First Fruits: Beyond the Leaves
Did you know that if you rake leaves for First Fruits, or provide a job for volunteers to do, or donate to First Fruits – you are also helping high school students achieve their dream of going to college? Over the past three years, thanks to the blessings of First Fruits, RBC has helped 18 students realize their dream of going to college by awarding Perseverance Scholarships (totaling over $19K) to graduating seniors at several local high schools (including Herndon, Parkview, Dominion, and Potomac Falls). The scholarship celebrates not the success that may come from persevering, but more importantly the proven character of the person who has persevered and in the process become a positive example and source of encouragement for their peers.
The scholarship recipients have had to overcome (and continue to endure, in some cases) a wide array of challenges – from financial hardships, language barriers, bullying, depression, family illness and severe debilitating injuries, to unstable homes, abuse, homelessness, divorce, and immigrating alone to the United States. Each recipient has demonstrated remarkable courage and strength of character in how they have chosen to persevere. Keep reading to learn more about two of the 2014 inspiring scholarship recipients.
ASHLYN’S STORY: Ashlyn, in the process of dealing with financial hardships, abuse, and mental illness at home, became not only an exceptional student with a 4.1 GPA, but also helped others to gain their voice and develop their talents. As a tutor she helped peers overcome academic challenges and as President of the Freethinkers Club, she encouraged others to speak freely and openly in a safe environment. Her great love for literature and music includes looking beyond the text or words for the deeper, unspoken meaning. She is much like the music she loves. As she quoted Victor Hugo in her scholarship application, “music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent.” Thankfully, Ashlyn did not remain silent. She reached out for help and has started sharing her story and is encouraging others to reach out and have hope. A year ago, Ashlyn didn’t think college would be an option. She is now in her first year at George Mason in the honors program and plans to major in English Literature and Music. (To learn more about Ashlyn in her own words, click here.)
JUAN’S STORY: Juan is another 2014 scholarship recipient who has overcome early setbacks in life, five years in the foster care system and difficulties at home and school. But, instead of giving up and dropping out as he had seen so many friends and family members do, he took the radical step at the end of his Junior year in high school of turning away from the poor influences in his life. In one short year, he had an extensive impact on his football team, his school community, and his youth group. He is now known by his peers for his moral fiber, leading not only with words but also his actions. He is widely respected for always encouraging others on and off the playing field and for his positive attitude. He is a true team player. On his high school football team – he played every position except line and was unanimously selected as captain and MVP. He has great compassion for others enduring hard times and looks for opportunities to come alongside to help and encourage others to not give up. In his senior year, he even packed two lunches – one for himself and one to give away. He also takes great pride in a job well done – learning that “that regardless of the job assigned you should always do it to the best of your ability.” Juan is also known for his faith and desire to share the truth of Jesus Christ with those that are struggling. He speaks from experience and gives the glory to Christ in his key verses “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13) and “sanctify them in your truth Lord. Your word is truth.” Juan is an exceptional leader and is currently studying business.
If you are interested in partnering with us in First Fruits, get more information or sign up at www.restonbible.org/firstfruits
First Fruits: Beyond the Event
First Fruits took place on Nov. 19th, but the fruit extends far beyond this day and the delivery of groceries. We were all blessed in more ways that we could have asked or imagined. We had over 500 volunteers come out, spread over 27 teams that did more than 140 jobs on a beautiful Fall day, that raised funds for more than 90 families in need. Many of our First Fruits families are struggling with unemployment or underemployment, working multiple jobs to care for their families and still not covering their bills. More than 10 of our families may soon lose their homes. Many are also struggling with the loss of a spouse, divorce, major medical bills, and crippling disabilities. First Fruits is about providing encouragement to families in the midst of these struggles as the result of teams often literally expending themselves on their behalf.
Our teams were able to see the first fruits of their labor the same day by shopping and then visiting 31 of the families on the evening of Nov. 19th. The groceries (the small part of the First Fruits gift) together with Shoppers Food Warehouse gift cards provides as close to a month’s worth of groceries for each family as possible. Beyond the groceries, the teams were able to encourage and often pray with some of the families in the midst of some very tough times. One family of four shares a two-bedroom apartment with another family. The team leader has stayed in touch with the family and is putting together a Christmas gift. Another of our teams brought groceries and visited with an Iraq veteran and his family, who are working through the challenges of a brain injury. Team members have stayed in touch with the family, who has also now visited RBC several times. Another team visited a family about to lose their home to foreclosure – yet another reminder of how things that look great on the outside can mask the turmoil and pain taking place on the inside. I’m thankful that our team went beyond the exterior to pray with and minister to the family, encouraging them to not give up.
Thanks to the Lord’s blessing, First Fruits was also able to go beyond these 31 families to include another 60 families in need. One of these families was out of food, had been praying for help, and then received the grocery gift cards unexpectedly that day from a friend that attends the RBC Spanish church. She is still praising the Lord for his provision at just the right time. The wife of another First Fruits family had brain surgery, and after recovering from the surgery, she returned to work and was immediately laid off from her job. Her husband is also out of work. When they were given the First Fruit gift, the husband was thankful, speechless, and surprised that church teenagers would work to help those in need.
One story of a single mother is a further reminder of how important it is for us as the body of Christ to be looking up and caring for those God has placed in our lives. This mom was referred through a First Fruits captain that saw her need and reached out on her behalf. She had been a property manager, lost her job in the downturn, and is now doing a short sale on her home. Her story is still unfolding, but she sends thanks for the unexpected help from First Fruits that provided key encouragement over Thanksgiving at exactly the right time. She too has visited RBC a couple times.
There are many other stories still unfolding from First Fruits and how the RBC body is in motion looking out for neighbors, Shepherd Group members, family members, coworkers, or friends met through church, school, or a child’s sport’s team. Financial struggles cross all lines and neighborhoods. And, thankfully, the RBC body is reaching across these lines. I know there is more fruit to come.
Event Update: First Fruits, Beyond the Numbers
This year’s First Fruits took place on Saturday, November 20. First Fruits is a service project that has rallied the RBC church body for over 20 years. It is a unique serving opportunity for families, shepherd groups, and individuals to come together and make a difference in the lives and families of others in our area who are in need of help and encouragement.
You may have heard the numbers in church. By God’s grace we had over 400 volunteers spread over 27 teams, doing more than 120 jobs (including some random acts of kindness), that raised $31,500 for families having a tough time financially in our area – 59 families in particular were blessed this past weekend. The numbers are truly amazing. But, First Fruits is about so much more than the numbers.
The body of Christ was in motion like I haven’t seen before at RBC — working together, getting out of the salt shaker, and encouraging families in our area. I love how each year First Fruits brings together people that start out as strangers or acquaintances early in the morning and end as friends in the evening. This year was a particular blessing because Pastor Salvador Medina and 10 members of his congregation (from the Spanish Church that also worships at RBC) joined in and helped out during the day. They also played a key role with team visits to 3 of the Spanish-speaking only families in the evening. There is one body, but many parts (1 Cor 12:12-28) and it was neat to see this in action on Saturday — how, by working together, we were able to do more than any part could have done separately, even overcoming language and culture barriers and planting seeds that we hope and pray will yet bear fruit. It will be exciting to see how the Lord will use the relationships started at First Fruits both within the body and within the community to advance His Kingdom. The Medinas have already invited several of the families to come to church.
I also loved seeing our teens getting out of the salt shaker. This happened throughout the day, and there are many stories. One captured it well for me. In particular, one Sr. High teen shared how she and some friends went to the neighbor’s house of the job they were working on to help the woman take care of her yard. They discovered that her husband had died 2 years ago and and she was diagnosed with breast cancer soon after. They were able to minister and pray with her in ways they could not have imagined when they started the day.
First Fruits also burst the bubble that insulates us from the world right around us. One teen shared how their team visited a family of 4 living in a motel because they did not have a home. The size of their room for living, eating, sleeping, she relayed, was no bigger than her bedroom at home. She had no idea that people lived like this in Northern Virginia. “This has changed me,” she said,”I see how spoiled I have been, and I know how much I have to be thankful for.”
All of us were touched by the individual stories of the 59 families served through First Fruits. Here are a few snapshots:
- A family of 12 living in a 3-bedroom trailer with another family. Two RBC regular attenders are a big brother and a big sister to 2 of the children in the family.
- Nineteen families attend local Sterling public schools that serve some of the most economically disadvantaged in the area. All the children in these families are on the free lunch program. The father/husband of one of these families died 2 weeks ago leaving his wife and 5 children behind. The Women’s Ministry is already continuing with one of the schools a partnership started through First Fruits and we hope to continue to partner with some of the others through Backpack Buddies and tutoring.
- At least 6 families have been, are, or may soon be homeless.
- One family just moved into their own apartment after being in a shelter for the past year.
- At least 8 families (includes RBC attenders) are struggling with unemployment and being underemployed.
- Twenty or more are single parents
- Four are widows
- Many do not yet know the Lord.
The First Fruit gifts brought tears, smiles, hope, and prayers of thanksgiving. Please join us in praying for these families and thanking the Lord for the amazing team captains and co-captains that led the army of 400 workers who blessed so many. May God alone receive all the glory.
Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of these brothers of mine, you did for me.