The pandemic has challenged all of us, requiring us to adapt our ways of living, and Dinner of Love was no different. For the last year and a half, we continued to serve our guests joyfully, and quickly our faithful volunteers adjusted from dine-in to take-out while our guests continued to come out for each dinner. Throughout the year, our hope was that guests were receiving more than a meal; they were receiving a tangible reminder that we care and love them, despite limitations. For those of us who were serving, each dinner filled us to the brim and reminded us of God’s faithfulness and presence in these, otherwise, challenging times.
With all that in mind, we would be remiss to say we were disappointed that we couldn't host our annual Christmas dinner as it used to be, under the sit-down format. We trusted that God would continue to be faithful and we would still be able to provide our guests with a special evening. With no idea of the number of guests we may have, our goal seemed big and lofty: 130 “Gifts of Love” care packages and 65 dozen cookies.
In all honesty, we were initially worried that the number of gifts needed would not be filled. We knew we would not be able to do this alone, and the body of Westside quickly came alongside this ministry. It was exhilarating to see the body step up quickly to provide all the care packages and bake an abundance of cookies. God provided more than we expected and we had more offers to help than we could take!
With the gifts taken care of, the focus was providing a memorable and festive evening. Westside’s worship team offered to sing carols throughout the dinner, the creative team volunteered to host a photo booth and take photos, and many members from the body offered to serve that evening. How amazing it was to have members of the body come together and use their gifts.
On December 3rd, as we cleaned, set up, and prepared our lobby, we were also nervous that only a few guests would show up. We assumed that approximately 80 guests would attend, but we prayed that we would serve 125 guests.
As the evening began, and as we watched the line grow and encircle itself in front of the church, our panic went from not having enough guests show up to not having enough gifts and food for everyone. How little faith we have sometimes! Thankfully, it's not in our hands but in God’s, and how wondrous to see His hand in all of this. By the end of the evening, we served 126 guests. We praise God for answering our prayers of having enough meals and gifts for the guests, and for giving us such an incredible evening filled with love and fellowship. It was just another reminder of the power of prayer and that God goes above and beyond our expectations.
One of the highlights of the evening was reconnecting with some of the regular guests that we have not seen since the start of the pandemic. It was heartwarming to watch their faces light up to the outpouring of love they received, and we hope it was meaningful for them to see familiar faces as well. For us serving, it was uplifting to be able to connect with them in person and ask how they were doing throughout this time. Many of our guests shared that they specifically made a trip to come to our dinners, as they know we would make Christmas special for them, and many others commented that the atmosphere was joy-filled. We can’t think of a greater compliment than that - that our church dinners are known as a place where people care and serve joyfully.
We know we can’t meet everyone’s practical needs or shield them from the realities of the pandemic, but we are grateful we can tangibly love our guests, provide them with a special Christmas evening, and remind them that as the body of Christ, we love and care for each other.
To the body of Westside, thank you for your prayers and practical support. Living through the pandemic has been challenging for all of us, and this year, more than any other has proven the importance of community and extending love to all.
More information about the Dinner of Love and Reach ministries is located here.