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Dog Food Evangelism

Novel approach to compassion ministry opens doors for church growth.
When Emmanuel L. Hernandez prepared to relaunch an Assemblies of God church in Wasco, in partnership with nearby Canyon Hills AG in Bakersfield, he knew compassion outreach would be part of the California church’s DNA. CityServe, a major compassion ministry supported by the SoCal Network, launched simultaneously, and the new Canyon Hills Wasco became one of its early points of distribution.

“They told me the idea behind CityServe, and I fell in love with it,” says Hernandez, 34. “The command was to go bless people.”

He didn’t know how effective the initiative would be to bless not only people, but their pets. The CityServe warehouse in Bakersfield contained a great quantity of surplus 50-pound bags of dog food.

“Nobody wanted the dog food; they wanted the nice stuff — furniture, sofas,” Hernandez says. So he divided the pooch food into smaller bags and took them along as he evangelized door to door. As he offered to pray with people, he also handed out dog food.

That act of kindness and generosity made people more receptive to spiritual matters. Residents inquired what church he came from and some started attending.

The novel approach is just one aspect of CityServe’s goal to connect resources donated by major retail chains with need at the local level, according to Karl H. Hargestam, executive director of the agency.

“We want to empower local churches in neighborhoods to mobilize their people to love their neighbors,” says Hargestam, 51. “These resources have helped the church with its message and platform.”

Fernando A. Segura, who has been pastor of Canyon Hills Wasco with his wife, Cecia, since May 2018, says the dog food gesture has proven to be an effective ministry device.

“It sounds strange, but it opens huge doors for us to speak to people about the gospel, and they show up to church,” says Segura, 29.

Many homeless people have dogs with them. So the church packs the dog food into smaller bags and gives it away along with food for humans.

“It’s unorthodox, but you see the appreciation on their faces,” Segura says. “For a person on the streets, it means the world to them to feed their animal.”

In two years, the church has given away thousands of pounds of kibble, along with many other items, including heaters and air mattresses to help families whose kids have been sleeping on the floor. The products arrive by semi-truck at the warehouse in Bakersfield, and members of the church retrieve needed items and store them locally. They also serve 60 hot meals to homeless people and needy families each Thursday, and send teams to the streets and door-to-door in Wasco and the surrounding communities of Shafter, Delano, and McFarland. Wasco once produced half the roses grown in the U.S. Today the economy is driven by crops such as pistachios, and a large state prison.

CityServe started with a bang, distributing close to $20 million in gifts in kind in its first year. CityServe now has six warehouses from Fresno to San Diego, and 201 church “pods” — local distribution centers — connected to them.

“It has really become an encouragement to a lot of pastors and ministries,” Hargestam says.

At Canyon Hills Wasco, which is made up mostly of new Christian converts, compassion ministry has helped raise the congregation’s profile in the community. The church holds English and Spanish services, and is adding a third service in the fall.

Joel Kilpatrick

Joel Kilpatrick is a writer living in Southern California who has authored or ghostwritten dozens of books. Kilpatrick, who served as associate editor of the Pentecostal Evangel in the 1990s, is a credentialed Assemblies of God minister.