Chairperson's Remarks

Chairperson's Remarks at the

2006 Praise and Reports Service

We’ve been having a slight debate at our office in the past week or two. As we all know, there are a few people on our delivery list who take advantage of our good and generous nature and order more meals than they actually need or who have their Thanksgiving meal already planned out but still ask for or accept meals for snacks for later or who call different people hoping to be put on the list more than once.

Maybe you’ve sometimes suspected that this happens some, but in our office we have the advantage of knowing who they actually are. I will hasten to say that we’re only talking about 3 or 4 people out of the hundreds we serve, so I don’t want to discourage anyone from participating in the future. I only mention this because I promised to end the debate tonight, although I doubt that most of the people involved in it will actually be here.

My Dad ran three to four different paper routes for nearly two decades. Sometimes he’d run into people who assumed that since they’d known him all their lives that they didn’t need to pay their paper bills. And most of them still got their papers despite their run-up bills. One fellow comes to mind whom I won’t name, but he tended to spend his paper bill money on beer. Momma didn’t like this and wanted him turned over to the Betty Cogburn Collection Agency. Dad’s reply was, “Aw, Momma, they’s just a few people you have to carry through life.” He eventually did turn him over to her and the fellow called a few days later asking if he could go back to doing business with Dad.

But the point of that story is that there's just a few people you have to carry through life. Whenever you try to do something worthwhile and good there’s always a few people who’ll take advantage of you but you can’t let that stop you or discourage you, and if the people who use you are going to feel bad, I’d rather that they feel bad from taking advantage of us instead of feeling bad that they got caught.

The two people who got the most upset with the people they knew who took advantage of us kept getting mad about it and asking me why it didn’t make me mad. Here’s the end to that debate: I have come to realize that things are often not as they seem. It would seem on the surface that our Thanksgiving Outreach is designed to provide a Thanksgiving meal to those who need them. But the more that I’m involved in it, the more I’m convinced that it’s not. That may come as a surprise to those of you who cooked, served, and delivered more than 1400 meals. I don’t get upset about people taking advantage and getting a few extra meals because the meals are not what we’re actually about.

We all have the romantic notion of our taking meals to little old people with nothing or large families of starving children, but if the truth be known then most of the people we deliver to have food in the house and they would not go hungry on Thanksgiving if it were not for us. If that’s the truth, then why do we do what we do year after year? We do what we do for the sake of ministry, for the opportunity to share in some small way the love of God with those who might not often feel it, for the chance to in some small way to be the hands of Jesus reaching out to those who feel lonely or downtrodden. We do what we do because there are people who may not know that they are just as important and valuable in the eyes of God as the most successful and prosperous person delivering to them. That’s what we’re delivering, a love and compassion that we have felt when God felt love and compassion for us and redeemed us from whatever emotional or spiritual poverty that we were in. How can we keep from sharing that? We don’t come in the name of Thanksgiving and we don’t come in the name of Cogburn’s ego and we don’t come in the name of rich people taking pity on an inferior breed or a lower class and we don’t come in the name of any individual church. We come in the name of the Lord who has reached out to us and left us with a sense of gratitude and eagerness to please Him that we do what we do because we simply cannot do anything else.

There’s another side to the ministry of this program. We minister to the most blessed of the day’s participants: the delivery drivers, especially the younger ones who may not know about this darker and sadder side of the world. Our drivers who see the need, who get the thanks, who share the tears, who find themselves humbled by the chance to serve; these are the ones who are the most ministered to because they are the ones who actually get to be the hands and eyes and ears and hearts of Jesus for the day.

We also minister to those who bring in food, who help plan the event, who serve and package the meals, who just see something that needs doing and then do it. In our church we call this putting feet to your faith. In a day and age of rushing and selfishness and self-centeredness we have over two hundred people who are willing to take out half of their own Thanksgiving and work to provide a better holiday for total strangers. We put all these people in a rushed and stressed environment where they’re often not sure what they should be doing and we make the delivery drivers sit and wait and we tell people where to park and we run out of gravy and cakes and run over on potatoes and ham and in the midst of all this tension and confusion we hear not complaint, not frustration, not cursing, not argument. We hear laughter and joking, we see cooperation and enjoyment, we feel the very spirit of God. All these people from different denominations and doctrines and walks of life come together for a joint purpose, share freely of their time and money and food; it’s not too strong to say that they are praising and worshipping and rejoicing. The Spirit of the Lord is there within and among us. It sounds a lot like what the book of Acts would call The Church.

Once again, if a few people take advantage of that and get a few extra meals, what do we really care? We had plenty for everyone and a surplus thereafter, just like with loaves and fishes. And just like the disciples who helped feed that crowd and had to worry about the leftovers, if a few were just there to get something for nothing and missed out on the blessing of the day, then that’s their problem, not ours, because we can’t speak for them but as for ourselves, we can say and hopefully others can see that we have spent the morning with Jesus and that it was a good thing when we found ourselves on Thanksgiving morning in the house of the Lord. Why do we keep doing what we do? For the same reason that it’s 11:30 at night and I’m still going back over the day and can’t get asleep. Once we’ve been a part of it, how can we do anything else?