On one occasion in Capernaum, as Jesus was speaking to his disciples and to the ever-present crowd which followed Him, He made this astounding statement, “I am the bread of life that 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 the concept of a name for the soup kitchen in El Dorado, Arkansas which was founded by my wife, Cathy and a representative group 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 very economically depressed area. The initial excitement of these dedicated servants for the beginning of a new ministry was soon replaced with the hard work of planning, preparing, serving and clean-up of approximately 75 meals daily. The spiritual mandate for such a ministry is found in Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 25, that whoever desires to inherit the Kingdom of God, must be sensitive to those brethren who are hungry and thirsty, and should give them food and drink.
Each of the churches involved was given a specific day of the week in which they were responsible for the food preparation, the serving and the clean-up, while Cathy, who was the coordinator, was there every day to make certain it all happened. The plan included not only the food, but someone from the responsible church would provide a short devotion or some spiritual nourishment as well as praying 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 her, both in the physical and the spiritual work done there. It was a time in which God stretched each of us, and taught us unique and timeless lessons concerning His provision and His work in the lives of needy people, particularly those who were hungry and thirsty. When we now have a family discussion concerning 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.
Because of Cathy’s leadership and her sense of responsibility for the ministry, 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 our attitudes. When we saw the smiles of those being served, and heard the thanks they gave for our service, those attitudes were replaced with joyful anticipation. Whenever family members from out-of-town visited us on holidays, Cathy encouraged them 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 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 that 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 most of the time there was so much noise from the serving and with people talking with one another, the sound of our musical offering was overshadowed.
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 2 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 that when our duties for that 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.
When the meal ended and the floors were swept and mopped, I went to the room and found it packed with at least 12 to 15 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 never hunger again. When I invited all who wanted to receive Him as Savior, 7 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 several 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 5 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 5 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 that experience we learned what it means to have a servant’s heart. In giving we received much more than we gave. This is the promise from His Word in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”