Most people want to know Him in power, but they don't want to walk through 'Door No. 3': the fellowship of His sufferings...But if you [do], you reap a rich harvest."


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