Meeting Community Needs
Before becoming a Nineveh Outreach volunteer, Erma Linda Castaneda remembers standing in line at the outreach's food distribution area to pick up food to satisfy her hunger. But soon she hungered for more. She wanted what the volunteers had -- what made them smile.
When Castaneda found Nineveh, a ministry of an Assemblies of God church in central California called The House Modesto, she lived on the streets and struggled with a more than a 30-year drug addiction.
Through the ministry and its many volunteers, God has transformed Castaneda's life. She quit using illicit drugs, lost weight, reconnected with her sons, and found a home. And she's a leader in the ministry's clothing outreach where she ministers to the homeless. Castaneda says she is enjoying a new relationship with Jesus her Savior.
"I'm experiencing life in a whole different way, in a whole different beautiful, lighted way," she says.
Castaneda's story is just one of multiple lives transformed by God since the outreach's inception in 1997. The ministry's goal is to send volunteers into the community to offer a helping hand to those in need via food, clothing, and other material needs, according to Pastor Chuck Cutsinger, director of the outreach.
But Cutsinger says the most important aim of Ninevah Outreach is to serve spiritual needs.
"The only way to get people to hear the gospel is to let them know you care about them and what they're going through," Cutsinger says. "We use the food and clothing as a bridge to speak into their lives."
In 2014, outreach volunteers witnessed 557 people accept Jesus as Savior.
Nineveh, which began in one location in Modesto by Glen Berteau, senior pastor at The House Modesto, has since grown to eight locations in four communities.
The variety of assistance offered also has grown. Nineveh has an onsite food pantry that is open year-round at the church. From April through November, volunteers spend Saturday mornings distributing clothing and food in a park. Last year, volunteers distributed 61,000 bags of groceries.
Medical and dental services are provided, including exams, X-rays, blood work, and tooth extractions for free to those without insurance. Volunteers in the Nineveh bike shop fix and give away bicycles to the homeless twice a month.
There is also an outreach to youth through sixth grade that includes singing, playing games, and sharing the gospel.
But it's not just the poor and less fortunate whose lives are being changed through Nineveh. The large ministry has an opportunity for every volunteer to find a place to not only serve but also learn and grow, according to Jane Higgins, who is in her ninth year of volunteering.
In 2014, volunteers like Higgins donated more than than 30,000 hours of their time.
"I was a person who had trouble, because of past hurts, loving people," she says. "Through Nineveh, I've learned to let that go."