WINTER HAVEN, Fla.—“I’ve always felt I wasn’t quite able to minister to others as well as some people I know,” says Ruth Anne Culp, a member of Faith Baptist Church. But the church’s ministry called Shepherd’s Closet has given her and scores of other volunteers an opportunity to minister to both believers and unbelievers. On March 12, about 100 members of Faith Baptist toured the Shepherd’s Closet facilities.
The Shepherd’s Closet is the brainchild of Lil Tolley, who still heads the ministry. She invited the church to bring in gently used clothing, shoes, and accessories to make them available to anyone who needed them. She and volunteers organized the items, displaying them in a corner of the church’s fellowship hall. Lil also organized several free shopping days for the church body and families in the community, including Inwood, where members served in the church’s Faith Xtreme (FX) ministry.
Pastor Nathan Osborne describes Faith Xtreme as an overt ministry into the Inwood community with one foundational principle: the gospel of Jesus Christ is enough to change an entire community over a generation. With its move to Inwood, the Shepherd’s Closet is now an extension of FX.
Sean Fielder, director of FX Ministries, says the church moved the closet to Inwood to reach people who might not attend a church but who find a neighborhood ministry approachable. Having the closet there has given FX more opportunities to meet the needs of families already involved with FX. The closet also opens a door for relationships with new families, giving opportunities to introduce them to their real need, salvation. By rehabbing a building in the community, the church hopes to show that FX is there to stay.
The building, originally a house, was donated anonymously. The church used money from its building fund to remodel the house and add a 1,500-square-foot storage space on the back. The Shepherd’s Closet provides food, clothing, and counseling, including career preparation for those seeking employment. All the counseling, says deacon James Berry, focuses on guiding people toward Jesus Christ, regardless of their situation. Food is provided on an as-needed basis, and all the Shepherd’s Closet services and items are provided free of charge.
For now, neighbors visit the closet by appointment only. When they come to get clothes or food, says Lil, they are asked about their relationship with God and someone prays with them. As a result, some have rededicated their commitment to God and others have received Jesus as their Savior. Ruth Anne says that getting to meet people in the community on an individual basis and being able to supply a basic need along with planting a seed for the Lord is “almost overwhelming in what it could mean in their lives.” She feels blessed to be part of the ministry.
Although the Shepherd’s Closet has existed for several years and the building in Inwood has been finished for a while, the ministry hosted the tour to remind the Faith Baptist congregation of the ministry opportunities available at the Shepherd’s Closet.
Ruth Anne says a lot of labor is involved in the ministry but that “it’s been a joy to see Sean and Lil in action and to experience the passion they have for FX and the Shepherd’s Closet. I thank God for this experience.”