CASH, Ark. (BP)–Can a small church in a rural community make a difference? Terry Simmons thinks so and set out to prove it.
The church Simmons leads, Cash Baptist in Cash, Ark., celebrated the success of its Seeds of Hope ministry in mid-July, having distributed fresh vegetables and fruit to every household in the community, more than 100 families in all.
Simmons and the church drew media attention by inviting political leaders and candidates from both parties to the celebration. Simmons asked them to address rural poverty issues. The church also served a meal featuring the garden’s vegetables and fruit.
When Simmons came to Cash two years ago for his first pastorate after being ordained by Walnut Street Baptist Church in Jonesboro, he launched a series of sermons on how a small church can impact its community.
“How can 35 active members of Cash Baptist Church change the world?” he asked, encouraging his members to explore ways to reach out to the community.
Aware of the poverty in the area, Simmons began to research rural poverty. He learned that good nutrition is a great need and community gardens can provide a good solution. So he and members of Cash Baptist plowed up an 8,000-square-foot garden behind his home, which is next to the church.
The plot previously was thick with Bermuda grass, and some told the pastor he was crazy to try to plant a garden where Bermuda had been. But God blessed Simmons’ persistence.
The garden produced an abundance and a wide variety, which members helped him harvest, bag and distribute as each vegetable or fruit matured.
Although the concept was to aid the poor, the church did not discriminate. The produce went to everyone, from the finest home to the poorest in the community.
“We received a blessing, they received a blessing through the vegetables and fresh fruit, and we showed them the love of Christ,” Simmons said. “We’ve really been able to show people God’s love through a bag of vegetables.”
As members knocked on doors, some recipients wanted to pay, but church members told them it was a gift from God and from Cash Baptist. Most asked why the church was doing this.
“That gave us a perfect opportunity to share the Gospel with them,” Simmons said. “Seeds of Hope seeks to meet a need in our community by supplementing diets with additional fruit and vegetables. As Christians, we are commanded to love and provide for the poor and to spread the Kingdom of heaven. Seeds of Hope is a good place to start because it lets us meet a basic need for healthy food. The ministry has been a great blessing to our church and members, from our children to the elderly who have worked in our garden.”
He said other pastors and churches have asked about the ministry and are excited about launching similar initiatives.
“Churches have land,” Simmons said. “Churches have people who love to garden, and churches have a responsibility and a challenging need they can help meet and a desire to reach out and share the love of Christ.”
The celebration drew politicians, media and community residents, including Mike Beebe, Arkansas attorney general and a candidate for governor; Congressman Marion Berry; and state Sen. Jim Holt, a candidate for lieutenant governor; and Leroy Burden, mayor of Cash and a member of the church.
Beebe affirmed the ministry’s title, Seeds of Hope, as an accurate description of the church’s purpose.
“Every church could be doing this,” he said. “… I am grateful you have shown other folks how to do things for those less fortunate.”
He said he is proud and pleased but not surprised by the ministry because of his experiences growing up near Amagon, a small town 25 miles southwest of Cash.
“The people in this part of the state have always had the kind of inclusiveness and love that cause people to surround folks less fortunate,” Beebe said, “… I was the beneficiary of that love when I was a kid. I was the beneficiary of that kind of outpouring of love and assistance. It’s in the blood up here. It’s in the water up here. And it’s certainly in the church up here.”
Berry urged prayer for the armed forces serving in Iraq, calling it “the most serious of human undertakings.” He said political officials are sometimes considered godless, but he assured the crowd that most politicians trust in and depend on God.
Those who signed the Declaration of Independence risked their lives and fortunes to do so, Berry said, calling it “the greatest thing ever done by man, with the divine inspiration of God Almighty, with the exception of the Holy Bible.”
Early American political leaders, Berry said, believed in God and came together to work for the common good. “When given the opportunity, the human spirit takes over and creates a way,” he said.
Holt recalled attending a church in Korea while serving in the military. The church had prayer meetings around the clock.
He recalled thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if churches in America caught fire again.”
He said when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the government failed, but churches and volunteers came through with immediate aid and compassion.
“Our nation is as strong as our families and our churches,” he said.
Holt said Seeds of Hope is a brilliant example for the rest of the state. “What I see, what you’ve done here, it’s so encouraging, because it shows that we don’t have to rely on government to take care of our problems,” Holt said. “We can rely on God and we can rely on His servants to do what we need to do to help take care of each other.”
Ann Hudson, area circuit court clerk who was born and raised in Cash, also commended the church, telling the crowd, “I’ve never been more proud to call Cash, Ark., my hometown.”
Charlie Warren is editor of the Arkansas Baptist News.