The Rev. Chad Clement makes a dramatic entrance each time he visits a cluster of west Oklahoma City apartments.
Children's eyes light up.
They chatter together in excitement and run to get their friends.
It isn't the former school bus Clement drives that captures the children's attention.
The pastor's popularity stems from what he carries: lunch.
“What'd you bring today?” a small boy asks as the doors to the bus swing open.
“Corn dogs,” Clement says — plus an apple, popcorn, cookies and juice.
“What are we having tomorrow?” another child wants to know.
“Chicken nuggets,” Clement answers.
Meals and ministry go hand-in-hand in this outreach being conducted by Truth Baptist Church.
Clement, the church's pastor, and his wife, Anna, longtime urban missionaries, started their summertime ministry when they moved to an apartment complex near the intersection of NW 122 and Pennsylvania in 2011. The couple committed themselves to connecting children to Christ beginning with one meal at a time.
The lunch ministry to the group of apartments quickly evolved into regular Sunday church services that began in the Clements' apartment and eventually moved to donated space at the nearby Artisan Ridge Apartments clubhouse. Clement said youths from other apartment complexes in the area — Grouse Run, Lincoln Green, Highland Ridge, The Village at Stratford and Rain Dance — also participate.
This summer, the couple expanded the summer meal ministry to a targeted stretch of apartment complexes along NW 10, between Meridian Avenue and Council Road.
Chad Clement said this area of the city, according to census data, has one of the state's highest concentrations of people living in poverty.
Clement said the goal of the new outreach is to meet tangible needs of the apartment residents in order to establish relationships. He said thus far, he and volunteers have befriended children from single-parent homes and those being raised by a grandparents as well as youths from two-parent homes.
Clement said the common denominator is need — adults seem to appreciate the church's interest, and they can use the help.
The 10th Street outreach includes Meridian Apartments, Wentwood at MacArthur, Terrace Apartments, Rockwell Plaza, Chestnut Hills and Heritage Apartments. Clement said between the new outreach and the complexes in the NW 122 and Pennsylvania area, church volunteers distribute about 500 lunches each Monday through Thursday. The lunch outreach began July 8 and ends Aug. 1, when most of the children will return to school.
Food for hungry souls
Gloria Roberts, a Terrace Apartments resident, said the meal ministry means less strain on parents' and grandparents' resources during the summer when many children are home all day. Recently, Roberts accepted lunches for her grandchildren and a neighbor's children.
“It's a good thing for the kids around here,” she said. “This helps people who don't have food and the kids who don't go to day care.”
Ultimately, church leaders and volunteers hope to satisfy the “spiritual hunger” in people's lives, Clement said.
“Many people are living in desperate situations, and they are hungry for something better,” he said. “When you open up the truth to them, it resonates with them. They know the truth of God's word.”
He said each lunch sack contains a Scripture verse the children are encouraged to memorize, plus an invitation to Bible club activities held in the afternoons at nearby partnering churches.
He said Rockwood Baptist Church, 1516 S Grand Blvd., recently offered Bible club activities that included cool treats and water fun. Council Road Baptist, 2900 N Council, is scheduled to host activities next week. Clement said he and volunteers provide transportation for most of the children from the apartment complexes to the Bible clubs.
Clement said he decided on the new outreach after Truth Baptist partnered with Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, 8140 NW 10, for a spring break Bible club at the Terrace Apartments.
The Rev. Joe McLemore, Calvary's senior pastor, said Truth's summer meal ministry helps deepen relationships between the churches and the residents because it lets the residents know the churches care about them.
“Jesus, before He healed people, He fed them, He met their physical needs,” McLemore said.
Clement said he realized there were many other complexes in the area to be reached.
“I saw there was a great need here,” he said. “Ultimately, our goal is to reach areas all over the city in this same way.”