A homeless man knocked on the door of Metro Baptist Church to ask for a drink.
Ronnie Adams, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel, and Katie Hillhouse, a fourth grader from Boulevard Baptist Church in Anderson, S.C., delivered a glass of water to the thirsty man.
Katie, along with fifth-graders Malena Gardiner and Paul Stoddard, worked alongside 17 others from the South Carolina congregation during an annual September visit to Metro Baptist Church in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, where Boulevard Baptist members have partnered with Ronnie Adams for 11 years.
The church’s annual working visit to Metro is one that parents say informs and inspires their children to serve those in need. The children say it helps them feel like missionaries — and that they are eager to return in 2017.
Boulevard’s 2016 New York visit coincided with some of the hottest days of summer. Sleeping on the fourth floor of the church, and with little air conditioning, team members experienced one of the characteristics that led to the neighborhood’s Hell’s Kitchen nickname.
When asked if she liked staying in the 100-year-old church, Katie confessed: “I didn’t really enjoy this, but I was glad I got to experience what a homeless person experienced on a hot day with no air conditioning.”
While Adams is the official missionary at Metro, the three children said they felt like missionaries, too.
“I liked that our church [Boulevard Baptist] was gathering all together to help homeless people,” Malena said.
Paul, a fifth grader, accompanied Adams to a meal for homeless men with HIV. Since these men from AIDS service centers rarely have an opportunity to eat at a restaurant, Boulevard Baptist began hosting them in 2010 at Dallas BBQ on 42nd Street, near Times Square.
“We didn’t have enough snack bags for some people who were waiting out there. It just made me sad to see their faces and to know they were hungry. I want more people to go [on the trip to Metro Baptist Church] so that we can pack more snack packs and supplies for the homeless.”
Paul said he felt like a missionary “when we went out to eat with those five guys.”
Sitting near one in a wheelchair, Paul joined in the conversation. One of the men, Jeremy (whose name has been changed to protect his privacy), even gave Paul advice: “Work hard in school. Listen to your parents.”
The three children also helped with the food pantry, which serves 800 each month.
“I loved working in the food pantry,” declared Katie.
Boulevard members aided guests in selecting fresh bread, canned goods and even produce — lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs — grown on the church’s rooftop garden.
A part of Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project, this ministry depends on volunteers who gather for farm workdays on Thursdays and Saturdays to plant, weed, water and pick the rooftop vegetables.
The young missionaries also filled 130 snack bags with granola bars and nuts to give out when someone hungry knocks at the door of the church.
“I was excited to see the kids’ faces when we gave them the bags,” Malena commented. She was disappointed, however, with part of the experience.
“We didn’t have enough snack bags for some people who were waiting out there. It just made me sad to see their faces and to know they were hungry,” she said. “I want more people to go [on the trip to Metro Baptist Church] so that we can pack more snack packs and supplies for the homeless.”
The annual School Supply Store was a favorite with the children. While Katie and Malena prepared and served lemonade and cookies to those shopping, Paul arranged the binders, rulers, glue, erasers, scissors and other supplies collected by the team. When the school store ministry was first begun, free supplies were given out — parents did not come. Now parents pay a small amount, 15 cents for notebook paper or 25 cents for a pack of crayons.
This year, 35 families with 76 children, ranging from pre-K to high school, shopped for supplies.
Katie was 4 when she began helping her mother, Mary Beth Hillhouse, also a member of this year’s team, shop for school supplies in Anderson to send to New York for the Metro Baptist School Supply Store.
When asked how Katie had benefited from this mission experience, Mary Beth shared, “I wanted her to see the larger picture.
“Sometimes a child doesn’t know what happens to the items that she collects for missions,” she said. “On this trip, Katie could actually meet the people she was helping and see their smiles and be God’s presence there.”
Katie said she’s ready to go back to New York.
“I want to go back to do more missionary stuff.”
— A version of this story originally appeared at cbfblog.com.