By Amy Galliford
A Kingdom collaboration is causing a surge of community in Sydney’s south, as people gather around dinner tables with the mission of sharing “food for your stomach, hope for your soul, truth that sets you free”.
Having already been involved with Kingsway Care’s community services in Hurstville, Brook Stewart, lead pastor at SeeChange Church, began recognising a need among individuals for practical aid and emotional connection. This was the need that birthed Soul Food, a ministry that aims to feed the hungry – in both body and soul.
This mission gave rise to a collaboration. With Kingsway Care operating in the Sutherland Shire, Brook contacted Tanwin Tanoto, who leads Hurstville Church of Christ. The partnership was a win for everyone involved, as Hurstville provided a willing group of volunteers and a prime location for SeeChange’s resources and vision.
At their monthly gatherings, dinner is served to a table of people typically travelling through particularly challenging seasons of life. Conversation unfolds organically and individuals are invited to open up about the trials and testimonies of their lives. Rather than running along the division of churchgoers and visitors, Brook highlights the involvement of regular attendees in the operation itself, emphasising the ministry as ‘transformational, not transactional.’
While the gatherings are held at the church and led by Christians, they are not religious events, and they operate beyond the systems and structures that sometimes keep people outside church walls. While discussion does not centre around prayer, most are open to receiving it and are assured by the leaders’ promises to continue praying.
The ministry anchors itself in story, with the sharing of personal experiences being crucial to the engagement and transformation of attendees. The power of story shone through with one young woman who began attending the evenings after needing Kingsway Care’s homelessness aid after a family breakdown. She described her previous encounters with Christians as more characterised by ‘Bible-bashing’ than anything like love or hope, and so had decided the God they worship wasn’t someone she was interested in.
But, after visiting Soul Food and hearing the testimony of another young woman who had also experienced abuse, violence and homelessness, she became curious about faith. As Brook recalls it, “Her heart had been opened again, ready to be healed and made whole by the work of the Holy Spirit.”
Tanwin notes that this way of communing with others offers a great opportunity for familiarising them with God by pointing out the places He has already appeared in their lives without them even knowing Him.
“I truly believe God is involved in everybody’s story, not just believers. I’m listening for the God-points in their story. I’ll just ask them, ‘Have you ever thought about how God is intervening there?’”
The model and ethos of the ministry has caught on. Recently, following a meeting with Brook, The Salvation Army in Miranda has launched its own Soul Food program, operating under the same name and within the same framework of sharing food and story. For the others expressing interest, Brook encourages them to reach out to receive details and resources for setting up a similar ministry.
God continues to move through the ministry of Soul Food as people gather to share food and story for body and soul, and knowingly or unknowingly take their seat at His table.
Read more stories from churches of Christ in NSW & ACT HERE