(Photo: The Christian Post)
HOUSTON, Texas – Members of Pastor Joel and Victoria Osteen's Lakewood Church who have a calling for missions take part in a variety of local opportunities to serve their community, and many were volunteering their time and spiritual gifts on Saturday, wearing T-shirts that read "Serve God, help people, Isaiah 58" at Feed the Children food pantry, the Beacon, a support center for the homeless, and ministering through street evangelism outside a Harris County jail.
Those who want to get plugged into missions can give back through the church's annual "Servolution" program that provides a monthly service project the whole family can participate in, as well as volunteer opportunities at local nonprofit organizations the church has partnered with on an ongoing basis.
Sandra Harris and Irma Ferriz co-lead the church's volunteer efforts at Feed the Children and coordinate the 20 to 30 members who, in a three-hour shift one time a month, will package 800 to 1,000 boxes that are filled with food, and hygiene and Avon products that will be distributed to families in need.
In 2009 the missions team from Lakewood Church was the first group to volunteer at Feed the Children in Houston, and have since coordinated up to 60 to 100 volunteers at a time.
Harris, who praised the Osteens' passion for missions and the drive members have to serve their community, explained that volunteers are not only working to meet people's physical needs, but are "meeting their spiritual needs as well."
"When someone loses everything, they need food, but they also want hygiene products. We believe in this [program]. The pastors know people enjoy volunteering and it's helping families, so it's something we want to be a part of because families are the core of our church."
Ferriz shared with CP that Osteen encourages members of the church to serve when nobody, except God, is watching.
"There are things that people can do every day," she said, such as "take someone a bottle of water. It's not hard to do a lot of good. Joel once said something that touched me, he said, 'when you go somewhere, make a difference, so that when you leave you made it better.' That makes you feel like you're a person of integrity. And that's what he wants to do for the community, for Houston. If everyone at the church does something good, life will be different."
The Beacon day center for Houston's homeless population
Mike Puccio, director of operations at the Beacon in Houston, an organization that provides a myriad of services for the city's street population four days a week, depends on volunteers from a variety of faith-based organizations, among them being Lakewood Church. Connie Hillman oversees Lakewood's volunteers and received an award last year in recognition of her work at the center, which she describes as being "the hands and feet of God."
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday through Monday, those who are homeless can receive a hot meal of their choice, shower, have their clothes laundered and folded by volunteers, and receive prayer, medical visits and legal counsel from those who care about their wellbeing as they strive to get back on their feet in life.
Between 700 and 800 people are seen each day the care center is open. Just last year, the nonprofit received 118,865 client visits, served 101,483 hot meals, provided 15,586 hot showers, and washed and folded 20,395 loads of laundry. The work, according to Puccio, would not be possible without monetary donations and the manpower from caring volunteers, such as those from Lakewood Church.
Volunteers from the church not only serve hot meals and clean clients' laundry, they also coordinate Bible studies and prayer requests. These services, along with art and yoga classes, help to "restore dignity" for their clients, Puccio said.
Jesse Flores, a member of Lakewood Church who volunteers at the Beacon, told CP that he made the decision to serve at the center because he used to be homeless.
"I was on the streets at one point in my life, but there were people who didn't give up on me," Flores said. "The blessing from God that's saving me, gave me the ability to be where I am today, and to serve others."
Lakewood's street evangelism team
Because some people are not comfortable entering the doors of a church, a small group of volunteers venture out into the city twice monthly, to parks and even the Harris County jail, to distribute pamphlets, books and the New Testament to those who need to hear encouraging words that are put into motion through a prayer that's spoken over their lives.
"Not everybody will ever go inside a church, but they'll be open to the Gospel," said Donna Aguilar, who co-leads the team with her husband, Marcel, who were praying with people in downtown Houston and outside the jail on Saturday.
Fabiola Briones, who was joined by her teenage son and nephew in the evangelism effort, explained that street evangelism is "their calling" and they want to "give people hope during the dark times in their lives."
Unlike other members of the street evangelism team, Akin Aruwajaye is not a member of the church, but is a frequent visitor who sought the group out because he has a desire to share the Gospel and make a difference in people's lives.
"I needed to be involved, to bring beauty to people's lives, beauty being Jesus Christ," he explained. "I may not see the impact when people walk out, but just making a difference by sharing God's love and realizing that they're getting in contact with Him is a big deal. I may not see it, but God's going to change their lives and make it beautiful and full of hope."
Any member of Lakewood Church who misses a volunteer opportunity has access to a pamphlet that provides a list of local ministries that offer service opportunities to work with youth, senior citizens, pregnancy centers, prison ministries, foster care and adoption programs, as well as food pantries, among others.