MT. VERNON, Ill. (BP)–Serving those called to serve was the mission of a contingent of Illinois Southern Baptists at the Armory in Mt. Vernon, Ill.
The Illinois Baptist State Association’s mobile feeding unit was dispatched to the Armory to serve beef stew dinners to local National Guard troops being deployed to Iraq and their families following a Jan. 2 send-off ceremony.
Meanwhile, another group of IBSA volunteers cared for the families’ children.
About 1,100 dinners were served, said Chuck Ellis, pastor of Mt. Vernon’s Park Avenue Baptist Church.
Thurman Stewart, IBSA disaster relief coordinator, said 30-plus disaster relief volunteers were on hand for what also served as a training opportunity for the Baptist workers.
The troops left the Armory Jan. 4 for training at Fort Dix, N.J., before heading to Iraq for the next 18 months.
After hearing of the impending deployment, Ellis said, “I thought there was a real need to honor and respect those serving.”
Realizing Park Avenue was too small to feed the troops and families, he enlisted the assistance of the Salem South Baptist Association and the IBSA in the project.
Members of association’s churches donated money to purchase food. “Phenomenal” is how Ellis hailed their response. In addition, their efforts were supplemented by two businesses, and associational volunteers also set up tables and chairs in the Armory for Sunday’s dinner.
That is just the beginning. Plans call for service opportunities to be provided by the association for the families as long as their loved ones are away.
“Regardless of your political views about Iraq, these are our men and women, and they need our support,” Ellis said. “We want to do everything we can to help their families until they get home.”
Park Avenue offers a food pantry from 8 to 9:30 a.m. the third Thursday of the month at the church. Ellis said food is available to those meeting government income standards.
“This is a great mission opportunity,” Stewart said. “We are showing them Christ’s love; our motto is, ‘Serving Christ in a Crisis.'”
“We are very glad to be a part of it,” said Henry Hall, Salem South Association’s director of missions. “We just want these troops and their families to know we want to help them in any way we can. We want to be here for them.”
At the Jan. 2 send-off ceremony, volunteer Rosann Lingle of Dongola, Ill., who helped prepared the beef stew, said, “I am here to try to do a little part to serve others” as part of “a wonderful ministry.”
“God gave me the gift of cooking and I am just using this in a small way to help,” said Lingle, who has cooked in a restaurant and for the Illinois Department of Corrections. “I feel this is God’s plan for my life.”
“This is an excellent way to serve our country,” Bruce Miles of Mt. Vernon said while filling up a pail of water. “I am very pleased to be able to serve these troops who are deployed to their new assignment.”
“I’ve been on several of these,” Tom Clore of Eldorado said as he served up some beef stew. “I think it’s what God wants me to do. We are to serve others.”
Jack Shelby, IBSA director of Baptist Men’s Ministries and director of Volunteers in Missions, said Illinois Baptists have been providing a disaster relief ministry for 25 years. In that time, he said, “We have cooked and served over 600,000 meals. In the last two years we have been to 13, 14 events per year.
“To help people in need and to put Christ’s love in action” is how Shelby summarized the objective of the program.
The guardsmen indicated their appreciation of the effort — and the quality of the food.
“It’s great,” Pvt. Matthew Conner of Benton said. “It’s very nice of them.”
“Really good,” Pfc. Scott Smith of Centralia said of the food. “We really appreciate it.”
“Somebody’s got to do it,” Cpl. Josh Tellefsen of Centralia said, in looking to his assignment. “I appreciate it. It makes me feel a lot better.”
This story first appeared in the Centralia (Ill.) Morning Sentinel. David Belcher is the lifestyles editor at the Sentinel’s bureau in Mount Vernon, Ill. Used by permission.