What began as a simple room hire has evolved into a vibrant ministry that feeds people physically, socially and spiritually. Jacky Gartner, Thomas Hendricks and Martin Armstrong of Taupō Baptist Church share the story of the Tūtaki Taku Community Meal.

A person from another church approached Taupō Baptist Church (TBC) in September 2017, to ask whether we had a room to hire to provide a weekly meal for homeless people in Taupō. As a result of the strong and enthusiastic vision to provide this meal, and the community involvement and advocacy of the organiser, Monday night community meals began in December 2017.

As the TBC congregation heard about what was happening, they came along to assist in setting up and packing down, as well as sitting and engaging with the diners. A year later, the founder and organiser had to move from Taupō, and was looking for someone else to take responsibility for running the meals. A member of our staff, Thomas, who had been assisting at the meals for a while, stepped up and asked for the church’s backing in taking on this role. After discussion of how this would be managed, TBC absorbed the community meals as another one of its ministries.

Taking ownership has meant that we are now able to include a five-minute devotion each week after everybody has been served their first course. This task is given to people who can effectively communicate to the wide range of people that attend. They may share a personal testimony or a simple Bible story about the love and grace of God.  

A real community effort

We receive donations of food from restaurants, cafés, dairies, a bread store and supermarkets—a community effort that makes it sustainable. Our own people, plus folk from other churches and the wider community, assist with food preparation, setting up tables and cleaning up afterwards. Some of our diners also rock up early to help with the set-up, and a particular group stay most weeks to help clean up and pack down.

Our weekly commitment to produce this meal, as well as the generosity and reliability of our team—particularly Allen, our main chef—is a credit to all involved. It is also a testament to the depth of interest and need in the area. The Lord’s provision is evident in the way that the meals occur weekly, even throughout holidays, despite an ‘actual budget’ of only $40 per week. We’ve even had a local business owner approach us about starting to contribute toward our meat purchases. 

We believe we have served over 400 different individuals through this ministry so far, with extended whānau starting to come more regularly in the six months prior to the COVID-19 lockdown. Our average weekly attendance was around 65—and up to 95 at our special Christmas dinner— with at least one new person turning up each week. We look forward to resuming the community meal as soon as we can after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Spiritual nurture

We are building a new intergenerational community with these people. Regulars are given their own name tags, which they proudly wear. We have seen many of them attend our other outreach ministries: ‘The Well’, our drop-in centre on a Wednesday afternoon; CAP release groups; men’s breakfasts; and our regular church services. 

In the first term of 2020 we ran an Alpha course immediately after the meal. Guests received a hot drink as they headed in to view the video in the auditorium. Then dessert was served before they joined their discussion groups with experienced small group leaders. About 17 folk from the meal regularly attended Alpha, along with others from the church and small group leaders, making a total weekly attendance of around 35. 

We had a person commit their life to Jesus during the first weeks of Alpha, after attending our fortnightly ‘Revive’ Sunday evening gathering. Another man from the meal is now a regular Sunday morning attendee and is soon to be baptised. There are many needs in our community and this is proving to be a way of reaching out to the poor, the oppressed and the lonely in a kind and loving way. 

God’s reconciling work is being carried out on so many levels that it’s difficult to keep tabs on all the ways these folk are experiencing restoration and renewal in their life. This is something our team is working to address through intentional discipleship and follow-up in this next season after the conclusion of the Alpha course. 

Connecting people

‘Tūtaki ki taku’ means ‘meet my…’ Our team recognises that Jesus wants to have an encounter with each of these individuals, and frequently this leads them to have an encounter with us as individuals and a church family as well. 

There is a wonderful opportunity to see our community lifted and built‑up through improved social skills, engaging in casual conversation with those around them, appropriate table etiquette, and battling anxiety, loneliness and a lack of self‑confidence, etc. We look for the treasure in each willing participant and endeavour to let them know that we genuinely value, accept and care about them. 

Initially all that we had to do was to recognise that the Lord was opening a door to us and to walk through it with him. This opportunity was not on our radar, in our vision or our budget and couldn’t have been programmed into our normal activities at the time. We serve a creative, compassionate God. His ways are not always our ways, but through radical obedience and a preparedness to step out of our comfort zones we can be Jesus to those around us. “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:40, NLT).  

Contributors: Jacky Gartner, Thomas Hendricks, Martin Armstrong

Jacky is the administration manager at Taupō Baptist Church. Living on a 20-hectare lifestyle block with husband Doug enables Jacky to follow her love of animals, particularly her dogs and providing a home and support to rescued feral cats.

Thomas is TBC’s community coordinator. He’s a Southern Boy at heart, with a fond appreciation of kai, be it slow-cooked pork, livermush, or Cheerwine™… and God’s creation. He loves rafting, hiking, and intriguing kōrero with strangers and old friends alike.

Martin is married to Helen and they have three adult children. He has ministered in Taupō since 2017, in Tauranga for 13 years and Azerbaijan for three years. Prior to that Martin was a career secondary school teacher and taught with his family on Niue Island, in Brunei on the Island of Borneo and in New Zealand.

Scripture: Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol  Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.