By Daryl McCready
BERLIN, Md. — The whole world has turned upside down since January. We first heard from President Trump about the COVID-19 virus in a special news release. He had given an executive order to stop people from entering our country from certain other countries and made some other mandates. That was quickly followed by a special press release by the Governor of Maryland who did what I have never seen in my lifetime — he placed a restriction on the size of gatherings, reducing them to less than 50, then to 10 within days, and a week or so later ordered a stay-at-home mandate. This lasted for weeks, resulting in our having to shut down live worship gatherings at Sonrise Church in Berlin, Maryland, from March 15 to May 31. Thankfully, we had been working towards and had actually just begun live streaming the week before all this hit. Talk about God’s divine timing.
We quickly transitioned to live stream services. I preached for several months to an empty room with just a camera. For someone like me who loves to see the people I am preaching to, it was a rough season. The amazing thing is that we went from an average of about 570 in worship to 1,200 contacts. We continued like this until the stay at home order lifted in late May.
We waited a couple of weeks, then began live services again the first week of June. It was very different than any church services we had ever had. Because we could only re-open at half-capacity, we removed half of our café-style tables. So, for the first time since I have been in ministry, I intentionally reduced our seating capacity. Once we had safely “socially distanced” the tables, we ended up with about 220 seats, however, this proved to be plenty. About 20 percent of our church family returned — many were still too concerned and afraid. To add to the challenge, we could offer no refreshments in our hospitality area, no children’s ministry, and everyone had to wear face masks while in the building. After about a month, we changed our face mask policy to that which restaurants were practicing — requiring people to wear masks when the masks when entering and moving about, but permitting removal once they were seated. We checked temperatures as our people arrived, confirming they were free from fever, before allowing them to enter.
Then, at the beginning of August, the governor issued another mandate that masks must be worn at all times in all public buildings and even in public outdoor spaces. This included places of worship. So again, we had to return to having everyone wear masks the entire time they were in the building. Up to this point, the band and platform speakers did not wear masks.
On Sunday, August 2, as I was preparing for church, frustrated by all this COVID-19 mess, and was complaining to the Lord, I sensed Him saying to me, “I left heaven and came to earth for you, I came knowing what I was going to face. I was going to be beaten, then tortured and crucified for your sin. Are you complaining about wearing a mask? There are people all around this world who will travel for days in incredibly hot or cold conditions and in rain or snow. They will sit on concrete benches or crude wood benches, even in the face of threat and danger just to worship Me. I have given you a beautiful facility, air conditioning, comfortable chairs, and no threat of arrest or persecution and you are complaining about wearing a mask?” This convicted me and broke my heart. That morning, I confessed this to the church as I wore my face mask and I continued to wear it while I preached. I felt as though, one, my Lord is worthy, and, two, as a leader, I should not ask others to do anything I am unwilling to do myself. The sound was perfect and no one had any problem hearing me with my face mask on. I will continue to wear one as long as the mandate is in place.
The storehouse miracle
During the last several months, God has also done some amazing things! Shortly after the shutdown, the Lord led me to Malachi 3:10 as I was spending my time in His Word. He spoke to me through this passage: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it’” (NLT). I have used this passage many times when speaking to the subject of tithing, but this time I did not feel in my spirit that this was the message God had for me. This time I felt God saying “ready my storehouse so that there may be food in my house to help those in need.”
God builds the storehouse
I shared this with the staff and then asked our finance leaders to comb through our finances and find some money to purchase food. They did as I asked and came back to me and said they found about $3,000 from our resources which we could justify redirecting to this cause, based on the original intent of the giving — things like missions giving, fruit trees, and shoes for Guatemala, and the like. I then contacted our food ministry leaders and instructed them to use that to get a food supply in the church.
After issuing a Facebook devotional challenge, sharing how God had challenged me to lead us to fill the storehouse so that there might be food in His house for those in need, God’s people began to quickly respond. The fund doubled. We replaced the seed money in the budget and continued purchasing food weekly. The fund continued to grow!
Since we were not meeting at the time for public worship, we converted the sanctuary into a huge food pantry where we packed bags of food to give away every week. We set up food distributions from Tuesdays through Saturdays for four hours each day.
Then God began to fulfill His promise in Malachi.
Chickens and more
A week or so later, God opened a connection to me with the gentlemen who handles donations on behalf of Mountaire Farms Chicken Company. After just a brief conversation, Mountaire donated 5,000 pounds of free chicken. I borrowed four freezers from the local ice company and soon we had tons of meat. Mountaire donated more later – altogether 10,000 pounds of free chicken. But God was not even close to being done!
Our church is a member of the Maryland Food Bank and has been for many years, as food ministry has been a part of our ministry for over 12 years. We have received recognition several times as one of the largest free food distributors on the Eastern Shore. The food bank began to give us about $2,400 each month in grants, in addition to the free items they regularly made available each month.
Then God began to send other companies to help. When the local casino had to close, they donated a large supply of eggs, milk, potatoes, onions, limes, lemons, oranges, and much more. Then the Dollar General followed suit.
One day, while packing bags for the distributions, a young lady greeted me and said she and other business owners in the Fenwick area wanted to help. She said, “Many businesses in our area donated items. We held an online auction fundraiser and wanted to give you this check for more than $7,000 to help with what you are doing!” I had never met her before and had no idea this was taking place.
The blessing of the hams
Several months before COVID-19 hit, one of our members had taken a position with Clemens Food Group, a major food corporation in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. Near the end of May, he sent us an email explaining how the USDA had started a program in which large food producers would donate food to distribution centers to help with the food crisis many Americans were experiencing. He asked us if we would be able to handle a 30,000-pound donation of hams. At first, we thought it was a typo and that he must have meant 3,000 pounds, so I called him. “No, it is 30,000 pounds!” he said. “Can you handle giving that much away?” We do not have enough freezers for that much meat, so I began making calls to other pastors in our area and asked them if they could help to distribute some of the hams. They all said yes. In June, a large tractor-trailer arrived and delivered 1,323 whole hams. We gave 800 to other churches and filled every freezer on our property with these enormous Hatfield Hams. In July, they delivered 19,000 lbs. of scrapple, sausages, hot dogs, and ham steaks. Again, we shared with our community by doing a drive-through food distribution and gave away almost 800 boxes of meat. We are expecting 22,000 pounds of products again in August, and plan to share 1000 boxes with 16 other churches and community organizations.
To help with storage, the church received a $15,000 grant for food and ministry needs. We were able to purchase two new upright commercial double-door freezers and refrigerators to help us better store even more resources in HIS Storehouse.
Above and beyond
Our storehouse fund is now five times greater than when we began because God continues to provide such abundant resources and we haven’t even needed to tap into our own reserved funds.
We continue to offer free food weekly and whenever anyone seeks us for help. The storehouse continues to be full and even to overflowing!
There is even more that God has done and is doing that I haven’t shared, but this is the bottom line: God does not lie! He is faithful! He is in control! He is not afraid or caught unaware! He is the great I AM! He has all the resources we will ever need to accomplish His purpose in this world. And those who trust in Him need not ever be afraid.
Daryl McCready is the founder and senior pastor of Sonrise Church. Read more about the church in the article, “Sonrise Church— It all began in a horestrack”
(Cover photo shows food stored in the church’s worship center converted to warehouse (photo by Sonrise Church)