This past November was the seventeenth anniversary of my sister Bonnie’s death from cancer. As I was trolling through files on my computer recently, I found this article I wrote in 2003. Since Covid-19 has eliminated many of the church’s visible ministries and programs, I thought my reflections might be reassuring to all of the church’s “invisible” workers.
The minivan halted in my sister Bonnie’s driveway. I helped the driver carry warm, foil-covered pans into the kitchen. The food smelled heavenly—as well it should, for this was manna from heaven, a gift from God, delivered by one of His messengers. “Please tell Bonnie we’re praying for her,” she said before driving away.
The simple, unheralded task, bringing a meal to a fellow church member undergoing chemotherapy, was probably one of a dozen items on her to-do list. Compared to more visible ministries, her contribution may have seemed paltry to her. Perhaps she promised herself that she would do more for the kingdom of God someday, when her busy life settled down. I would like to tell her and all the other behind-the-scenes laborers how your humble meatloaf, offered in Christ’s name, ministered to my sister, to her family, and to me.
Bonnie’s cancer had robbed her of her job as well as her health. Chemotherapy caused hair and weight losses, and left her too weak to climb the stairs, let alone to be a wife and mother. As she grieved these losses, she clung to her faith in God like a lifeboat. I lived 700 miles away and felt helpless. “Don’t let her feel abandoned,” I prayed. “Let her see Your unfailing love.” When I finally was able to visit, I saw how God had been answering my prayers. For weeks, the women in Bonnie’s church had provided meals, demonstrating God’s concern, allowing her to feel the warmth of His love. These meals served as daily reminders of His presence.
Having meals delivered gave me the gift of time to spend with my sister. And when my brother-in-law returned home from work, a hot, home-cooked meal revived his spirits. The loss of income, coupled with mounting medical debts, clearly worried him. But for the weeks that the food continued, his food bills were lowered. With his prayer for “daily bread” answered, he was able to trust God for his other worries.
My nephew was angry with God, unable understand why He would allow his mom to suffer. One night, I tempted him with a homemade apple pie that had arrived, warmed in the microwave. As we sat and talked, I said, “I think I finally understand the verse that says, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’” He smiled, and for a wonderful moment, as he helped himself to seconds, a hurting son glimpsed God’s goodness in a warm slice of apple pie.
His younger brother longed to have a friend over to play video games. The many gifts of food made that invitation possible. His friend wasn’t from a Christian home. He and his stressed-out single mom rarely sat down to a meal. “I starve when I go to his house,” my nephew told me. But on game night, the bounty of food had multiplied in our refrigerator like loaves and fishes. I re-heated a week’s worth of leftovers, spreading everything out on the table like a potluck supper. Desserts overflowed onto the kitchen counter. My nephew’s friend surveyed the bounty, wide-eyed. “Did you have a party or something?” he asked. “Where’d all this food come from?”
“The people at our church keep bringing it,” my nephew explained—somewhat wide-eyed himself. The Lord had prepared a table for us in the presence of our enemy, cancer. Indeed, our cup overflowed. The boys heaped their plates with food. Our anonymous chefs had displayed the love of the Body of Christ in all its beauty to a hungry boy without a church family.
One young mother delivered a meal with two preschoolers in tow. “I helped make dessert,” the older girl said. The cake was slightly lopsided, the candy sprinkles unevenly dumped by a pair of small hands. Life can be overwhelming for a young mother with endless diapers and midnight feedings, and I recognized this woman’s gift as a true sacrifice. If anyone could be excused from preparing an extra meal, it would be her. But instead of wallowing in her own weariness, she chose to serve others. She also took a few minutes to pray with Bonnie. As I watched the children fold their hands and pray, I saw that this mother was giving a gift to her daughters, too, by her own quiet example.
One sunny afternoon a young man in his mid-twenties pulled up in his SUV bearing a loaf of garlic bread, pasta, and a pot of fresh spaghetti sauce. “I’m just learning to cook,” he explained. “All I can make is spaghetti sauce, so here it is.” He’d prepared it from scratch, simmering it in his slow cooker for two days. I thought of the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers” (1 Tim 4:12).
A middle-aged woman, suffering from Multiple Sclerosis needed help carrying her gift of pot roast and potatoes. She explained that her illness didn’t give her very many good days, and she was often unable to cook for her own family. “But I prayed for strength to do this when I signed up at church and God answered my prayer,” she said. She also gave Bonnie the gift of her time, sharing what God had taught her through her own illness, offering much-needed hope as she testified of His goodness.
After returning home, I volunteered to prepare a meal for a family from my own church. I sliced, simmered and sautéed with a sense of reverence, aware that God might use my humble offering for His glory. He’d taught me not to discount the small, unsung tasks done in His name, or to say I have no ministry simply because it isn’t visible. “Anyone who gives even a cup of cold water in my name,” Jesus said, “will certainly not lose his reward.” And I’m very sure He’ll say the same to those who’ve offered a lopsided cake and a simple meatloaf.
What ways have you found to minister to others during these unusual times?