Over the next weeks and months, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will be sharing reflections from our CBF field personnel serving around the world. These are stories of impact and outreach, Gospel-sharing and relationship building, long-term presence and abundant love.
The following is a reflection from CBF field personnel Rick and Lita Sample, who serve in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. You can learn more about their ministries and support their work at www.cbf.net/sample.
Meet Zoey: a single mother forced to flee Afghanistan with her three children. Zoey settled in the San Francisco Bay Area and worked hard to support her kids. Because of the pandemic, in March her employer had to lay her off indefinitely. Her kids are no longer at school each day and now she has no money to feed her family. Through our food distribution ministry, we were able to provide enough food for this refugee family to last a couple of weeks.
Meet the Tabiq family: Seven people live in a tiny apartment including several grown children. Mr. Tabiq lost his job when his auto repair shop closed due to COVID-19. As the breadwinner for his large Afghan family, Mr. Tabiq struggled to feed his family. In addition, the family had no masks. Through our food distribution ministry, we were able to bless them with a lot of food and also to provide hand-made masks for each family member.
Meet Kamuki: The mother of a Burmese Karen family in Oakland. We were delivering food to her family, whom we had heard was a family of five. It turned out that nine people, two families, were living together on the top floor of a two-story house. Only one of the nine persons living in this home was still working at a Burmese restaurant in the city. We know that restaurant workers don’t make very much money and this man was trying to support nine people. Our food delivery was a huge blessing to them.
Meet Mr. Garibold: Mongolian immigrant and father to a family of five. Mr. Garibold worked as a sushi chef at a popular Asian restaurant. This Oakland family was barely scraping by when the coronavirus brought about the closure of small restaurants. We learned about this family’s need from the pastor of one of the few Mongolian Christian churches in the United States which is in central Oakland.
When California began its shelter in place on March 16, and our regular mission activities and ministries had to close down, we ourselves felt a little vulnerable.
Two of our own family members were already sick with what turned out to be ordinary colds. We stayed at home as was recommended and went about home-schooling our kids and checking in regularly with our parents in other states. And we had time to figure out how we could best respond to the needs of internationals in the San Francisco Bay Area since our usual way of “doing missions” was put on hold.
As we made phone calls to internationals and communicated with pastors of ethnic churches, we came to understand that many immigrants and refugees work in jobs and at businesses that are susceptible to layoffs and closures. Many internationals have limited education and skills which sometimes translates to job insecurity for hourly wage earners especially since they can’t work from home.
When the coronavirus triggered California’s shelter-in-place requirement, many “nonessential” small businesses had to close including small ethnic restaurants which brought about immediate layoffs and job losses. Even businesses that didn’t close, such as hotels and auto repair, saw their patronage diminish dramatically prompting even more layoffs and/or reduced work schedules with reduced pay.
We decided the best thing we could do is to provide food for international families impacted by COVID-19 with a job loss. If we were able to provide food for families that would free up some of their own money to pay for other things such as medicine or rent. Not having a ministry center to which to invite people, we decided we would shop for the food ourselves and then make personal deliveries to families in need.
One factor driving this decision is that many internationals live in what is known as a “food desert” with limited access to full range grocery stores. They live closer to convenience stores that don’t carry much fresh meat or produce. Most immigrant families love to cook and eat with fresh foods and we knew that it would be a blessing for them to receive fresh foods rather than merely canned goods or boxed non-perishables like pasta.
In many of the poorer parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, immigrants and refugees are not often able to afford or even find masks, a fact that puts them at higher risk. Areas such as Oakland are a hotspot of increasing COVID-19 infections and deaths. Lita is sewing masks to give away to every family and, in addition, a friend from our church is providing masks for this ministry.
With funds made available to us through CBF, we organized our shopping plans. We have chosen to shop at a discount grocery store rather than our upscale Safeway to make our money stretch further. Every time we shop and every time we deliver food to families, we use appropriate social distancing and always wear masks and gloves.
We developed a shopping list that is the same for each family and we adjust the sizes and amounts based on the number of people in the family. In other words, we buy more for a family of 7 than a family of 2.
We decided that we wouldn’t buy any junk food or expensive packaged food, just fresh produce, fresh meat, and dairy. Our shopping list includes a bag of apples, a bag of oranges, a bag of lemons, strawberries, a cantaloupe, a pineapple, bananas, tomatoes, peppers, a bag of potatoes, a bag of carrots, a bag of onions and eggplant for the Afghans or cabbage for the Asians. Fresh meat includes beef, chicken, pork (unless they are Muslim), and frozen tilapia. Then milk, eggs, orange juice, apple juice and a few staples like rice, flour, and cooking oil. We usually shop for two families at the same time with each of us filling a shopping cart. We also include one laundry detergent, one dish soap, a bar of soap for each family member, some toilet paper and a roll of paper towels.
Since we are purchasing perishables requiring refrigeration, we always pre-arrange the delivery so that we go straight from the grocery store to the recipient’s house or apartment. Again, maintaining our physical distance, we put the groceries out on the sidewalk for the family to take into their home.
Each family has been very appreciative and grateful for this food. They are always blessed that it is fresh food which they really want and that there is enough to last 10 days to two weeks. We feel that the way we are doing this ministry is unique and is giving them a personal touch of compassion and showing the love of Christ by demonstrating that they are not forgotten amid everything that is going on around them.
One blessing for us that came out of this is that we let it be known locally that we were engaging in this food distribution ministry and invited folks to participate if they so desired. We’ve had over a dozen local friends provide money and/or bags of groceries for us to include with our deliveries. Our Encourager Church, Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco, has partnered with us by providing a huge donation of groceries.
As of this writing, we have taken food to 32 families that comprise 136 people, many of them children. There is the Karen family whose father was laid off from his job as a maintenance man at a hotel; the young Afghan father whose Afghan restaurant closed; the Mongolian lady who lost her job in the kitchen of a restaurant; the Karen man who was working but was sent home from his job because he was sick; the elderly Afghan woman living by herself who is a seeker that listens to the gospel on an MP3 player and is very open to Christianity.
Every family has a story of hardship, of job loss, of financial need, of spiritual need.
In Matthew 25, Jesus said “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.” It is a joy for us to live out that Bible verse by giving away food in Jesus’ name.