With Harvest approaching, one woman's initiative in setting up a "foodbank" in north-west Bristol embodies God's spiritual and physical provision.
When Emma Murray moved to Bristol a year ago, she couldn't have imagined what God might do through her in one short year to meet the needs of people in crisis. But her decision to set up the Bristol NW Foodbank is doing just that.
It was at the New Wine conference in August 2010 that Emma Murray felt God asking her to set up a Foodbank. People throughout the UK live in food poverty and foodbanks provide a minimum of three days emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis in this country.
Emma had moved to Bristol with her family as her husband started training at Trinity College. She had moved from Abingdon where she had been been involved through her church in a setting up and running a foodbank-type project. At New Wine, she felt compelled to go to the Trussell Trust (a national Christian foodbank charity with 114 franchises in the UK) stand in the New Wine marketplace.
"When I asked them if there was a Trussell Trust Foodbank in Bristol and they said 'no', I was in tears," she recalls. "I felt the presence of God with me like electricity!"
At the main worship meeting, a verse was ringing in her head: "Shout! For the Lord has given you the city! The city and all that are in it are to be devoted to the Lord." (Joshua 6:16)
Encouraged by her experiences at New Wine, friends in Abingdon and by members at Christ Church Clifton, where she started attending, she set about praying about, talking about and finally setting up the project.
Two of her children were given places at the Oasis Academy Brightstowe in Shirehampton and Bank Leaze School in Lawrence Weston. "I felt as I drove around the area that God gave me little prompts at to this being the area for the Foodbank."
"God helped me to bring together church leaders from churches in Shirehampton, Avonmouth, Lawrence Weston and Sea Mills to work towards setting up the Foodbank. The project has been taken under the charitable wing of the 'Oasis Community Hub' and that is where I manage the project from."
On 14 March 2011, within five months, the project opened with two outlets at St Andrew's Avonmouth and Lawrence Weston Baptist Church.
"Since March we have given out over 3200kg of food to around 500 people and we can see our original boundaries stretching as we find ourselves feeding families in Southmead, Horfield, Henbury and Stoke Bishop."
The Foodbank has not only fed a lot of people, it has also had a significant spiritual impact.
"When I started giving people food three years ago, I didn't really get how giving someone food could bring them closer to God's kingdom," reflects Emma.
"But, it is amazing how when you meet someone's basic needs, Jesus can touch their life in a profound way.
"We offer to pray for as many people who come to the Foodbank as we can and this often leads to conversations about how they used to go to Sunday school or church. We are also planning our first harvest collections, so have opportunities to share with local primary schools why we are doing what we are doing."
The Foodbank is also making a big difference to the churches and volunteers involved.
"I have seen God draw in churches and individuals week after week to provide ongoing food for this project. We are being inundated with volunteers from many different church denominations. It is a great joy to see church members working together in unity and becoming great friends.
"Several of our volunteers aren't Christians, but we have seen them become part of our foodbank family and we are seeing their openness to Jesus as they are cared for and loved. And one of the churches we work with said only last week that they are finding that their local community are beginning to trust them so much more since the Foodbank started."
As the demand for the Foodbank grows, so do its needs.
"We have been blessed by many people giving us lump sums of money, but I think our long term need is for regular donors who could commit to a small amount each month," says Emma. The kinds of costs that the Foodbank needs to sustain are franchise costs, publicity, stationery and transport - they are currently saving for a delivery van.