DALLAS (BP) – For Johnnie Bradley, pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church for the past 16 years, the struggles of the pandemic meant increased opportunities to share the Gospel by expanding the church’s longtime Messiah Ministry outreach.
Messiah Ministry was part of Shiloh even before Bradley and deacon James Smith, current outreach director, arrived at the church. For years, deacon John Lemons, former outreach director, and church volunteers regularly brought men from the Dallas Life Foundation and Union Gospel Mission to Shiloh on Sundays for worship, a meal and a visit to the church clothes closet and food pantry.
“I just provided a little more structure when I came,” Bradley said. “The more organized you are, the more people you can help.”
In this case, organization included integrating the men more smoothly into the church service, so their presence became natural and not distracting. Trips to the clothes closet were moved to after the worship service when men might also pick up toiletries and nonperishable food items.
Even before the pandemic, Bradley saw the need to expand the ministry beyond the homeless.
“I shared with our deacons and the members that we should not just focus on sharing the Gospel with men and women who were homeless, but we should also be even more focused on the fact that there are men and women that have jobs or are unemployed but not homeless,” he explained. “We needed to broaden our approach in sharing the Gospel.”
A partnership with the North Texas Food Bank followed. Then came COVID. The church’s regular food giveaways accelerated.
“When COVID hit, it just gave us a heavier influx of people who came to our food giveaways,” Bradley said. “We had already restructured our paradigm.”
Food giveaways ongoing
Twice monthly food giveaways continue at the church, even as COVID has waned. Dates vary, as Shiloh follows the schedule given by the food bank, an organization tasked with serving many zip codes.
On giveaway days, which are publicized on social media, by flyers and via a special flag outside the church in its highly visible location off busy West Illinois Avenue, cars line up well in advance of the opening time.
“It’s not unusual to see 75-100 cars in line before we start,” Bradley said, adding that giveaways run from 8 a.m. to noon. Guests fill out brief registration forms to ensure there are no duplicate recipients and the food is distributed fairly.
In addition to what the food bank provides, the church purchases items for distribution. It’s gone at the end of each giveaway day.
Bradley said the church distributes up to 14,000 pounds of food (roughly 1,500-3,000 boxes) to 800-1,500 families from the community during each giveaway. Included in the food packages are Gospel tracts and invitations to the church. Some 20-25 church volunteers assist in each distribution, including counselors who not only help folks with the food but also pray with them.
During the height of the pandemic, the church also received 18-wheelers of food from Bring the Light Ministries to supplement what the NTFB provided, although that partnership has phased out.
A multiethnic ministry
The Shiloh congregation, which has just under 500 members and an average in-person attendance of around 325, is predominantly African American. Even so, the recipients of the food giveaways are mostly Hispanic and Anglo, Bradley said, adding, “There is a major need in our zip code.”
The scriptural basis for helping those in need is clear, the pastor said. “We try to fulfill what the Scripture says: when you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it to me,” he continued, paraphrasing Jesus in Matthew 25:40. The Old Testament emphasizes giving, too, Bradley added, referencing Proverbs 28:17.
“The poor we will have with us always,” he said. “We have a responsibility to try to help people, try to serve people, try to share the Gospel when we are trying to assist them with their physical needs. We give a hand up, not a hand-out. We meet people where they are.”
Testimonials are not uncommon. Men and women on the grounds of the church sometimes weep when they receive food or assistance. It can be a transformational experience.
“Toward the end of the day, we are the hands and feet of Jesus,” Bradley said.
Other churches have gotten on board, the pastor said, noting that volunteers from New Hope Baptist, pastored by Damien Williams, have partnered with Shiloh, assisting when help is needed.
Shiloh invited members of North Garland Baptist Fellowship to assist in running the giveaways, too, Bradley said, so they could learn the system. Shiloh sent boxes of food to North Garland, a suburban church whose demographic varies considerably in terms of income, to do its own giveaway during the worst of the pandemic.
“Even professionals were struggling,” Bradley said. “We did more ministry during COVID than before COVID.” He added that while July 2022 featured only one food giveaway because of vacations and schedules, August will include a backpack and school supply initiative.
At the height of COVID, many communities were hemorrhaging, he added. “The Lord made a way for our church, for His church, to make a difference. The church fulfilled the mission of the church.”