by Norm Miller
FRESNO - A few thousand years ago, Ruth asked Boaz: "Why have I found favor in your eyes that you should take notice of me since I am a foreigner?" (Ruth 2:10, NKJV).
Ten years ago, Tom Stringfellow took note of foreigners with the compassion of Boaz, who told his harvesters to leave grain for Ruth and her family.
Stringfellow, director of missions for Sierra Butte Baptist Association in Yuba City, was a pastor in Beverly Hills when he began the Feeding Those Who Feed Us ministry in 2002.
What began as a local effort has grown far beyond his expectation: "I never intended for it to get this big," said Stringfellow, noting his initial motive was to get his church to become more missions minded. "I'm overwhelmed by the ministry's success."
FTWFU ministers to impoverished migrant farm workers across California by offering spiritual guidance, medical/dental care and material needs. It begins this year in mid-June and ends in mid-August.
The ministry offers New Testaments in either Spanish or English along with staple food items for each family. Children under 12 receive a modest supply of new clothes, and the program provides Vacation Bible Schools at numerous locations across the state, where local churches can provide leadership.
In 2002, FTWFU's first effort recorded 37 professions of faith in Christ at a migrant center in Dixon.
"Maybe we can get other churches to help next year, so we can minister at two sites," Stringfellow said, reflecting on his hopes for the ministry in 2003. However, FTWFU ministered not at two, but at every active center - all 21 of them - in 2003.
The response of churches and the migrants has energized Stringfellow for a decade. To date, more than 10,000 have made professions of faith, and a dozen churches have sprung up as the ministry annually averages 1,000 decisions for Christ.
"During the last 10 years, we've ministered to some of the poorest people in our nation right here in the San Joaquin Valley," said Oscar Sanchez, California Southern Baptist Convention migrant ministries field specialist who heads up FTWFU for the Convention. "We've also been blessed by the thousands of Southern Baptist volunteers who have given their time and resources in ministry to these migrant workers."
Stringfellow hopes and prays the 10th year of FTWFU will be no less significant than previous years, despite the local and national economy "which has hurt the ministry - a lot," he said. "A number of churches that participated in the past are struggling financially, so it's harder to get them on board."
While charitable contributions are down across the US, Stringfellow said God blesses those who give anyway, citing the widow of I Kings 17, who gave of her meager means and was blessed by God with a continuing supply of oil and grain.
Participants at December's Tsunami Student Conference gave more than $6,800 to FTWFU after Stringfellow addressed the crowd. Also, two youth leaders spoke with him about how to involve students in the project.
"We even have a church from Oregon that has sent its youth group to help us for five years running," said Stringfellow, who noted he got a recent report that 14 young people associated with the church gave their lives to Christ as a result of FTWFU last year.
"I want to invite everyone to enlist now to serve this summer in any of the 30 project locations from Bakersfield to Yuba City," Sanchez encouraged."I know the Lord will continue to bless the volunteers and the migrants through this ministry."
"My battle cry for our 10th anniversary is what it's always been," Stringfellow added. "The most successful churches are not the ones with the most in attendance, the largest buildings or the richest budgets, but the ones that have learned to give themselves away."
Project coordinators are asking each site to contribute $5,000 to help with costs. To make a donation of any amount online, click here. Donations also can be mailed to CSBC, 678 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno, CA 93710. Donations should be designated for migrant ministries. All donations are tax deductible.
For more information about the project, contact Oscar Sanchez, Migrant Ministries Field Specialist, California Southern Baptist Convention, by e-mail (click here) or (559) 930-3768 or Tom Stringfellow, DOM of Sierra Butte Baptist Association, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 846-7222.