"We've been moving through a terrific sermon series at Park on the book of James. Chapter 2, in particular, speaks to the way that the work that we do for Christ is a natural outpouring of our faith. It is a necessary component to strengthen our relationship with God and to make Him known to the world. Our city is full of people in need and full of people who need Jesus. Personally, I found it easy to assume those needs are met or will be met by social programs or other volunteer organizations - but I've realized Scripture challenges us directly, as Christians, to respond to a call to serve others as Christ served us. God has also worked in my life and brought me into a small group community that values service and sharing the gospel, so that has also been an important aspect of our desire to volunteer with our church community.

I currently co-lead a team with my friend, Scott, that volunteers at Breakthrough Urban Ministries women's shelter in Garfield Park to cook dinner for the program's residents once every month. I also volunteer on occasion with Bread of Life, a ministry which delivers a warm meal and clothes to the homeless in downtown Chicago. At Breakthrough, we prepare a meal for about 40 women on a weeknight; typically, the night before is spent planning for the meal and purchasing food. At times, we have to work to balance our schedules and make sure we leave the office on time to prep the food and organize. But generally, if we're planned well enough in advance, things run smoothly. Having two leaders is also a great way to find balance with work as Scott and I are able to cover for each other as needed given the demands of our professional life. Bread of Life meets on Saturday, so that is a great organization to volunteer with if work nights are full.

My sister previously headed the group that Scott and I now lead. She had volunteered faithfully in the position for years (and was an amazing cook, I might add), but was feeling called to serve in other areas. When she decided to step down, Scott and I both realized that there wasn't a clear path of transition and we worried the meal would fall through the cracks. At the same time, we had been brainstorming in our small group about ways we could be more intentional about service and were looking for ministries to be involved with. So it hit us pretty directly - this was an opportunity the Lord was giving us to step up and serve. Aside from the time and financial commitment our biggest hurdle to service was quite possibly the fact that we would need to prepare and cook a meal. Did the women at Breakthrough really want to eat mac n' cheese every time we showed up? The horror! So that was a growth area for us in a real way. But, I will say, after a few false starts and some time in the kitchen (and with the help of some very, very talented and giving volunteers), we've learned how to pull together a tasty meal!

Overall, I think God has been using our group in a couple ways. First, there is the impact with the women we have the privilege of serving. Through sharing a meal and conversation we hope to alleviate the immediate physical need of hunger and also show them they are valued and their lives matter to God. The volunteers are affected as well; as we see God providing medical services, job interviews, or a place to live we're reminded of His power to reach those in need. We're humbled as well to learn from the powerful stories the women share with us."