Henderson Baptist Church’s community meal has been running weekly for almost seven years. Larissa Tamaseu shares how it all began when God spoke to her at a conference.
“When we reach out to others, we complete our worship.” – Marjie Dempster1
I have been going to the Sistas Conference for about eight or nine years. It is a time to enjoy worship and a word from God. Sometimes I come out feeling more nourished in my personal walk; other times I feel directed to do something. It’s fantastic. I’m definitely addicted to it!
At the 2011 conference one of the speakers talked about how we have to reach out to the community. I felt like God said, “Listen.” It wasn’t anything specific at that point. I just sensed I needed to pay attention. Later another presenter talked about feeding the 5,000. The Holy Spirit gave me excitement and clarity as I realised that starting a community meal was what God wanted me to do. What better way to share the love of Jesus than feeding the needy and homeless?
It was confirmed through a conversation with another lady from Henderson Baptist. She mentioned how some homeless people had broken into one of the rooms at the church and had stolen basic essentials like toothpaste and toothbrushes. It struck me how they were really struggling.
I also knew this idea was from God, not me, because food and meals and setting up stuff like that is not my thing!
Sharing the vision
The church had held a Guy Fawkes event on the Friday night of Sistas. When I got back to church on Sunday, I couldn’t believe how many people were talking about how wonderful it was that some homeless and hungry people had come in and ate with the church.
I thought, “Oh my gosh, you put this on my heart, God, and I have walked into church and you have already changed all their hearts.”
I’m not a book person but I wrote down what I thought we’d need to do to set up a community meal—the goals, vision and the basics. I then approached our pastors and the eldership, who supported the idea.
God was already leading me to where I needed to go for sponsorship. I sent an email to a local PAK’nSAVE store. I didn’t get any reply but I felt to keep persevering. So, every week I would send another email. I had a little conversation with God about it on the fourth time. I said, “OK, God, this is the last email. If this is the sponsor we are meant to get, then you do it.”
Less than two minutes after I sent that email, I got a phone call from the supermarket owner. The reason he hadn’t replied earlier was because he had just bought the business and was setting it up. They agreed to be one of our sponsors and for nearly seven years they have donated dry goods, tinned food and dairy products. At the time my husband Paul was working for another supermarket and they also have provided us with food.
I felt God say to approach a certain family-run greengrocer store. I said, “God, there are five veggie shops in Henderson. Why am I going there specifically?” But when I did, the connection was amazing. A family member had been best man for one of the guys from our church. The father said, “Oh, you’re local. I think that is fantastic. Yes, we will support this.” And they have done so all that time, until their shop was gutted by an electrical fire late last year.
We started the community meal in the church foyer and used a small kitchen near the front of the church for meal preparation. As the numbers coming increased, we shifted it to the church hall. We received funding to help to pay for a beautiful big kitchen right next to the hall, which is much more practical.
This ministry has blessed both guests and servers. The families and homeless people who come, find friendship and love. It is a safe place for them to socialise. We have also pointed a few people who were sleeping rough to alternative accommodation. Once the meal is finished and the hall has been cleared up, there is a fun kids’ programme, while the adults go to the foyer for tea, coffee and biscuits.
From the beginning we have included a short devotion during the meal. A lot of the guests don’t go to church, so this way they hear a bit of God’s Word. They don’t say, “That was fantastic,” or anything, but some of it must stick. For example, once I gave a devotion about love and acts of kindness. A lady that came to the meal was so moved she invited one of the homeless people to stay at her home for the night.
Some community meal members now attend Henderson Baptist regularly. Likewise, some of the children have joined our youth group. We’ve even had people come to our church because they have heard about what we’ve been doing and they want to join a church that is active in the community.
Although we are an average-size church, we have four teams, with each team serving once a month. A few people from other churches come to help, like a Catholic church down the road from us. For the servers, beyond the buzz of volunteering and team work, it has turned our hearts to the homeless and to having more empathy for people from all walks of life.
It has been great for my family. My youngest son was quite sickly when he was born, so Paul took over organising the community meal. He loves it; giving and serving is a real joy for him. My 16-year-old son has helped with setting up, too.
Where to next?
At the time of writing both the PAK’nSAVE and the greengrocer stores are closed for refurbishment, so we are seeking more sponsors for the community meal. In the meantime, God has prepared the hearts of the church for us to be able to pay for it for the next little while. And he will provide whatever we need.
If your church is considering starting a community meal, pray and ask for God’s wisdom and guidance all the time, because he will be the one to lead it and help it grow.
Story: Larissa Tamaseu
Larissa is wife to Paul and the mother of four boys, one of whom is severely autistic. She is also a part-time hairdresser and image consultant. She loves to serve God and make connections with fellow Christians, supporting and encouraging them.
Watch a video about the community meal.
- Marjie Dempster, “I Was a Stranger…” in The Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide May-June 2009 Vol 75 No 2, ed. Stephen Bryant and Raymond Hughes (Unley: MediaCom Education Inc., 2009), 55.