Every week for the past six years, Colleen Wardell and a team of eight volunteers from Sunshine Ridge Baptist Church in Surrey, B.C. have been bringing bread to people in need as a way of tangibly expressing God’s love.
Every Tuesday night, Colleen and her team head down to COBS Bread to pick up approximately $500 worth of leftover bread the bakery donates to charity every night. The team takes the bread to the church for sorting and packing before delivering to the recipients, which include school breakfast programs, a methadone clinic, seniors on fixed income, single parents and the working poor.
“It sounds like something little,” Colleen says, “but it’s a way to build a relationship with these individuals. They know it’s coming from a church, and I’ve had so many people say to me, ‘I didn’t know churches did this.’”
This bread ministry at Sunshine Ridge began when Colleen, a retired school teacher, started attending after having been at another church for 25 years. She had been doing the bread ministry for 10 years there, but when she left no one wanted to keep it going. She didn’t want to give this ministry up, so she got another non-Christian charity to back her. “That really bothered me because my purpose in doing this was as an outreach,” she says.
One Saturday, Colleen attended a Saturday seminar led by Raj Mannar, the Navigators’ city leader for Vancouver. The seminar topic was about spiritual gifts, which started a conversation between the two of them afterwards about the bread ministry and Colleen’s desire to bring it back to a Christian setting.
“[Raj] was absolutely instrumental in bringing it back into the church for me,” she says. “Without him I wouldn’t have gotten it back into a Christian basis. I feel indebted to Raj and that I can work with this ministry with him and know I’ve got such a strong support system [and team].”
The trouble with “I’ll pray for you”
The bread ministry at Sunshine Ridge has not only helped address physical needs, but spiritual ones as well. Colleen says the typical answer Christians give when there’s trouble is, ‘I’ll pray for you.’ But for non-Christians, when they’re hungry or struggling, this sentiment means nothing.
One story Colleen recalled illustrates how words, if not accompanied by action, can have negative consequences. “One of my neighbours, her husband had a severe mental breakdown,” she says. “Financially, it was tough. He was hospitalized for months. She was left with her young son at the time, feeling overwhelmed. Now, she is a Christian, and she had gone to her church because she was feeling overwhelmed, and they said to her, ‘We’ll pray for you.’”
Because of this, she walked away from the church, frustrated with the lack of care and how their words didn’t change the fact that she was struggling.
“I started taking over a couple loaves of bread,” Colleen says. “I would sit and talk with her for a while, wanting to know if she was okay, letting her know we were there if she needed us.”
After doing this for two months, Colleen received an email from the woman thanking her.
“More than anything,” she wrote, “it’s the fact I know somebody cares.”
Hearing that she has also decided to start going back to church, Colleen says “we need to be there for that reason alone. It’s important for people to know there are people out there who care.”
Serving one another
In addition to benefiting those in the community, this ministry is an easily accessible option for those looking to get involved. Colleen says one woman in particular, who has been part of the ministry for eight years, doesn’t go to Sunshine Ridge Church or the one Colleen was at before. “When Raj comes in [to help], he makes such a point of making sure she feels she’s a valuable part of the team.”
One time, Colleen recalls, “this woman who doesn’t go to our church was talking to us about how she had to cook this dinner for all these people, and she’s not a cook. She was talking to me and another woman who actually used to have a catering company. This woman and her husband showed up and did it all with her. I think that’s what God wants us to do. He wants us to be there for one another. I’m amazed at the strength and support of my team for one another.”
As Navigators, we see discipleship as a process of helping people discover where God wants them to be and what they can do to serve and bless others.
In the case of this ministry, Raj’s ongoing support has given Colleen and her team the chance to help meet the material and spiritual needs of those who receive the bread. As they regularly serve together, the team has also been able to help and support one another.
Raj’s discipling influence, like many Navigators across Canada, is helping individuals from many walks of life grow in their faith by actively being a blessing to those around them.