U.S. Alliance Church in Maine Builds Cross-Cultural Bridges

A smiling, poncho-clad Native American woman, her long hair braided neatly behind her, carries a hollowed out deer horn filled with sand. As someone strums a guitar, the woman sings and rhythmically shakes the horn. Her brother, a man with sharp gray eyes and a quiet dignity, sits near her. His smooth voice suggests a fine tenor, though he seems reluctant to let anyone but the immediate group hear. “The brother and sister are here to experience the fellowship and help of the Food Cupboard ministry at North Woods Alliance Church,” says Pastor Vince Hartford. “Today, in the traditionally culture-cloistered world of rural Lee, Maine, it is hard not to notice that God is bringing to us a large and diverse number of people groups from around to world.”

According to Pastor Hartford, the New England District church, which was established in 1983 as The Christian and Missionary Alliance of Lee, “was steeped in a traditional Yankee ‘exclusivity,’ which would’ve previously made such an atmosphere nearly impossible.” Since arriving here in 2000, however, he has seen a gradual turnaround in the unwritten policy. The church’s Food Cupboard outreach has become a multicultural ministry to local and outlying communities, drawing people “who have found a weekly oasis near the center of this little town in the great forest of the Northeast,” says Hartford.

Sitting at the table with the Native American siblings is a man who residess in a ramshackle cabin in the woods. “He lives alone,” Pastor Hartford says, “but every week he arrives early, duffle bag on his back, ready to not only receive badly needed supplies but also to spend a little time with ‘family.'”

“We don’t think of it as a food pantry,” says Russian-born Irina Luekina, a transplant from a Toledo, Ohio, Alliance church, where she served with another food pantry ministry. Having experienced her share of hardship while growing up in the old Soviet Union, Irina now oversees the North Woods outreach to the poor with a great deal of empathy. Her sparkling eyes and anxious grin can break through language and cultural barriers even before she begins to speak. “We think of it more as a fellowship of friends. The people here are like family.”

Irina is assisted by exchange students-some are Christians, but most are not-who arrive each school year from Europe and Asia and are drawn to the ministry. “I don’t think it is the Christian faith that draws them to this church,” says Pastor Hartford, “as much as a fascination with serving poor people in a nation where the streets were supposed to be ‘paved with gold.’ This gives us opportunity to shine the light of Jesus into the lives of the servers as well as those who are being served.”

Every Friday, people of all ages and ethnicities fill the church basement-some to serve and some to be served. “The students help people carry groceries, lifting cardboard boxes filled with food to their shoulders,” Pastor Hartford says. “Some church members clean while others visit with food recipients; and the room is abuzz with the easy going banter that springs forth in a place where people know they are safe.

“There is a picture here of something deeper than just a food pantry ministry-something very special not devised by man nor fully understood by any sage foolish enough to attempt explaining it. Christ has sent His Church to bring good news to the all nations, but here in Lee, He seems intent on bringing the nations to us.”

Learn More

Read how other U.S. Alliance churches are impacting their communities for Christ. www.cmalliance.org/news/topics/gochurch/

What You Can Do

Give to Alliance Great Commission Ministries and partner with Alliance workers at home and abroad who are being light in a spiritually dark world. www.cmalliance.org/give

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