Photo by Bob Hoffman
Visitors receive free haircuts at the Vallejo Berea church block party last July.
When a church’s neighborhood hits hard times, sometimes the congregation’s first impulse is to move somewhere else. However, the members of the Vallejo Berea church have a different philosophy. “We really have a conviction at Berea that God keeps us right where we are, to keep doing what we’re doing,” said church elder Bob Hoffman. What they are doing is reaching out to their local community for Christ in a variety of creative ways.
When 18-year-old Priscilla Morgan wanted to make a difference in the neighborhood, she started a Friday night kids’ club in the fall of 2012. Throughout last school year, every other week about 15 kids, ages 5-14, came to the church for dinner, a VBS-style program and children’s choir practice. The choir, conducted by Wanetta Daniel, sang once a month for the Sabbath worship service. “The program was such a blessing, and Priscilla was so eager to do it,” said her aunt, Cherlyn Morgan. Although the club took a break for the summer, the kids took a couple of field trips to a jelly bean factory and the library.
This school year, Priscilla is away at Pacific Union College, but her aunt and other volunteers continue the program every Friday night. “We didn’t want the flame that she started to go out,” said Cherlyn Morgan. “The program is definitely a need in the community.” Several parents who came to hear their children sing in the choir have begun attending church functions regularly. Morgan especially appreciates the difference she sees in one single mother and her two children. “They have made a total change, and they come faithfully on Sabbath,” she said.
This past July, the church hosted its fifth-annual free block party in nearby Washington Park. “The party’s goal is to help the community identify our little church as a resource for their physical and spiritual needs,” said Hoffman. “We believe that it takes as much frequent contact as possible for the neighborhood to get to know us.” Carnival games and fair-style food got the kids’ attention, while professional haircuts, health checks, dental screening and live gospel music attracted the adults. This year, neighbors signed up in advance to receive bags of groceries. Some of the same people stop by the church during the year when they are hungry. “We make friends by being in the park every year,” said Hoffman.
Other committed Adventists — members of the Novato church — came to the block party with a special ministry: foot care. Inspired by Christ’s service, the church members bathed people’s feet in warm water, applied lotion, and gave pedicures. A number of homeless people benefitted from this care.
Each August, just before school starts, the church gives away 100-150 backpacks containing school supplies to community kids whose parents have difficulty making ends meet. Local businesses donate some of the supplies, but church members pay for the rest. A sign in front of the church and some posters are all the advertising that is needed.
In all their outreach, Vallejo Berea church members see their neighbors not as a project, but as potential friends. “God wants us to get out to the community; that is what we’re told to do,” said Morgan. “So many people are hurting — regular people who are just trying to make it.”