Finding Compassion in a Small-town Food Pantry
“You know, I don’t think I am a naturally compassionate person,” says Kyong Weathersby. She sits at the dining table of what is both her home and the location of God’s Feeding Hands Mission Center, a food pantry ministry in Mena, Arkansas, that she runs with her husband, Larry. The confession may seem surprising, as she and Larry have spent most of the last decade developing this service for those in need, yet she says it sincerely. Some might think that caring for and seeing the suffering of others requires a specific personality type, but, “It doesn’t come naturally to me,” says Kyong.
Larry chimes in, “It really is all about Jesus. We pray for God to show us the need, and He does. Our goal is for others to see Him.” For Kyong and Larry, compassion comes from Christ. They pray daily for God to show them the needs of those around them, and they pray that God will send those who are truly in need to receive food from the pantry. Instead of looking down on these people who may look or behave differently than they do or being suspicious of their motivations, they must trust that God has sent each person to them.
The Weatherbys began God’s Feeding Hands Mission Center in 2014, and they watched God help them do it at every turn. They had worked previously with the local Adventist church’s soup kitchen but felt called to do something more as they realized a deep desire to do something, anything, for those around them. They studied the life of Christ, especially His methods of caring for people. They prayed for God to show them the needs of those around them.
They had lived in Texas prior to moving to rural Polk County for retirement, and as they learned more about the issues people faced in the county, including poverty and a lack of food security, they concluded that they should start a food pantry. They did not know where to begin but, in faith, they began anyhow. They searched for just the right location, and one quickly became apparent. The facility that they found was in a residential area, had previously been a daycare and was perfect for their needs. They needed donations to purchase food, and they came right when they were needed. They needed a website, and Larry was able to learn enough to create one. They applied for tax-exempt, non-profit status, and it came much quicker than expected.
“Every time there has been any obstacle, God has shown us the way,” says Larry.
They wanted to create a space where people could meet Jesus without the barriers that humans sometimes create. While they are called God’s Feeding Hands, they do not promote their religious affiliation or require that any of those who use their services participate in any religious services. They do not require proof of residency, nor do they require that those in need even share their names. This attitude of giving freely rather than what can be perceived as transactional giving has lowered barriers to creating real relationships within their community. While they don’t have these requirements, they are ready and willing to shepherd those who ask questions about what they believe.
“A lot of people will thank us, but we always say, ‘Don’t thank us, thank God!’ Everything belongs to Him, and we’re only able to share it because of Him,” says Larry. And, of course, people are curious. “They ask us what church we belong to, and we tell them.”
Larry points out Bibles and literature on their shelves and a desk where he and Kyong have studied with those who are interested. “We have Bible study courses and Bibles to share with anyone who shows interest, but it’s not a requirement. They’re there for when the Holy Spirit leads them to it. They’ll know where they can go when they’re ready,” he says.
For a time, the Weathersbys traveled back and forth between the facility in town and their home in the country, but they soon felt convicted that they could do more good if they were present in the community as people who also lived there. They sold their home and acreage and moved into a room in the mission center.
Many of the individuals who come to the mission center ask for prayer or leave a prayer request in a stuffed-full submission box. “I tell them, ‘You can pray to God, He hears you the same as me.’ But I also tell them we are happy to pray for them,” says Larry.
As they greet their neighbors and community members who come to the Mission Center for assistance, they pray that they embody the directive of Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."
Kyong shares the story of one woman who came to the mission center. “She was so happy because the food that she was able to take wasn’t for herself. It was for her neighbor, a 10-year-old girl whose parents were under addiction and were not feeding her. She came here to get groceries that she would then cook and feed to the girl.”
They also share the story of another man who regularly came to receive food. He became concerned about whether the center would be able to remain open during the uncertainty of the pandemic. He gave the Weathersbys $20, saying, “You’ve helped me so much, I just want to give something back and make sure you all are able to stay open.”
The Weathersbys have countless stories of how God has touched lives through the mission center. They say they have also been forever changed through this experience.“Some have told us it is bold to name the mission center God’s Feeding Hands. Well, it’s not our mission, it’s God’s,” says Kyong. The Weathersbys say that God gave them His inspiration and guidance, and He has continued providing this food pantry to their community, and they want to make sure everyone knows where credit should be given. “It’s all about Him, all about Jesus,” says Larry.
By Jessica L. Lozano. She is a writer and consultant who lives with her family in Northwest Arkansas.
Interested in starting a food pantry in your area? Larry and Kyong are happy to share their experience with you. Visit their website or Facebook page: GodsFeedingHands.com and Facebook.com/FeedingHungers.