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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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Celebration Service wraps up Louisville 2012

Mon, 13 Aug 2012 - 4:20 PM CST

Celebration Service 2012
Steve Pulis, student outreach director, and Chet Caudill, student missions director, announce presentations during the Celebration Service held Friday in Louisville.

Approximately 13,000 students attended the National Youth Convention and the 50th National Fine Arts Festival in Louisville from August 6-10. Friday evening, after three and a half days of presentations, evaluations and callbacks, the week culminated with the Celebration Service.

"We saw some incredible student talent as they exalted Jesus through their gifts Friday night," says Rod Whitlock, student discipleship director.

Winners of the Assemblies of God National Award of Merit, Award of Excellence and Honorable Mention trophies in 96 Fine Arts and Kappa Tau categories were announced and many of the students were able to deliver their presentations on the KFC Yum! Center stage Friday night.

Excitement and anticipation naturally filled the air as students learned if they had placed in the top three or even won the category — and would be performing center stage. Yet, despite the months of hard work and drive for excellence, those chosen as Award of Merit winners Friday evening, presented with humbleness and grace.

Rhea Williams from Valley Christian Center in Dublin, California, received Award of Merit in Piano Solo and was the first to perform on stage.

When asked how students can develop their ministry gifts, Williams says, "Honestly, this is not really a performance for anybody. I always think of this as only worship. We're only worshiping our God. In everything you do, whether it's playing an instrument, whether it's singing, whether it's speaking, whether it's dancing, always do it in excellence because our God is such an amazing God. He will be so pleased if you do it in excellence."

Fifteen-year-old Yanelly Terrazas, the Vocal Solo, Spanish Female Award of Merit recipient from Living Water Christian Center in El Paso, Texas, says "[Fine Arts] means a lot to me. God has blessed me with so many blessings because when I was little the doctor told me, ‘this girl is not going to be able to sing because she cannot reach notes.' I had asthma and with asthma you cannot do that. When I sang to him he was like, ‘Wow, wow, this girl can sing.' I started praying. I went through some stuff and God really blessed me. I don't have asthma anymore. It has been seven years since God cured me. I'm able to sing up here and present Fine Arts to the church and people of God."

Student presentations worshipped God and their words spoke to their peers. After delivering his award-winning sermon, Austin Beshuk from First Assembly of God in Jefferson City, Missouri, told the audience why he loves Fine Arts.

"I first did Fine Arts when I saw two people from my youth group do Fine Arts and come back on fire for God, it was amazing and I wanted that," he says. "So I came to Fine Arts and I learned to love God and it was awesome way to serve Him and worship Him." Beshuk is the 2012 Award of Merit recipient for Short Sermon Senior.

Two students received special honors in addition to winning a National Award of Merit in their categories. Lucas Menzies from Eden Prairie (Minnesota) Assembly of God won the National Award of Merit in Songwriting. He also received a  scholarship to sarahkellymusicschool.com and a fully produced demo. Alex Pylypiv from Bethel Temple in Parma, Ohio, won the National Award of Merit in Guitar Solo as well as a custom-made guitar from Noel Rosa and New Sound Acoustics.

For a full list of the National Fine Arts Festival results including the Top 10 in each category, click here.

Authors: Jennifer Taylor

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