By Carl Stagner
Jesus told it first. Countless preachers and teachers have expounded on it since. The Parable of the Good Samaritan has captured the attention and the hearts of men and women around the world with its profound, yet simple message of love expressed in action. As church leaders renew the call to boldly move outside the walls of the church, more and more believers are identifying with the character of the Samaritan. But every Good Samaritan needs a good innkeeper! Lake Wales Care Center in Lake Wales, Florida, not only provides a place to stay (and numerous other services) for people in need, but also bridges the gap between the heart to serve and the means to do it effectively.
“A lot of people see us as the Good Samaritan,” director Rob Quam explains, “but we liken ourselves to the innkeeper. That’s why our mission comes down to people helping people helping people.” Yes, you read that right.
Sometimes people helping people need a little help. Did you know good deeds can be dangerous? Not because of persecution, but the negative side effects that good deeds can cause to both doer and recipient. Yes, charity can be toxic and helping can hurt, especially when divorced from responsibility.
“We have learned, and are still learning, that it’s not just providing short-term relief that is the most beneficial,” Rob explains. “It’s walking with somebody, helping them to be able to help themselves. A couple months ago, I met with a local church wanting to do a one-time event. I encouraged them not to make it about tangible resources to collect and hand out, but to get to know and build relationships with those in the neighborhood. This is crucial. We have to see it as neighborly love, not just going out to help the disenfranchised. The gospel commands us to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, as well as love your neighbor as yourself. All these other things are just the byproduct of love. It’s easy to get church folks together to do a project with a bunch of handouts, close the door, and think we’ve helped. But sometimes all we’ve done in the end is make ourselves feel good.”
By partnering with Lake Wales Care Center, local churches have a way to come alongside an experienced ministry that has been getting hands dirty for the kingdom since 1985. Rob Quam has been a part of the ministry for thirty-one of those years. He knows how to do community ministry with sustainability and maximum impact in mind. Could he have ever imagined that what started as a Warner University (formerly Warner Southern College) student-led food distribution program, with some students visiting the juvenile detention center, would blossom into the massive operation it is today? Not in a million years.
“We had no idea. The main thing was to just stay faithful to the call and respond to the needs as they came. In its humble beginnings, Perry Grubbs was serving as vice president of Warner, and the administrator of a donation that had come in from a local businessman,” Rob explains. “For two to three years, the students continued the basic outreach, but in 1985, the local ministerial association got together with Christian businessmen to form the beginning of what would become Lake Wales Care Center.”
It was a historic time in the life of the Church of God in Florida. These years also led to the development of the h.e.a.r.t. Village. Many of the same individuals who were a part of the launch of h.e.a.r.t. also launched Lake Wales Care Center. Today several of them still refer to this rare combination of both local and global efforts as glocal ministry.
Lake Wales Care Center is truly an impressively large-scale operation. A few of the many services they provide to the community are financial assistance for needy families, Meals on Wheels, transitional housing, holiday gifts, a free health clinic, pregnancy care, a community kitchen, a community garden, a thrift store, and a youth coffee house. Area Church of God congregations, Warner University, and numerous other churches and associations continue to pour heart, soul, and support into the collective, ecumenical work.
Mark Shaner, pastor of married people and global engagement at East Side Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, was also a key player at the start of Lake Wales Care Center, and served with them until October 1991. “The Lake Wales Care Center is a testimony to the church and the community coming together and working together for over thirty-one years,” Mark explains. “It is also a testimony to a leader staying put in a community and investing there for the long haul. It brings me joy to see where the Care Center is today, and how it is a model for communities across the country to follow. And the Stay-at-Home Work Camp every year is outstanding.”
Mark has observed that the Stay-at-Home Work Camp is one of many ways Lake Wales Care Center is making their breadth of experience available to developing leaders and churches outside of the Lake Wales area. What about the community that has no Lake Wales Care Center of their own? Rob explains that they want to help other beyond their immediate area to do what they’re already doing so successfully: “People from all over the country have come to visit us and learn. We’re happy to communicate with people, even by correspondence. We also have an internship program called Care Core, predominantly for young adults, but can be for anybody who has the desire, to come for one month to a year, where we provide living accommodations and an opportunity to experience what we do and why we do it. What we have learned is that it’s not a formula or a program, but wanting to build relationships and meet needs as they represent Christ to their neighbors in word and deed.”
Learn more about the Lake Wales Care Center at www.lakewalescarecenter.com.
In Lake Wales, Florida, across the United States, and around the world, God is on the move in the Church of God. Learn more at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.