It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving, 2011. Our mission team had decided that we would provide a hot Thanksgiving dinner on the front steps of Atlanta First UMC. We had a great team of volunteers show up to assist in cooking and plating the turkey, dressing, green beans, and yes, cranberry sauce.
Among the volunteers was my son, Zach, who was 7 years old at the time. He had decided that he wanted to be the one to hand each guest a bag with their plate and utensils. Quite a line formed on Peachtree as we set up the tables. Zach would grab a bag off of the table, turn, look up, and hand a guest their bag while cheerfully wishing them a Happy Thanksgiving. I watched him repeat that pattern over and over again until one time he turned, and before he could look up, he was face to face with a little girl, his same height, likely his same age. This time his cheerful voice cracked as he wished her a Happy Thanksgiving, and his 7-year-old mind tried to process what he was experiencing. It is a moment and image that will be forever etched in my mind.
Many Christians are convicted by the Gospel imperative found in Matthew 25. We earnestly desire to serve others in a meaningful way.
About two years ago a group of leaders from the City of Atlanta comprised of clergy, service providers, residents, and property owners formed Partner for Hope to address street feedings in the city.
We learned that, though noble and eye-opening to volunteers, street feedings do not provide long-term, sustainable change in the lives of those being served. We wanted to offer a better alternative. I have been honored and humbled to chair this group during its formation. By working together, we can meet Christ’s imperative.
“I was hungry and you gave me food to eat.” Matthew 25:35 CEB
Dr. Charles Z. Gardner currently serves as the Pastor of Atlanta First UMC. Charles has previously served in various capacities at Calhoun First UMC, Pine Mountain First UMC, and Peachtree Road UMC. He holds degrees from Georgia Tech, Candler School of Theology, and Wesley Theological Seminary. Charles lives in Atlanta with his wife, Shannon, and their son, Zach. Along with being an avid runner and golfer, Charles enjoys spending time traveling with his family. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A note about Partner for Hope: Partner of Hope has a vast network of service providers who, in addition to addressing issues of hunger, provide case management, mental and physical health assessments, and access to addiction counseling. Partner for Hope seeks to direct the generosity of individuals and groups toward these organizations. Learn more at http://www.partnerforhopeatl.com.