A couple years ago, a Bakersfield church gave a few of its members a bit of seed money with instructions to “get out there.”
Now, every Saturday night downtown, the hungry are fed, the friendless are befriended and lives are transformed.
Anybody wondering how we will communally survive one of the worst economic downturns in our nation’s history should consider the works of Flood Ministries of Bakersfield, an all-volunteer, faith-based nonprofit group, whose simple purpose is to help people through hard times.
If a few souls are saved along the way, so be it.
The Flood gates open Saturday afternoons at Garden Community Church in the old YMCA building on 22nd Street, where the haves and have-nots start to gather by 4:30.
Training for the dozens of volunteers that show up each Saturday lasts about 20 minutes before they break to mingle with “clients” in the Garden’s community center for a rock-concert of a worship service. Afterward, there’s dinner — prepared and dished up by one of the several local churches that support Flood — followed by a food pack distribution.
During a recent Saturday night visit I noticed attendance at the pre-dinner worship service was not mandatory — a dozen or so clients opted to wait it out on the church parking lot. But inside the church, it was standing-room-only, with worshipers singing, praising and even dancing with joy.
Looking over the crowd, I noticed few appeared more joyful than 53-year-old Denise Johnson one of Flood’s client-volunteers. Hands and voice raised in praise, Johnson kept one eye on the crowd, pausing to direct latecomers to empty seats or to comfort clients overcome by the moment.
There wasn’t a trace of self-pity in her telling of her life story, so much like the life stories of many who frequent Flood.
Abandoned by her mother at age 3, Johnson grew up painfully shy, but always wanted to be a nurse. She joined the U.S. Army at age 22 hoping to exchange military service for an education, but blindness in her right eye rendered her unfit for duty and she was honorably discharged.
Bitter and alone, Johnson escaped into drugs, a path she followed into a 30-year addiction. She was led to recovery, she says, by the pastor of the church she passed each day on her way to buy drugs.
She stayed clean for years until June 2008, when, in a midst of a depression, she “used for five days.” Fortunately, she says, she was arrested. The arrest cost Johnson her state certification as a nurse’s aide.
Now battling a third round of cancer, Johnson goes to court soon in hopes of getting her certification back. In the meantime, she’s staying clean and is grateful for the Flood ministry, which offers substance abuse classes, parenting and anger management classes and unconditional love.
“I never fit in anywhere, but I fit in when it comes to Jesus,” Johnson says. “Now I’m a greeter here and I know Flood is here for me.”
More than 300 of Bakersfield’s poor and homeless were treated to dinner and a sack of groceries the night of my visit, though the reigning one-night record “stands at somewhere over 500,” says Kim Albers, the cherub-faced co-founder and president of Flood Ministries.
Albers and husband David were among those challenged two years ago by Bridge Bible Church to take that seed money and make a difference.
The money given to the couple and their small home group — about $2,300 from an anonymous donor — has multiplied like the biblical loaves and fish, thanks to the growing number of volunteers and churches who partner with Flood.
People loved. Lives changed. Souls saved. All because a few faithful heeded the call to “get out there” and get it done.
These are Marylee Shrider’s opinions, not necessarily The Californian’s. Reach her at 395-7474 or email@example.com.