By Carl Stagner
Consider what just happened the weekend before Thanksgiving. Three hundred thirty meals were served and over two hundred bags of food were given away. For free. No catch. Even more exciting—thirty-eight individuals accepted Christ. But this wasn’t a special holiday outreach. Revival services weren’t planned, and no traveling evangelist had been brought in to deliver an impassioned sermon. Obviously, this wasn’t Easter, yet numerous non-churchgoers were within earshot of the gospel. Far from an unusual occurrence at Healing Waters Outreach Center in Shannon Hills, Arkansas, these kinds of Holy Spirit-happenings take place on a weekly basis! The parachurch ministry supported by the Church of God in Arkansas now has a connection through one of its founding members to the Urban Missions team of Church of God Ministries. Robert Holt gives us a glimpse into the life-giving, far-reaching impact of Healing Waters, and why so many—at least 125 people—choose to volunteer their time every week for the work.
Up to thirty of these volunteers perform the equivalent of a full-time job. Feeding two hundred people every Sunday, managing a food bank, running a clothes closet, maintaining a community garden, coordinating a discipleship and mentoring program, providing a space for worship and prayer, operating a “free store” of personal essentials, and partnering with both churches and forty-five other charitable organizations and ministries—as you might imagine—is no small task. The aim is holistic, reaching the mind, will, and emotions with nourishment for body and soul. That’s what Healing Waters Outreach Center does, and it’s what Robert and his wife, along with another couple, set out to do sixteen years ago.
“We’re just starting to really see what God is trying to do to bring restoration to families and individuals, and healing to their souls and bodies. Our volunteers keep coming back because they actually see miracles take place in the lives of the families they serve. They learn the true meaning of God’s love. People think we’re crazy, but nobody gets paid here. Jesus keeps providing.”
These miracles sometimes take the shape of a physical healing or a spiritual healing. But often the most incredible turn of events is when the one who was being served becomes the servant. At Healing Waters, Robert sees this happen all the time. Those who come to the outpost in need of assistance experience the transforming power of God and often return to give back to others as volunteers. It’s a beautiful cycle.
“Those who begin their walk with Christ here are encouraged to join discipleship teams,” Robert explains. “We mentor teens and adults coming out of prison, too. As they grow, they’re mentored in communities, and they’re learning firsthand how to serve like Jesus. The miracles continue to happen.”
This is also one way that Healing Waters partners with churches. Churches provide volunteers and funds, but Healing Waters provides servant leadership training and mentoring. Sometimes students and churches come to visit Healing Waters, overnight on site, and learn the ropes of everything they do.”
One of the unique aspects of the ministry is what’s called the “free store.” Robert compares the selection to a “mini Dollar General,” but everything is given away. Shoppers receive a thirty-dollar voucher for a wide variety of personal care items. No one is turned away. “I don’t care how much money you make, what ZIP code you’re from,” Robert exclaims. “If you need hygiene products, you’re going to get them.”
Might people take advantage of the ministry’s generosity? Perhaps, but that’s not the concern of Healing Waters. They’ve got a job to do, and they’re doing it with all their might, and they’re chief concern is reaching people with the hope of Jesus.
“A lot of churches want to do outreach,” Robert reflects. “They start with a food bank or a clothes closet, but is that really what your particular community needs? Start with prayer, then do a survey to find out what the needs really are. Then, before you reinvent the wheel, see if there’s a way you can partner with an existing organization. That’s the way to do community ministry.”
Thankfully, Robert’s expertise won’t be limited to his community or this article. As more and more churches partner with Healing Waters, and as Urban Missions draws from Robert’s knowledge and insights, the Church of God will continue to benefit. Praise God for another ministry that’s giving not only food, supplies, and resources, but life itself to those in need!
Learn more about Healing Waters Outreach Center at www.letourviolenceend.com. L.O.V.E. is the 501c3 that began twenty-five years ago in Arkansas to minister to kids and gangs. It was out of this vital ministry that Healing Waters flowed. Learn more about Church of God Urban Missions at www.jesusisthesubject.org/urban-missions.