By Melody Harrell
“We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”
— Matthew 10:40-42
Lita and Rick Sample understand sharing a cup of cold water. For 19 years, they have been working in the San Francisco Bay Area as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel, finding ways to reach out to refugee families who live around them, including people from Mongolia, Burma, Afghanistan and other countries. These families try to make a living and educate their children in a strange country away from their support networks back home. In most cases, life had become untenable in their home countries due to economic and political hardship, so much so that they risked starting over in a new and unfamiliar place. They work hard, stretch their means, and do their best to fit in while at the same time honoring the cultures, faiths and traditions they so value. They look out for one another, offer encouragement where they can, and point to places where friends can find support.
When COVID-19 struck, the cup of cold water took on whole new imagery for the Samples. It became grocery items, a delivery van and, over Thanksgiving, a large load of turkeys! They found out which families were struggling the most, some having lost jobs in the pandemic, and arranged to deliver food items according to the needs of each family. Leaving bags outside apartment doors so as not to violate social distancing protocol, Lita and Rick were met with overwhelming enthusiasm and gratitude.
The Samples recognize they do not work alone. One of their greatest partnerships has been with their CBF Encourager Church, Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco.
“Nineteenth Avenue is not a large church, but they have huge hearts and are deeply missional,” Rick said. “The way in which they do church is with eyes wide open to the needs of their community. Even though they are on the edge of the country in California, they are not on the edge of the concept of Global Missions. They are actually front and center and, under the leadership of their pastor, Joy Yee, have given money, delivered groceries, and most importantly, consistently befriended the refugees with whom we work.”
The personal friendships that have developed have been the most meaningful part of this ministry. The Zarabi family from Afghanistan were challenged in multiple ways with the start of COVID-19. With five children, they were alarmed when Ahmed faced a health crisis and temporarily lost his job. The older children in public school struggled with online learning and needed tutoring help. The Samples learned of the family’s struggles and were able to begin delivering groceries to them. Their after-school tutoring program was moved online due to the pandemic and, as a result, Ahmed and Afarin’s children were able join the program. Lita and Rick’s Student.Go intern, Jewel, began working directly with the Zarabi children. The family felt that a lifeline had been extended to them.
The cup of cold water offered during these challenging days has also looked like hand-sewn facemasks. A donor in Kentucky sent a box of masks to go along with the ones Lita herself had sewn. These have been distributed widely among the Karen refugee population.
“What a delight it was recently when a little girl received her new mask, put it on and began to dance with joy,” shared Lita. “Every act of compassion is an act of love that God leads us to make during times when there is so much overwhelming anxiety and depression. We need to bring some words of hope and we get to do that through food and masks.”
These acts of kindness in San Francisco in the form of homework help, masks, friendship and food are just what people need to experience the love of God in these arduous times. The ministry of compassion in the name of Jesus meets people where it’s needed most. The Samples are willing and able to continue being “intimately linked in this harvest work.” And chances are they won’t miss out on a thing!
This article appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of fellowship! magazine, the quarterly publication of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Read online here and subscribe for free to fellowship! and CBF’s weekly e-newsletter fellowship! weekly at www.cbf.net/subscribe.