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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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More than 1,100 volunteer to "give a year"

Mon, 14 Jan 2013 - 3:26 PM CST

Volunteering 1 year
More than 1,000 young people crowd forward to volunteer one year of their lives to missions.

As the third World Missions Summit concluded, students responded, with 1,148 young men and women coming forward to declare their intent to give one year of their lives to missions.

Held December 28-30 at the Fort Worth (Texas) Convention Center, the World Missions Summit was a cooperative effort between Assemblies of God World Missions and Chi Alpha, the AG ministry to college students.

Themed "Because I Care," the summit gave students and other attendees an opportunity to experience what life is like in different countries, worship, eat with a missionary and pray for the nations.

Throughout the conference, the regions of Africa, Northern Asia, Asia Pacific, Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Caribbean set up interactive encounters known as Windows to the World so students could experience the smells, textures, noises and sights of that part of the world and learn about opportunities for missions.

Chi Alpha and XAi (Chi Alpha International) also conducted encounters to inform and recruit students to work with American and international students. University of Central Arkansas students, dressed up in circus and carnival costumes, paraded around the convention center urging students to attend the Chi Alpha experience focusing on the American Dream.

"The American Dream is not really what it seems," says Jennifer Schiefer, who is on staff with the University of Central Arkansas Chi Alpha. "The American Dream is rooted in self-provision and in self-service, and you cannot start down the path of self-service and end up at the Cross."

worship at TWMS
Thousands worship during the third World Missions Summit.

Those who attended the American Dream experience were ultimately asked to make a series of four life decisions in what was most important to them in life, marriage, legacy and career. At the end, they were given a new pair of glasses and asked if they were willing to trade in their life decisions for a new perspective on the American Dream.

World Missions Summit Co-Director Scott Martin says the summit wasn't only about challenging students with the motto "give a year and pray about a lifetime," but also helping them become selfless and more focused on loving others.

"It was about the circumcision of the hearts and minds of this present university student generation; the cutting away of the fleshliness of a self-absorbed culture," Martin says. "It was about every participant walking away with a knowledge of their responsibility to fulfill Jesus' mandate to reach the lost around the world."

During the Summit, Chi Alpha also announced Feed One (feedone.com), its humanitarian branch and new partnership with Convoy of Hope. "We want to partner with Convoy of Hope to give our students the opportunity to meet the real needs of children and be part of the global movement to eradicate hunger on the planet," says Boston University Campus Pastor Lynn Breitenbach, who earlier joined other campus pastors in Haiti to launch the partnership.

Second-year graduate student Nikki Nuttal from the University of Illinois says the messages given during the summit were different than what she has heard before, calling them blunt and challenging. "This is Jesus. This is the Bible," she says, echoing the tone of the sermons. "This is what it says. Take it or leave it."

American Dream
Chi Alpha presented the "American Dream," where attendees learned that the American Dream isn't all it seems to be.

Kathryn Tetley, a sociology major and junior from the University of Missouri, says God is teaching her about the different ways and opportunities she can serve.

"God's really been testing me on what I am willing to do and what I am going to do," she says.

Eurasia Representative and Vice President of Global Teen Challenge Kevin Tyler says he loves watching the students accept the baton being passed down to them.

"This is the generation that is going to get it done," he says about the students. "You can tell that God is at work."

Authors: Melanie Lynch

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