We at Food for the Hungry (FH) love this time of year, because we have so many opportunities to engage in Advent church partnerships. For missions-minded pastors, parents, grandparents, and students alike, there’s extra Advent joy in helping others.
No doubt about it, this year will be different due to the global pandemic. Everyone’s looking for ideas for socially-distant, mission-focused Advent events. COVID-19 has been tough on relationships. FH is working with our church partners to make sure the global relationships formed through mission trips stay alive in this challenging environment.
Origins Church in Greenville, SC was one of FH’s church partners that had to pivot this year. They’d traveled to Guatemala in November 2019 to the community of Caquipec. They looked forward to going back in November 2020. As you can guess, that simply isn’t possible this year. Origins serves in the downtown Greenville area, with many creative people in the local arts community among its members. That creativity came out in their solution to virtual relationship building.
More Than One Night
FH had discussed having a one-night Zoom meeting bringing together some of the key people in Guatemala with church members. But after brainstorming, the church’s leadership team thought, why limit it to one night? They started planning a full week of activities, during the same November week they would have been in Guatemala.
“I tried to keep it simple so it wouldn’t be cumbersome to anybody’s schedule, and it would be do-able for everybody….for people who are least likely to get involved with things along with people who really like to be involved. They can pray a 30-second prayer or they can pray all day long,” said Abi Elrod, wife of lead pastor Matthew Elrod.
On the first night, Monday, leaders did an introduction to FH and the whole idea of partnering with the community in Guatemala. Because Origins has been meeting virtually, they found they had many new faces at the church. And those newcomers weren’t familiar with the Guatemalan community partnership. They shared statistics about Caquipec — the malnutrition that is among the worst in the world; the lack of opportunities for education and earning income; and spiritual needs as well.
Tuesday brought a night called “the banquet.” But it’s wasn’t a food banquet — it was a banquet of mutual sharing and love, with members of last year’s team, FH staff, and others from the church who popped in and out of the Zoom time. Participants were able to ask questions and hear an update about the community from an FH staff member based in Guatemala.
Former team members, FH staff, and other church members attend the Tuesday night Zoom banquet.
Praying and Serving
Wednesday was a day of dedicated and fervent prayer, as Guatemala was hit with Hurricane Eta. And Thursday was dedicated to service. The church provided suggestions on how people could serve: Rake a yard. Repair something in your community that needs attention. Pick up litter in your neighborhood. One group went to a local homeless shelter and organized their clothes donation closet.
Friday was “Cook Guatemalan” night. With recipes from the Internet (and the address of a local store supplying Central American ingredients), families cooked Guatemalan food like what they had eaten on the trip last year. Then as a family they prayed and wrote to their sponsored children. The Elrods made hilachas, a dish made with shredded beef, chilis, tomatoes, and rice.
Abi Elrod said the week was a great opportunity to introduce the younger generation who can’t yet go on trips, to the idea of missions. Abi has two children, ages seven and nine, who’ve been involved during the week. “It’s been a joy to talk about other cultures that are so different from ours, and letting them experience that not everybody lives like we do,” said Abi. Her daughter Liza wanted to go all-in for “Cook Guatemalan” night. “Can we decorate Guatemalan tonight?” Liza asked.
Advent Church Partnerships: Planting Year-Long Seeds
Seeing people who hadn’t been involved in missions before was exciting, Abi said. And the week’s worth of events filled a void that people had been feeling during COVID-19’s restrictions on events.
Advent is a season of hope for the future in a dark world. FH’s church engagement team would love to help your church reach out, bringing hope both to your own community and to the children and communities you can help. It may be a special event that highlights child sponsorship opportunities; it might be using FH’s gift catalog as an alternative Christmas gift option. Or you may want to donate toward helping others worldwide fight COVID-19’s spread in a special offering. Please contact our Church Mobilization team if you want help brainstorming ideas!
For More Reading:
4 Steps to Giving Back This Holiday Season
14 New Items in This Year’s Gift Catalog
Raising Kids Who Care: Fun Activity for Kids