I was a stranger: Matthew 25 ministries - Word&Way

I was a stranger: Matthew 25 ministries

ST. LOUIS – On Saturday morning, volunteers assemble to sort through groceries that will be distributed to Bosnians. Volunteers listen as the ministry's coordinators interact in the Bosnian language, sharing the gospel as bodies are fed.

Sasa Zivonaz (left), a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship self-funded missionary, visits with volunteer Wil Duke of Kirkwood Baptist Church. (Photo by Kirkwood Baptist Church)

It is the type of ministry that churches travel overseas to participate in. But for churches in the St. Louis Metro area that partner with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship missionaries Sasa and Mira Zivonav, feeding Bosnian refugees is just a part of the Saturday morning routine.

"Our church has been involved with the Bosnian ministry and food pantry for at least seven years," said James Hill Jr., pastor of Southwest Baptist Church in St. Louis. "This ministry, which touches the lives of not only the Bosnian community but also surrounding neighborhoods, seemed like something our church should support. It has been one of a few intentional efforts to support local mission work."

Kirkwood Baptist Church began the ministry and provides more than half the funding for the Zivonavs' salary package, food and supplies. According to Leslie Limbaugh, minister of students and communication at Third Baptist Church, St. Louis, and Bosnian ministry coordinating team member, Kirkwood also assists with bookkeeping, volunteer scheduling and procurement of groceries.  

In addition to providing food, the ministry seeks to welcome refugees who have been outcasts in their home countries and displaced by war. The Zivonavs and the Bosnian ministry coordinating team hope to share the good news of Christ and build a church in which refugees are able to worship in their heart language.

Several churches in the metro area support the Bosnian ministry by sending money or volunteers. Southwest Baptist participates because the Bosnian ministry is a way to partner to do missions "right in our backyard." In addition to financial assistance, the church sends a group of volunteers to help with the Saturday morning food pantry every six to eight weeks and provides volunteers for special events.

Mira Zivonav, right, and a volunteer organize groceries to be given away on Saturday mornings. (Photo by Kirkwood Baptist Church)

"For churches in the metro, it feels almost like 'foreign missions' but it's only 20 minutes from home," Limbaugh said. "For churches who don't see this kind of poverty or diversity on their own street corner, a short drive can open eyes and hearts to all kinds of opportunity."

Hill has witnessed that eye-opening revelation among members of his congregation. "I wish more in our church family were involved with this ministry," he said.

"Those who have been involved have been blessed greatly, and a few have found exposure to those in poverty in our community in a way which is much more personal than ever before.

"There is something very real about handing food to a person in need, or helping them carry it home. Truthfully, it helps the 'other' become a little bit less of a 'stranger.'"


Related articles and resources:

Taking the Matthew 25 test

I was hungry: Matthew 25 ministries

I was in prison: Matthew 25 ministries

Matthew 25 lifestyle: You served me…  (PDF list of representative agencies carrying out Matthew 25-type ministries)