Breaking Barriers in the Community

When the outreach ministry for Booneville First United Methodist Church first began, one lady showed up during one of the most challenging times in her life.

"She came when we were having the meal on the church," Mike Smith, the pastor at Booneville FUMC said. "She was walking by because she didn't have any transportation, and she engaged with us in conversation easily and she started coming to our church.

"As our relationship with her deepened, that's when we began to discover more about her and her complicated background. We came into her life at a crucial point."

Smith said the ladies of the church just surrounded her.

The Sharing and Caring Ministry, as it has become known, involves members of the church taking meals to certain housing areas, setting up tables, and engaging in conversations with residents of apartment complexes. Nikki Parker, a member at Booneville FUMC, is one of the lead organizers.

"We have helped her financially, got her set up a residential center in Rogers and got her counseling," Smith said. "She actually told us, she would not be alive if not for this ministry because she considered taking her life.

"This ministry allows us to break through that barrier and it is an opportunity for us to contact people and give them an encouraging word that we would not have had otherwise."

Betty Hix, center, talks with residents of an apartment complex where Booneville UMC's outreach ministry team meets. Photo by Nancy Kossler Smith and Rev. Mike Smith.

"If we only reach one person, that's one more than we had," Parker said. "I think anytime, whether it is on the church grounds, or at the apartment complex, or other areas of towns, where we can reach people, especially the kids — because we know they are the future — it is pretty special.

The ministry started with a hot dog type lunch at the church on the lawn which is located at the intersection of the two main highways, and eventually moved to an apartment complex that had children with working families. "We would park our church van near one of their pavilions and serve hot dogs, chips, cookies and drinks, Smith said.

"It was just a great opportunity to engage in conversation, by talking to the adults there and hopefully encourage them to visit the church because of our ministry.

"Our main objective was to get out to the community and let people know that we care."

"We never did it with the anticipation that it would cause people to come to church. That was never the goal. Our goal was just to get out into the community."

The ministry has now moved from the apartments to a local neighborhood.

"We would talk and pray with some people, and it just became a real time for us to touch base," Smith said. "We have eight to 10 people that are currently involved that are going out and more than that helping us prepare, or give money to help buy the food.

"We don't budget the ministry; it is self-sustained. It allows our whole church to be involved."
Smith said they are hoping to expand the ministry, which will include more nutritious meals such as sandwiches or a hot meal.

"We are taking the church out into the community."

"We see barriers being broken down," he said. "Barriers that were put up because of expectations from people that are in the community.

He said he had met a lot of people who said they never wanted to go church at Booneville FUMC, and now "they see God in a different way or see the church in a different way."

"We have seen barriers on both sides of sharing the gospel being broken down in the community, and we see the church being a part of their life," Smith said.

excerpt from a story by Sam Pierce, featured contributor, Arkansas United Methodist Church magazine

Booneville First United Methodist Church is part of the Arkansas Annual Conference and this story represents how United Methodist local churches through their Annual Conferences are living as Vital Congregations. A vital congregation is the body of Christ making and engaging disciples for the transformation of the world. Vital congregations are shaped by and witnessed through four focus areas: calling and shaping principled Christian leaders; creating and sustaining new places for new people; ministries with poor people and communities; and abundant health for all.