On one occasion in Capernaum as Jesus was speaking to his disciples and to the crowd which followed Him He made this astounding statement, “I am the bread of life who is come down from heaven.” (John 6: 35-40). He was proclaiming He was their anticipated Messiah and was sent from God to feed and save the world. He also stated whoever was hungry for eternal life must partake from Him alone. This word picture and name of Jesus seemed to fit as the name for the soup kitchen in El Dorado, Arkansas which was founded by my wife, Cathy and representatives from several churches in our hometown.
The Bread of Life Soup Kitchen was located in the Salvation Army building which at the time was in a strategic but economically depressed area. The initial excitement of these servants for the beginning of a new ministry was soon replaced with the hard work of planning, preparing, serving and clean-up for approximately seventy-five meals daily. The spiritual mandate for such a ministry is found in Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 25 in which he said whoever desires to inherit the Kingdom of God must be sensitive to the brethren who are hungry and thirsty and should give them food and drink.
Each of the involved churches was given a specific day of the week in which they were responsible for the food preparation, serving and clean-up. Cathy was the overall coordinator who was there every day to make certain it all happened. The church not only prepared the food but designated someone who would give a short devotion and pray before the meal. Some of the churches were more faithful at this than others.
As a result of Cathy’s leadership role in the Soup Kitchen our entire family became involved with the ministry. It was a time in which God stretched each of us and taught us unique and timeless lessons concerning His provision and work in the lives of the less fortunate. When we recount our Soup Kitchen experiences the names of some of our special friends come to mind such as Jimmy, “Razor,” Mr. Ford with his 5 children and Mr. Cornelius. There were many others but these have a special place etched in our hearts.
With Cathy’s faithfulness to the ministry and at her encouragement our family always worked at the Soup Kitchen on holidays. Cathy didn’t think it was appropriate to ask others to make the sacrifice of being separated from their family on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. At first there were a few in our family who grudgingly “volunteered,” but the Holy Spirit began working on all of our attitudes. When we saw the smiles of those being served and heard the thanks they gave for our service our attitudes were changed. Whenever family members from out-of-town visited us on holidays Cathy encouraged them also to join us at the Soup Kitchen for a couple of hours. I don’t remember even one who refused her offer, and all told us they also received a blessing.
On two occasions I took my guitar to the Soup Kitchen to have a sing-along with our guests. I’m not sure vey many appreciated the type of music I was playing, but I included some well-known hymns, and occasionally could get a few to participate. Our children reluctantly joined in singing, but there was so much background noise from serving and with people talking with one another the sounds of our musical offerings were diminished. I loved singing for them and followed with a word from the Word.
One particular holiday a local store gave us a large number of loaves of day-old bread. There were so many loaves I was able to give at least two loaves to each person. Some got more depending on how many family members they said were at home. As I was passing out the loaves I told those seated at each table they could eat this bread, but after a few hours they would be hungry again. I said when our duties for the meal were over if any one wanted to hear about “some bread they could eat and never be hungry again,” come to the small office room adjacent to the kitchen. I didn’t think anyone would be interested based on their demeanor at the time.
When the meal ended and the floors were swept and mopped I went to the room and found it packed with at least twelve to fifteen people who wanted to know about the bread. I told them Jesus was the Bread of Life, and whoever took Him into their life would be filled and would never hunger again. When I invited all who wanted to receive Him as Savior seven adults raised their hands. I explained the good news of salvation to them and each one prayed to ask forgiveness of their sins and to receive Christ into their hearts. The following week I called four pastors in town in an effort to get all of them involved with a local church so they might follow their decision with baptism and begin their spiritual journey.
Cathy continued in her role of leadership, and the Soup Kitchen was operated in its’ original location for approximately five years. Subsequently the Salvation Army built a beautiful facility in a new location, and the operation of the food ministry was assumed by their leadership. In my opinion the Army has always had an excellent record of serving the needy and preaching the Good News to all whom they serve. I do not know the present state of the food ministry through the Salvation Army, but I do know for five years Cathy and a host of faithful volunteers served the Lord Jesus in that place. Our family was privileged to serve with them, and in the experience we learned the meaning of having a servant’s heart. In giving we received much more than we gave. This is the promise in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”
THANK YOU for all the times that you and mom drug me to the soup kitchen. During the prime of my teenage years the Salvation Army was the LAST place I wanted to be seen. I learned some of lifes most valuable lessons there while serving others. Most importantly I learned that it is not all about ME and MY needs. That is a tough lesson at 16! Thanks to you and to mom for showing me how to care about the needs of others and love them with the love of Jesus!
Several of us had “drug” problems related to the Soup Kitchen. The details of working in such a place are not glamorous and the immediate personal results are not evident, but as we have all found, the long term benefits are incalcuable. My motivation for working there initially was that it gave such joy to Mom, and it was her enthusiasm that finally infected the rest of us. It is so wonderful to now see that heart of service in our grandchildren. Thank you Ginny for passing it on!
John Henry, my Momma was part of the West Side team and went every week for several years. She really loved serving and being with the team.