Heritage Bible Church (HBC) in Bakersfield, California, volunteered at a “Love Your Neighborhood” community event May 18, 2019, with the nonprofit organization CityServe.
Volunteers met at 10 Bakersfield churches and the surrounding communities to offer free services to people, including groceries, haircuts, family portraits, lunch, job services, health services and prayer, says HBC pastor Jim Aiken.
People from HBC served at a nearby Assembly of God church, where they helped with grocery distribution, prayer, portraits and more. Children played in bounce houses while their parents were offered goods and services.
“One of our women, Holly Canaday, prayed with two different men, each of whom had tears in their eyes after she prayed,” Aiken says. “One family was given a family portrait, which they never had, so was very excited. The plan was to take photos, then deliver them to the families the following week as a way to make a contact with them.”
According to its website, CityServe is a “collaborative network empowering the local church to offer solutions to brokenness through God’s template found in the Bible.”
The brainchild of one Bakersfield church, CityServe began in 2017 to help churches and organizations meet physical needs in communities, Aiken says. Today, nearly 50 Bakersfield churches and 30 organizations, including the Public Health Department, have connected with CityServe.
To help meet needs, CityServe collects groceries and products from businesses and organizations, and churches pick up supplies once or twice a month to distribute in their neighborhoods with the goal of connecting with neighbors and sharing the gospel, Aiken says.
CityServe has four active warehouse locations in Bakersfield, Fresno, Fowler and San Diego. In 2018, 1,200 volunteers served at seven churches.
Aiken’s wife, Annett, serves as HBC coordinator and mobilizes volunteers.
HBC is exploring ways to offer services more often throughout the year and is considering doing a “Love Your Neighborhood” outreach once a quarter, Aiken says, adding the church would like to be a host site next year.
“One reason we do this is because our neighborhood has changed in the last 20 to 30 years,” Aiken says. “While the neighborhood used to be mostly middle class—and still is in some ways—now we have homeless and drug addicts living in a park across the street from the church. In addition, people with mental challenges live in apartments a block away. All these people regularly attend church on Sunday morning, and our congregation welcomes them and ministers to some of them during the week. CityServe gives us another way to connect with our neighborhood in sharing the gospel.”
Janae Rempel Shafer is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Shafer is an award-winning writer, having received three 2016 Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence and an Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals award in 2022. Shafer graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She and her husband, Austin, attend Ridgepoint Church in Wichita, Kansas.
The Christian Leader is published bimonthly by the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.
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