Churches across the country have done a magnificent job responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The body of Christ is living out what they believe, expressing the love of Jesus outside the walls of their buildings. In times of uncertainty, churches are showing people that they have not been forgotten.
Abundant Life Church (ALC) in Happy Valley, Oregon, is intentionally making way for children and youth to not be forgotten during these uncertain times, in addition to stepping out on the frontlines of service to their community.
Craft Kits for Kids
“We have profound truths about Jesus’ love to impart to our families,” said Bethany Miller, Children’s Programming Pastor. “In this season, Kids Ministry has been more about empowering our kids’ parents to be their pastors and supporting them in meaningful ways.”
Parents will always be their children’s primary spiritual leaders, and ALC’s approach of empowerment has proven to be beneficial for their families. The church has also shown the importance of living out this value by including children and parent resources at the forefront of the church’s website.
“In this season, Kids Ministry has been more about empowering our kids’ parents to be their pastors and supporting them in meaningful ways.”—Bethany Miller, Children’s Programming Pastor
It is an intentional shift that is making a lasting impact in the life of their church. According to Bethany, as tricky as this season is, they have been able to keep families engaged with one another and engaged with the teachings of Jesus.
“One impactful idea that had huge engagement was when we decided to assemble fun creativity kits for our families and deliver them to their doorsteps,” Bethany explained.
These kits included a personal, handwritten card from one of ALC’s children’s ministry volunteers and several craft activities, consisting of balsa wood gliders, silly putty, and beads. The children’s ministry distributed two rounds of craft kits and made a total of 135 gift boxes.
“As we delivered them, we got to cry and wave to our families from a distance,” Bethany said. “We have gotten dozens of messages from parents over the past few weeks thanking us for the boxes and sending pictures of the fun activities they are doing with their kids.”
Bethany explained that, although they put a great deal of effort into creating weekly devotionals and Sunday School activities, the craft kits proved to be the most engaging.
“Some kids used supplies from the boxes to make Mother’s Day gifts,” Bethany continued. “Assembling and delivering these boxes is one way that we are making the Gospel good news for our ALC Kids.”
Deepening Student Relationships
Abundant Life Church has also found meaningful ways to keep their youth engaged.
"Despite all the changes, one thing has remained the same for ALC Students: relationships matter,” said Aubrey Mass, Lead Student Pastor. “In fact, I would say many relationships between students and leaders have deepened during this time.”
ALC was able to shift all of its middle school and high school life groups to Zoom chats. Aubrey expressed her gratitude that the virtual gatherings seemed to transition almost seamlessly. All of their groups meet at the same time on the same night, where they play games, watch a short lesson video, and go over a provided group discussion guide.
Aubrey explained that the virtual shift has paved the way for even more connections between leaders and students.
“Our leaders have also increased their weekly communication with students and parents alongside our student pastors,” Aubrey said. “Personal connection through FaceTime or even a text has been priceless!”
ALC has also found ways to show the light of Christ in these dark times to their surrounding communities. As the pandemic extended stay-at-home orders, ALC was given an invitation by the county sheriff’s office to come alongside them and care for the vulnerable in the entire county.
“This was an amazing open door for our church to care for those in the community beyond the church,” said Jeff Boxell, Pastor of Outreach. “We expanded the scope and number of volunteers in the Care Network team and began making care calls to the over 30,000 vulnerable people in the county and responded by helping with food delivery and other needs—all in partnership with a government agency.”
"Despite all the changes, one thing has remained the same for ALC Students: relationships matter.”—Aubrey Mass, Lead Student Pastor
Abundant Life Church has also worked with their local outreach partners to care for the vulnerable and displaced in their community. Among a list of helpful activities, ALC has:
- Held a food drive for refugee families
- Opened up one of their campuses as an Anchor Site to collect supplies for foster families
- Partnered with a local organization to drop off food for school families
- Invited members of the church to sew more than 400 masks for local Department of Human Services offices
Abundant Life began their relief efforts on Easter by collecting more than 5,000 pounds of food and supplies. Prior to COVID-19, they had planned on taking an offering at Easter for Portland Rescue Mission. Since they could not gather for Easter, they instead reached out to Portland Rescue Mission and asked what items they needed. The list was sent out to ALC attendees and the church staff invited them to bring the items to the church on Easter Sunday. Car after car after car pulled up to deliver items to help others in their community during a two-hour window.
“Our family ministries staff was waving and welcoming people as they arrived,” Jeff said. “When it was all said and done, the church filled a U-Haul-sized truck and two full-sized vans full of food and supplies to care for others. It is one of my favorite Easter memories.”
One specific organization that ALC has partnered with is Catholic Charities (CC). Staff and volunteers from Abundant Life have come alongside CC to deliver truckloads of food donated by organic growers. They distribute the goods to households in need, including refugee families throughout Portland.
According to Catholic Charities, the annual average of resettled refugees in Oregon is typically around 1,800. They are served by three agencies. In the last two years it was closer to 300. Over the last decade, more than 10,000 families have resettled into Oregon. Their status ranges from refugee to green card holder and then to citizen. Last year alone, CC helped to resettle 125 people. Many of these families rely on free meals provided by their schools. With the onset of COVID-19, they were in need of food and other supplies.
Stephanie Coleman from Catholic Charities was grateful for the partnership with ALC. “This is saving people’s lives in many ways.”
As 2020 has continued to bring challenges to our nation, Abundant Life Church has found ways to engage their community and uplift the body of Christ on the topic of racial injustice. They have organized special times of prayer and produced prayer guides for each age group as they cry out to the Lord together.
“The thing I love the most about seeing our church serve others in tangible ways is hearing how it blesses the people who are serving,” said Jeremy Jernigan, Lead Pastor. “They seem to get more out of the experience and are eager to find more ways of experiencing this.”