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Excel’s Helping Hands ministry puts ‘feet to faith’ in communitycomment (0)

February 3, 2011

By Sondra Washington

Pastor Terry Harden didn’t want his daughter to grow up in a church that was only a gathering place for Christians on Sundays and Wednesdays. He wanted her to see her church as a relevant part of the community — a body of believers focused on its true calling to fulfill the Great Commission and win people to Christ. So he and some of his members got to work — literally.

Last year, under Harden’s leadership, members of Excel Baptist Church in Bethlehem Baptist Association began working each month to meet the physical needs of people in their surrounding area. Under the name Helping Hands ministry, the group held a free car wash, did light construction work and completed yard work and maintenance throughout the community.

Harden believes the heightened local missions focus at Excel Baptist began in 2008. In one of his sermons, he challenged his members to be such a force in their community as to make it hard for anyone from the Excel area not to know the Lord and go to hell.

Although Harden said the church always has been missions-minded, supporting the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions “even in the tough economic times,” he believes doing local missions was something it was missing. Now he believes some of his members have become more outwardly focused in their community.

“We’re not where we should be, but I think the majority of our people really have a heart for the Lord,” Harden said. “We are good to give for international and North American missions. But what about right here where we live? What about our Jerusalem? Over the course of time, that’s been kind of where we’re headed. A light was already burning, but what we’ve tried to do is get us to recognize it and turn our focus towards it. It’s not where it needs to be, but it’s sure brighter than it was. … We can touch the world from here.”

He added, “I think people really want to be involved. … We (pastors) stand in the pulpit and encourage them … but a lot of times, we don’t provide them an avenue to flesh out what we encourage them to do.”

Kathryn Blan, Woman’s Missionary Union director at Excel Baptist, and a few women from the church started a grocery ministry to help families of those who have lost jobs recently. The group bags donated groceries and delivers them to needy people.

“We just had so many people in our community who were losing their jobs,” Blan said, explaining that the group began helping 40 families and now helps 11 families with members who still can’t find jobs. “I’ve been on dozens of missions trips, and I thought what I do overseas I need to be doing at home. So, at one of our Women on Mission meetings, I discussed it with our ladies, and they were all in agreement.”

Hearing about the church’s work, local groups have held food drives and given the items they’ve received to the church.

“Anytime we can help a family, we want to be notified about it so we can help them,” Blan said. “(I hope) that we become more missions-minded in the days to come, that everybody will see that we are concerned for our community.”

Although some people the church volunteers tried to help refused their services, others were very appreciative. When a group helped an elderly couple cut shrubs, which had grown over their house, and returned the next week to complete the project, it found out they were unchurched.

“Since then, they (have) visited our church a time or two,” Harden said. And some people who have received help have volunteered to help others through the ministry, Blan pointed out.

Over time, finding projects became more difficult, the number of volunteers dwindled and Harden wondered how to sustain the ministry. So, instead of doing projects on a monthly basis, the church will do larger projects once a quarter.

“Hopefully we can enlist more volunteers to come and help us,” Harden said.

On Feb. 12, the church plans to deliver “fire safety” packages to community residents. The packages will include 9-volt batteries for smoke detectors, information about Excel Baptist and a salvation tract. Harden hopes to have 50 to 60 volunteers involved in the project.

“We are going to demonstrate the love of Jesus in a practical way and invite them to Excel if they don’t have a church,” he said. “All the world ever needed was a remnant, and I’m praying for that remnant right now. Jesus said, ‘If you love me, you’ll obey my commands,’ and we need to just put feet to that faith. That’s what we are trying to do.”

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