Eric and Derric Wright grew up without a home.
Sure, the twin brothers lived in houses with their mother, but they moved every year in a whirlwind game of musical chairs. Their mom’s financial limitations took them from New Orleans to several houses throughout North Baton Rouge and eventually to Texas. Each time they felt settled, the music began again.
It was in back in Baton Rouge where the music finally stopped. They found a seat. They found a home.
Their home is the Baton Rouge Dream Center, an inner-city campus of Healing Place Church’s Servolution outreach ministry.
The boys walked four miles almost every day to get to the after-school program at the center. “If we stayed home,” Derric Wright says, “we knew we was gonna do somethin’ stupid. But if we went to church, we’d start doin’ what we like to do or love to do. And that’s serve others and try to make a difference in the world.”
Healing Place is a nondenominational church with 6,000 members spread among its eight local and international locations. Feeding people in need is one of the church’s many outreach programs.
With multiple 100-gallon cooking pots, twin rotisserie smokers—each capable of cooking 800 pounds of food—and a 30-foot barbecue pit and mobile convection oven, Healing Place is uniquely prepared to feed victims of even massive disasters, as well as the people who respond to them.
They fed police at Ground Zero in New York after the 9/11 attacks, and they’ve fed victims of hurricanes and tornadoes.
Their work is not limited to serving meals. After floods in Nashville, they helped clean the streets. After deadly tornadoes in Huntsville, Ala., they distributed diapers. And when Katrina devastated the Gulf, they became a disaster relief hub for Baton Rouge and the evacuees from New Orleans.
When they travel to an area, whether streets are strewn with fallen trees or drowned in water, they partner with a local church to ensure those souls have refuge once they leave.
Any member of the church will tell you that Servolution began in Pastor Dino Rizzo’s heart as “a revolution of Christ through serving.”
“We believe the greatest cause you could give your life for is serving others,” Rizzo says. “Christ set the ultimate example by modeling a life of servant-hood. We have discovered that serving unlocks even the hardest of hearts and opens them to the love of God.”
Servolution volunteers bring doctor-approved snacks to chemotherapy patients, throw parties for foster care children and low-income neighborhoods and cook jambalaya for victims of natural disasters.
Once the ministry began taking root in the church and in Baton Rouge, Rizzo wrote a book about some of the lives it has touched. More than 500 churches globally have begun Servolution programs in their own communities.
“A lot of people can say a lot of different things,” JP Brumfield, Healing Place Church Outreach Coordinator, says. “But, whenever you actually show someone, tangibly, God’s love for them, a lot of times it means more for them than anything you could have said.”
Brumfield, 27, began attending and serving at Healing Place 11 years ago. He began serving, he said, because he could think of no better way to show God’s love than to do something practical for a person in need.
“It’s hard to talk with a kid who’s starving about God. But if you take care of his stomach, then you’ll be able to take care of his heart,” he says. “We serve people because the Bible says to, and we just want to show them love.”
They take care of hungry stomachs at their weekly breakfast for the homeless community, one of more than 20 Healing Place outreach programs.
The day begins at 5:20 a.m. at the Highland Road campus, when volunteers assemble to scramble eggs and bake biscuits. They cook this meal following the Healing Place recipe: there is a single team leader, and everyone else is assigned a role. Each volunteer must follow a checklist to stay within health codes, to manage their time and to leave the kitchen clean for the next group.
The food is packed and ready for transport at 6 a.m. on the button. Clad in jeans and red “Serve” shirts, the volunteers gather among industrial-sized cans of green beans and jars of oregano, holding hands and giving thanks in prayer for the opportunity to serve.
At 6:30, they arrive to set up at the Dream Center warehouse. There are homeless men waiting outside. They’re not waiting for food. They’re waiting to help.
“We like to instill value for the homeless,” Brumfield says. These men consider the warehouse theirs. They show up early to take care of it—to clean it and set up for breakfast.
By 6:50, several more people have arrived—homeless men, women and a toddler in a stroller. Before they get their food, they pray their thanks.
Ten minutes later, classical music begins to play. Homeschooled students Roger Hartman, 17, and Michael Hartman, 14, bring their instruments (viola and cello, respectively) every Wednesday morning. The brothers have been attending Healing Place for three years and playing their instruments for nine. Like many of the congregation’s thousands of members, when they saw a need they could fill, they were anxious to serve.
“When I come,” Roger says, “it just seems like people enjoy it. And I just like bringing happiness.”
Michael adds, “Since they liked it, I wanted to help out with that. Help them enjoy their breakfast.”
To Jeffrey Smith, 48, the music is just one of the things that makes these breakfasts enjoyable.
“It keeps my spirits pretty high,” Smith says. “I’m hoping next year will be a better year. These guys help keep your mind focused on more positive things. You know, you get a little of the Word in on Wednesday mornings, which helps a lot.”
Smith, a former furniture mover, was hit by a car and has not been able to work since. He’s been coming to the community breakfasts for two years.
The breakfast is relatively small in scale compared to the church’s more typical 1,000-plate events or its more rare all-day 5,000-plate cooking marathons. “The problem isn’t the cooking,” Brumfield says. “It’s the serving. It takes a long time to serve 1,000 people.”
Serving may take time, but it’s something at which Healing Place seems to excel. “It’s what God wants me to do,” says volunteer Alex Johnson, 31. “I just felt God calling me to be a servant.”
Because of Servolution’s outreach programs, like the breakfast for the homeless, lives are changed.
Eric and Derric, for example, now call the Dream Center home. Eric is raising money to go to ministry school and become a youth pastor. They work multiple jobs and help children the same way they were helped.
“We were living in a really, really rough part [of town] that was all bad people,” Derric Wright says. “We thought that was the only way to live. But when we started going to church, that affected me by letting us know that there is a way, and there is hope in the world.”
It’s teaching kids in the inner city hope instead of violence. It’s changing the oil in a widowed woman’s car. It’s bringing a bag of food to a grandmother with 17 mouths to feed and bare cupboards.
Originally published in 225 magazine