GIBBON, Neb. – What would your church do if you discovered 8,000 pounds of good potatoes would be discarded? Gibbon Baptist Church in Gibbon, Neb., threw a Spudtacular Potato Festival.
Last fall, four church members joined others from American Baptist churches around the state to participate in ABC-USA's eight-month-long Missional Church Learning Experience. Each church team learns basic missional church principles and practices ways to implement them in their own communities.
"Part of the training is learning to listen to the community," Pastor Matt Wolf said.
As they listened to groups and individuals, the Gibbon team learned that quite a few families were having trouble putting food on their tables and that the gap between Hispanics and Caucasians was growing.
But the church wasn't sure what members could do to help. Then at a team meeting, the mother of an individual who works for CSS Farm mentioned the owners likely would have to get rid of about 8,000 pounds of potatoes originally intended for the Frito-Lay Company because their sugar content was too high to be cut as chips.
"What a shame they are going to have to throw those potatoes away," she said. That became the impetus for the potato festival.
In the meantime, CSS Farm had found another buyer. But touched by the project idea, the company gave the church 14,000 pounds of potatoes.
The one-day event earlier this year featured a 5K-run, games, a guess-the-number-of-potatoes-in-a-pickup-bed contest – and lots and lots of baked potatoes. The congregation pulled a semi-trailer onto the school parking lot and distributed sacks of the vegetable to anyone who wanted them. The ministry drew people from Gibbon and nearby Sheldon.
Missional church training emphasizes not only serving the community but also partnering with others to make a difference. A meatpacking plant, Gibbon's largest employer, donated hamburger for the festival and prime rib as contest prizes. The school allowed free use of the facility and provided custodial help, and a local grocery store donated paper goods, cheese and other items. A Mexican restaurant provided sour cream and salsa, and some employees helped in the kitchen.
"We really were just hoping to serve the community by providing the meal and fun," Wolf said. "We hoped to bring the community together."
He believes the congregation reached that goal and sparked its own understanding. "A lot of people are now more excited about going out…. We've made stronger relationships with other churches and in the community," he said. "People are excited to serve the community."
That tie opened the opportunity to serve on Oct. 13 in the City of Gibbon's Clean-up Day. The city's chamber of commerce asked the church to help single moms and the elderly to move items they needed to discard. "We want to help the town as much as we can to serve the community," Wolf said.
The pastor said the most important thing church members learned through the project was to listen to people. The MCLE team had come up with five or so possible ideas before they had visited with leaders.
"We had to go out and listen to the community to see what the needs are, not what we think they are…. We had to wait for the Holy Spirit," Wolf explained. "I think personally that as you start doing it [missional living], it becomes more natural."
And they keep listening. A member of the team noticed Gibbon had no farmers' market and that people had to drive 20 to 30 miles to find the nearest one. Although not a gardener herself, she suggested the church allow area growers to use the parking lot. That became this summer's farmers' market.