The power of proximity in ministry

A freezer that sits outside Jason Dees’ home in Atlanta reminds him every day of the power of restoration.

For months, people have come by and put casseroles in it — casseroles meant for a community in need of some home-cooked food and some hope.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Jason’s wife, Paige, felt like their church — Christ Covenant — needed to be more actively involved in meeting the physical needs of their immediate community. So she started a program to tutor kids in a Title I elementary school in reading. It was going great — and then the pandemic happened. But because of a connection she had made with a ministry near the school called PAWKids, the door was already open to provide for the community in other ways, including casseroles.

“We want to serve these kids holistically,” Paige said, and so her ministry — Read Together ATL — had partnered with PAWKids, because at that off-campus location the church could host backyard Bible clubs and share the gospel. And when COVID-19 happened, she called PAWKids founder LaTonya Gates and asked if they could work together to feed the kids’ families. Gates said yes.

So Paige reached out to Moms in Prayer, a group she had started in her home with other moms at her kids’ school, then expanded to include moms at other schools. Those moms reached out to their friends and neighbors, and in no time, the freezer outside Paige’s home was filling up with casseroles. People from Christ Covenant started volunteering to cut up the lasagnas and put them in individual containers so LaTonya and her team could distribute them.

“We have been delivering thousands and thousands of casseroles to LaTonya since the beginning of the pandemic,” Paige said.

Many of the people receiving them were out of work, a number of them employees of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Paige included that detail in one of her emails to Moms in Prayer, and it got passed along to one of the moms’ friends whose husband worked for Mercedes-Benz.

The company decided to donate 1,000 meals a week to that neighborhood from May to December last year.

An organization called Lasagna Love International also heard about the effort and started sending lasagnas to PAWKids.

“I couldn’t have tried to do this if I planned it,” Paige said. “I just started praying with some moms, and the Lord just went ahead of us.”

Jason said for him, it’s all about proximity.

“Just go be present where the Lord has you,” he said. “Then He’ll begin to open the next door and the next door and the next door of how He’s going to use you and your giftedness in your life. Encourage your church to do the same thing.”

He said he believes proximity is a call “to neither separate nor to assimilate.”

“One of the things that we like to say is to be distinctively present,” Jason said. “What does that look like in our church? Well, what are the places that we can be distinctively present?”

The public schools in their community have definitely been one of those places. Nearby neighborhoods have been another.

“We’ve done a lot of ministry in particular neighborhoods around our city,” Jason said. “Again, we’re close by. We can be distinctively present there. I think once you start doing that, the Lord just starts opening doors.”

And Paige said walking through those doors can bring opportunities to show the love of Christ.

“I believe this is a beautiful time where the church can serve the city in such a way, and share the gospel in such a way that can really be a huge light for this city and change people’s thoughts and opinions of what the church is in the first place,” she said.

LEARN MORE » Church Planting in Send Atlanta

Published June 3, 2021