From the Manse… …or not, on this occasion!

Dear friends,
We are always delighted to hear your stories of how God has either blessed you or used you in unexpected ways, and even more delighted when you are happy to share them more widely. One such story came to our attention at the end of last week’s in-person service… but we will let Sarah Howard tell the story. We hope it encourages you!

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline

The Lectio 365 devotional this morning asked the question, “when was the last time you felt a whole-body response to Jesus”.  Happily, my answer was “last Sunday”.  Following the Baptist Assembly service, I felt physically rocked by seeing, laid out in front of me, where God’s plan has been at work.

The catalyst for this was the talk by Shane Claiborne.  I first heard him speak at New Wine in 2012.  When I’ve been asked to talk about Foodshare I’ve often started the story in 2013 out of concern for talking too long.  However, 2012 is where my personal story starts.

That evening at New Wine I’d decided not to go to the evening worship as I was feeling quite overwhelmed with all I’d been hearing.  Part way through though I suddenly knew I had to go and just as Shane started to speak, I’d sat down at the back.  Among a great deal else, Shane talked about Mother Theresa.  He had wanted to witness her ministry and managed to make contact, she simply told him, come.  He talked about all the plans and logistics on his mind, and how she just dismissed them as irrelevant details.  So, he simply went.

It catapulted me back to when I was about 8 or 9 and heard about Mother Theresa in a school assembly.  I vividly remember being fired up about her ministry and desperate to help.  Without any regard for the impracticalities, I decided that my class should knit a blanket to send.  The challenge was that only 2 people in my class knew how to knit, so I taught anyone who was willing.  The resulting squares (aka random shapes) presented their own challenge to my wonderful Mum who had offered to sew them all together.  The blanket was eventually completed and sent to India.

The reason this came back to me in 2012 was that I wanted that spirit back, I wanted to be able to do things without being held back by fear or feeling that the challenge was too big.  I went to the front that evening to ask for prayer, I think I babbled incoherently to the person who came to pray with me, but God heard.

Nothing happened or particularly changed for almost exactly a year.  This is where the testimony becomes familiar to most who know me.  At New Wine in 2013 I heard God’s command that I should respond to the need for a Foodbank in Windsor.  I know this was God’s voice with absolute certainty as I really didn’t want to do it, I didn’t have the obvious skills needed to undertake such a project.  But, my prayers of a year before came back to me.  That 8-year-old didn’t have the skills but did it anyway.  A further similarity is that my classmates got behind the project in exactly the same way that so many fantastic volunteers and church leaders were right alongside me getting Windsor Foodshare up and running.

The short version of the following 7 years is that Windsor Foodshare opened its doors to 5 families in October 2013.  Our store was a shelving unit in a cupboard which rapidly spilled out to cover the back of the church.  The church then rented a portacabin for us, we outgrew that too and the Windsor Lions donated the money needed to buy a shipping container.  Through all of this God was with us, in fact more than that, leading us.  I often felt that my prayers were answered before I’d even got round to praying them.  In parallel with Foodshare, I was dealing with a challenging issue in my personal life at the time.  It felt that my prayers for that problem were falling on deaf ears.  I couldn’t see it at the time, but looking back it’s clear, despite the challenges Foodshare gave me, I always knew God was in control and that was keeping me faithful.  In the same parallel way last summer, at the point that I knew God was saying Foodshare had grown too big for me to manage there was a miraculous breakthrough in the personal issue I was struggling with.  I handed the running of Foodshare over to 3 amazing volunteers in September 2020 – at this point we were able to support up to 80 families each week, but this has since increased even further.  With fresh ideas and energy, they are now offering families even more each week by way of fresh produce.

On Sunday, Matthew suggested that we left the building via the Cooper Hall which has been used for storing food throughout the pandemic.  As the food is gradually being moved back into the portacabin and container he wanted us, as a church, to remember what a blessing our building has been to Foodshare over the last 14 months.  When the building was closed for worship, Foodshare practically took it over.  It allowed it to continue to operate as volunteers could work spaced out and remain safe.

As I walked through the room with its stack of food crates, I found myself physically shaken by the enormity of what God has done in me.  There were many times that Foodshare felt like an unbearable burden, one I was ill-equipped for, but, God always gave what was needed.  Most often this was in the form of other people with the necessary skills, time and willingness.

Shane is an inspirational speaker and his passion for social justice is limitless.  I would thoroughly recommend watching the Baptist Assembly service if you missed it,

Sarah Howard, 20th May 2021