She saw homeless children. She saw troubled young people. She saw the forgotten elderly. These were heart-breaking scenes that moved Fulbia Castrellón as she passed the run-down community park in Concepcion la Vieja--a neighborhood in Panama City, Panama.
What could she do to bring hope and make a difference in their lives? Her idea was simple: Soup. That was the spark that drew the interest of women's ministry leaders across the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Panama City. Today, nearly six months later, hundreds of members are taking part in this new ministry called Soup of Hope. The ministry feeds more than 300 people every Sunday at the Parque La Concepción.
“We have church members who donate food or donate funds to purchase the soup ingredients we need and give of their time to this beautiful project,” said Castrellón, head of the women’s ministries at the Metropolitan Conference in Panama City. “I feel extremely happy to work with people who truly love Jesus and dedicate their energies to this on-going program.”
Each church takes turns preparing, cooking and feeding people at the park. “We have neighbors from the surrounding homes who come to volunteer and help us with the cooking and serving too,” added Castrellón.
Everyone gets to grab their soup, rice and bread and hear spiritual messages, sing hymns, listen to Bible readings and have church leaders and members pray for their needs.
The program has been running non-stop every week since January. Local authorities have taken notice and praised the church for bringing hope to the young and the old in a society starving of genuine love and care.
During a recent event, police officer L. Amaranto, who engages troubled youth , expressed his gratitude to church members for their contribution to the community. “A million thanks to you for what you’re doing so the young people can lean on the Word of God and can become good men in the future to move the community forward,” Amaranto said.
The success of the program within the first two months prompted the church’s leaders to reserve a special Sunday in March, where free medical screenings were provided as well as dental work, psychological assistance, activities for the youth and piñatas for the children. More than 700 people from the community as well as church members shared in the activities of the day.
“This has created a joyful attitude in the park because there is a sense of community,” said Rosalinda De Gracia, women’s ministries director for the church in Panama. “You can see so many people from the surrounding area coming out to help those in need and the smiles in all around.”
“Soup of Hope has been a successful evangelism initiative that has resulted in more than 350 people who accepted Jesus and joined the church during the first four months of the year,” added Castrellón.
With the outreach program running every week, Castrellón desires to reach 200 children who roam the streets as orphans or because their parents are at work all day. The plan is to work together with community leaders and local authorities to assess the children’s home-life and run a program where they can be schooled at nearby Adventist Churches.
She marvels at how God prompted her with the idea that grew into something so special to so many people.
“I’m so thankful that God inspires and uses us to be productive so that we can lift those around us who are in need,” Castrellón said.