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|In the first four months of 2013, Bread of Life Outreach, a ministry of Newport Assembly of God, has already given more than $1.6 million in food and supplies away to those in need.|
Newport, Pennsylvania, is a small community by most standards. In fact, there are a number of Assemblies of God churches whose Sunday morning attendance exceed - even dwarf - the 1,700 who currently call the community "home."
But being small and thinking small are two different things. And Pastor Gary Bellis and his congregation of 350 at Newport Assembly could never be accused of using its location as an excuse for small thinking, as the church is home to a multi-million dollar compassion ministry!
Bellis, who has been ministering with his wife, Mary, at Newport AG since 1975, has a passion for unreached people. The church has more than doubled in size since Bellis arrived. Having outgrown their building, the church now holds Sunday morning services in the adjacent Newport High School auditorium. The old sanctuary now serves to host Sunday School classrooms and Wednesday evening activities.
Yet, it wasn't until Bellis participated in a 1992 missions trip that his eyes were opened to a particularly effective way to not only meet the unreached, but build lasting relationships with them.
"It started with a missions outreach to the former Soviet Union [Siberia] that I participated in with Scott Temple (now AG Ethnic Relations director) and Don James (pastor of Bethany Church, Wyckoff, New Jersey)," Bellis says. "I was put in charge of getting together two containers of humanitarian supplies to Russia, and from that effort we were inspired to birth a ministry to our community - and then, our county. Now we serve and partner with over 40 ministries and organizations in the U.S. and overseas."
Bellis says the church's Bread of Life Outreach ministry began very simply. "We realized how much we were blessed by helping people," he says. "So our church people began bringing in items from their pantries, we'd put the items in boxes, pray over them and then deliver them to needy people on our way home from church."
|Gary and Mary Bellis|
Although the church is nothing short of "mammoth" for the size of its community, what is truly amazing is that the church currently actively cares for nearly 1,800 families, representing 4,632 individuals - well more than twice the size of Newport itself!
"We receive and distribute food, over-the-counter medicines, cleaning products, hygiene products, beds, wheelchairs, furniture and more," says Bellis. "But we don't see ourselves as a community church, we're a county-wide church."
Working with companies such as Walmart, CVS Pharmacy and other retailers and suppliers, Bellis says the church now has a 7,000-square-foot warehouse of constantly rotating supplies that go out to people in need. The church also helps supply seven other churches with goods for their ministries to the needy.
"We have 200 volunteers, including some from the community and other churches, who help with Bread of Life Outreach," Bellis says. "And as we come alongside of other community organizations, we've found that even people who may not yet have a relationship with Christ have taken interest in what we're doing, believe in it and even financially support it."
Bellis says that so far this year, from January 1 to the end of April, the church has already given away 466 tons of products. And at the salvage rate of $1.75 a pound, that's more than $1.6 million in aid to the needy of the county. Since Bread of Life Outreach began in 1994, they have distributed more than 34,000 tons of supplies valued at more than $120 million - all from a church in a community of less than 2,000.
The secret to the massive success of the outreach is simple, Bellis explains. "We don't duplicate ministries and community programs, we come alongside of them and help in whatever way we can."
Bellis says that in addition to providing for the needy, the church offers assistance to other organizations, including the local schools. Recently, they had a Teacher Appreciation Day where every teacher in the school district - elementary through high school - received a "goodie" bag of items from the warehouse. They also donate skids of detergent to wash sports uniforms, reams of paper, pens, poster board and other supplies to assist the schools.
"When we come alongside organizations, such as the Domestic Violence Shelter, Office of the Aging, Council of the Arts and various youth programs," Bellis says, "our goal is to simply bring the light of Christ into that organization through compassionate ministry."
Bellis says the church now even has a ministry called the "Prom Gown Closet" where girls who can't afford to buy a prom gown can come get one for free. "They not only get a prom gown, but the accessories - such as matching shoes and a purse - to go with it," he explains. "Local businesses also provide coupons for getting their hair and nails done too. This year, we had 138 girls and their moms come through - girls who will never forget this day. Finances are also made available for tuxedo rentals for the guys."
Through servant mentality, Bellis says relationships are built both with organizations as well as the people those organizations serve. He says it does take time to build trusting relationships, but the investment has proven well worth the effort.
"We have a couple in our church who we reached out to through Bread of Life," Bellis says. "When they first came to know us, they were on drugs, living in poverty with lots of problems. Through Bread of Life and the relationship we built with them, they've become Christians, are members of our church and are now key workers in the ministry. We have many, many stories of people who started receiving products through our ministry coming to Christ and who are now attending our church."
Although Bellis readily acknowledges that many of the people the Bread of Life Outreach serves do not yet come to church, he says that when there's a need or a problem, the church is who they call. He shares how he received a call from the family of a woman who was helped by Bread of Life Outreach, but was now on her deathbed - and she wasn't ready to die.
|Bags, boxes, cases and pallets of food being prepared to be distributed through the Bread of Life Outreach.|
"I came down to the hospital and explained the plan of salvation to her," Bellis says. "Not only did she accept Christ that day, but the six family members standing around her hospital bed did as well. She went to be with the Lord a few day later, but I still have contact with those family members."
The scope of Bread of Life Outreach is far beyond the capabilities of any one church in such a small community. Bellis says that without the assistance of companies, including the Convoy of Hope and a local trucking firm that donated nearly $60,000 worth of hauling last year, this kind of ministry wouldn't be possible. However, he also says that networking with individuals, churches and organizations, establishing relationships and being willing to serve rather than lead have all been keys to success.
With this kind of massive outreach, it's hard to imagine what else the church could be involved in, but in addition to providing items through Bread of Life Outreach to areas hit by disaster or hardship, half a dozen times a year church leaders assemble teams from the congregation and community to minister in Haiti and it also takes an annual medical missions trip to India.
Bellis sums up the church's effort with one simple statement: "We're on fire for God and passionate about caring for people through outreach."
For more information about Newport Assembly and its Bread of Life Outreach, see its website.
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