Food opens community doors for Versailles church
As a teenager on the Caribbean island of Martinique, Jocelyn first learned to cook from his mother. It later became his career and 42 years later, Jocelyn is cooking for his community and for the Lord.
Jocelyn left the tropical forests of his French-speaking home in 1999 to make a new home in France. One of his prayers was to find a church close to his home.
One day, as he walked down a street close to the Palace of Versailles, Jocelyn noticed a chapel-like building. He saw a cross and English writing on a cornerstone and became a member after meeting the pastor.
Although the Versailles Church of the Nazarene has existed in this historic community for many years, it seemed to be invisible to the people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods. Many people didn’t even know it was there until the church recently began hosting community concerts.
In February 2015, the church became a food distribution center for the needy in Versailles. The idea came from José Monteiro, a Nazarene pastor in Paris who is also a former supermarket supervisor. He knew many supermarkets throw away food and household items that are slightly marred or have passed the expiration date but are still useable. He formed a nonprofit organization in order to secure contracts with several stores so they could donate these items to his Nazarene church instead. The church began a formal food distribution ministry in Paris that has attracted hundreds of economically struggling people. The Versailles church became interested in their successful model.
“At first, we were not sure that the vehicle of food distribution would work for our context,” said Brian Ketchum, a Nazarene missionary. “Versailles has always been regarded as an affluent area with a large percentage of its population seen to be members of high society. We began slowly as an additional distribution site for the compassionate ministry started in Paris, testing the waters to see if it would work. Within a short time we realized that not only did the need exist, but more revealing, we did not know our neighbors.”
Every Thursday, volunteers arrive at 11 a.m. to prepare the distribution. They stay until 3 p.m. when it finishes. Due to the timeframe, Jocelyn and Brian noticed that many of the volunteers would either not eat lunch until after 3, or would bring their lunch from home. Not wanting the volunteers to go hungry while they were feeding others, the team decided to prepare sandwiches for them.
As the volunteer group grew, Jocelyn felt he should do something more. So, he started preparing meals for all the volunteers. What began as simple meals like soup and salad evolved to full course meals, allowing volunteers to gather around the table and enjoy fellowship.
Through the distribution, awareness of the church’s presence in the community has grown in the past year. People who would go through the church’s door with the sole purpose of being served started helping the small group of volunteers, and soon became part of the team.
“One of the fruits that we have seen is the way we have gotten to know people that we never would have seen before,” Jocelyn said.
By opening the church for food distribution, the church members met about 20 people from the community who came to receive help. None of these people had ever considered attending a worship service at the church.
“They came through this ministry of food distribution,” Jocelyn said. “And in cooking for them, while getting to know them and inviting others to come to a meal, it has become a place where we get to easily know each other.”
The distribution ministry is meeting the needs of about 20-30 families or individuals.
“What we are finding is that those people, because they have become a part of the family on the Thursday distribution, are coming in on Sunday and continuing that journey with us,” Brian said.
Since Jocelyn got involved with the food distribution, he has become more open to people on the street and invites them to the Thursday distributions. Some accept the invitation and others do not, but it has become a way to share with people what the church is doing.
Brian says the meal and distribution ministry “has sparked a desire to find more ways to creatively identify and meet the needs of the community."
"The church has regained purpose and a sense of identity as a body called to serve others and put into practice the love we profess to have for our neighbor,” he said.