PARK HILLS — The church that fed 36,000 meals to empty stomachs in two and a half years is launching a new ministry to feed hungry hearts.
Pastor DJ Edwards and the River Worship Centre served their first free breakfasts to four people on Oct. 17, 2005. The crowd eventually swelled to more than 140 either eating at the church at 507 Dix Avenue or receiving breakfasts from those who would pick them up and deliver them. The little church of just about 25 members scraped together the $2,500 it needed to fund the hot meals, with donations from others and food from Country Mart in Park Hills and Prairie Farms.
A crew from the nationally broadcast 700 Club came to the church and aired a story on the breakfasts. That brought in letters of support and some donations from around the nation. Still, the church wasn’t always able to make ends meet, so they stopped buying meat to serve. But eventually, a few months later, things changed.
“For reasons we aren’t sure we know, the crowd started dropping off late in 2007 and so, we served our last breakfast on Jan 14, 2008,” Edwards explained. “About the same time, God gave us a vision for a new ministry.”
That new ministry begins with a bang on July 4 when the Centre begins broadcasting its worship services on television stations in eight Missouri cities and one in Arkansas on the New Life Evangelistic Television Network, operated by Larry Rice in St. Louis.
“We have always given out lots of free DVDs and CDs,” said Edwards. “We purchased cameras for TV a couple of years ago, but things never fell into place for us to broadcast until now.”
The congregation prayed and planned. They remodeled their sanctuary with better lighting and painted the walls for a more attractive scene. The preacher had to make some changes himself. He admits he had to learn to do less rambling and stick with his sermon subject, and he added a clock only he can see so that he doesn’t talk too long.
They videotaped a service and Edwards edited it with a splashy opening, music from the Gospel Power Praise Team, and a segment of his sermon. They signed an agreement with Rice to air the half-hour broadcasts, called “Victory in Jesus” for a year.
Edwards said, to him, it’s a logical outgrowth of the breakfast ministry that met the needs of people in the Parkland who were hungry.
“The focus of our church is evangelism and building people up,” he said. “We know we cannot reach as many people as we need to in our building. I want to come into people’s living room with the message of Jesus Christ.
“When I was at the New Life Evangelistic Center, I saw this long line of people who were there for sandwiches they give out. I realized that the money we are paying them to air the broadcasts will help to pay for that food. And of course, we are hoping that ministry, as well as our own, helps people to find Jesus.”
Edwards is hoping people in the Parkland will tune in at 7 a.m. Fridays on Channel 24 to see their neighbors in worship. They’ll also be seen in Branson, Springfield, Aurora, Lebanon, Marshfield, Joplin and Green Forest, Ark. The church is also considering putting the program on some other independent TV stations.
The church already has a radio ministry heard at 7:30 a.m. Sundays on 99.5, KHCR and 2:30 p.m. on 89.7 FM. It, too, is called “Victory in Jesus.” The River Worship Centre has about 90 people who attend its non-denominational services at 10 a.m. Sundays, with Sunday School at 9 a.m.
New Life Evangelistic Center in St. Louis provides help for the homeless and those suffering with addictions.