By Rich Brown
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Paul Stearns and the church he pastors, Community Fellowship of Carthage, have come up with a novel idea for helping the homeless.
Stearns said he and his congregation are no different than anyone else as they travel throughout the Four States Area, seeing men and women holding signs with pleas for help.
Although CFC has the heart to help, the pastor and his congregation want to give in a way that's different than handing out money, which could lead toward purchase of alcohol or drugs rather than necessities such as food.
So what Community Fellowship members have started doing is putting together bags containing food, toiletries and small Bibles to distribute.
"We are putting them into our cars so when someone comes up and says, 'Hey, can you help me out?' we will have those bags for them," Stearns said. "I think this is a neat idea, because it also has God's word in it. Hopefully we can engage them in some conversation about the Lord, too."
Helping the homeless is just one of many outreach ministries by Community Fellowship.
This congregation of approximately 40 people does much more than discuss the needs beyond its church. Church members take an active role; they are so focused on helping others and showing the love of God that they have minimized their own church expense by opting to rent a room at the Fair Acres Family YMCA for their 10 a.m. Sunday worship services.
Stearns also holds a full-time job outside the church and doesn't take any money as pastor, leaving even more of the church's titles and offerings for helping others.
"The Lord has blessed us," said Stearns, referring to himself and his wife, Beth. "I guess the reason we are so outward focused comes from our roots as missionaries."
Not only does Community Fellowship help missionaries overseas, it also offers lots of help throughout the area.
One member, Charlie Moore, as a member of the Christian Motorcycle Association, is deeply involved with the jail ministry, as well as with numerous other outreaches through CMA.
"I just go anywhere God wants me to be," said Moore, who holds Bible study sessions at his home near Carl Junction every Tuesday night.
Two other church members help out on a regular basis at Watered Gardens Gospel Rescue Mission in Joplin, while others hold a Bible study each week at Turnaround Ranch, a place near Joplin that helps youngsters turn their lives around from past problems.
Another church ministry, a little further away in Grove, Okla., is the Royal Family Kids Camp, which is a national organization that holds summer camps for foster-care children who are given the opportunity to learn about Christ.
In addition to putting much of its emphasis on outreach, the church can also pay closer attention to its individual members because of the congregation's small body.
"The biggest blessing since coming to this church is that God has brought us people who have been in church their entire lives but have never had close relationships inside the church," said Beth Stearns. "You can tell me anything that is going on, and I will stand with you. You can share your struggles with each other. It is just the neatest thing to watch these people who have been to church all their lives let down their guard, become transparent to each other and have relationships that are real. We are friends and we stand together."