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Kelly Bilger works on the construction of a tiny home for tornado victims.
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Photo provided by Joel Crider

Meeting needs, one tank at a time

Churches of Christ help communities across the nation with rising costs of living.

Amid a rising inflation rate and housing shortages across the United States, some Churches of Christ have turned ministry into practicality. 

This is the case with Brian McCutchen, minister for the Shiloh Church of Christ in Hazel Green, Ala. He recently began waiting outside service stations with the sole goal of filling up neighbors’ gas tanks and praying for the community. 

“Every Wednesday and Sunday I continually get money to fill up three cars. It’s like the feeding of the 5,000 with loafs and fish but instead it’s gas.”

The outreach is part of the Shiloh church’s 2022 theme, “Reaching Out,” in which members individually contribute to the community ministry outside of the church’s budget. 

“The first part is to fill up people’s gas, partly because the economy is crazy, inflation is high, and gas is extremely expensive,” McCutchen said as the nation’s inflation rate recently hit 7.5 percent, the fastest rise in 40 years. “I thought this would be a good way to help people who are just struggling to get by.”

Despite being a small congregation — averaging 85 members post-COVID — the church’s goal is to pay for $1,000 worth of gas. Then members plan to randomly pay for individuals’ groceries. The support has been enthusiastic, McCutchen said.

“Every Wednesday and Sunday I continually get money to fill up three cars,” he said. “It’s like the feeding of the 5,000 with loafs and fish but instead it’s gas.

“Being spontaneous in ministry is more rewarding than sitting there in a room strategizing how we’re going to reach the community. I think that when we just simply have compassion to reach the community, and cost is a necessity but you don’t make it the priority, then — somehow — God blesses it, and we’re able to do more than we ever thought possible.”

Spontaneous giving is nothing new to the Lamar Avenue Church of Christ in Paris, Texas. For over 20 years, the Lamar church’s benevolence program has met community needs in whatever form they take — be it paying for rent, utility bills or food. 

These needs have increased about 10 percent since 2020, said James Hanley, who helps with the benevolence ministry. 

Hanley

Hanley

“People seek us out,” Hanley said. “We probably have an average of three or four people per day.”

The benevolence program relies on the church’s budget, which fluctuates based on weekly contributions, Hanley said, but averages around $1,800 per month. 

The only criteria is that the Lamar Avenue church’s assistance will meet an individual’s need and ensure that a service — like utilities or housing — will remain available. Church members connect people seeking short-term solutions, like overnight housing in a hotel, with organizations that are better equipped to financially handle recurrent costs. 

However, about 500 miles away in Mayfield, Ky., Churches of Christ are meeting the need for short-term housing after a tornado devastated their community in December. 

The Seven Oaks Church of Christ, Northside Church of Christ and Bread of Life Humanitarian Effort — a nonprofit associated with Churches of Christ — recently put aside donations to build 30 tiny homes for displaced residents. Each home will be about 500 square feet, with a fully equipped kitchen, corner bathroom and two bedrooms. 

The goal is to provide short-term housing for families until they are able to rent or build new accommodations, said Joel Crider, a Seven Oaks church elder. 

A committee formed by the Seven Oaks Church of Christ, Northside Church of Christ, Lee Street Church of Christ and Iglesia de Cristo — the latter congregations representing the Black and Latino communities in Mayfield — will review housing applicants recommended by the school systems and individuals in the community once the homes are completed. 

“The biggest hurdle has been location,” Crider said. “We want it to be convenient for the families who have kids or have work because, with gas going over $3 a gallon, they’re having to drive a long way to get to a job that may not really pay enough to drive all the way there.”

Filed under: benevolence community outreach housing shortages inflation Mayfield tornado ministry National News Top Stories

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