SEARCY, AR (BP) – Bill Roussel has a heart for widows and widowers. For years Bill visited with two widows on Sunday mornings at First Baptist Church in Searcy. One day he told his wife Amy they should do something for the ladies, who had long worked in the children's ministry, to add an extra measure of joy to their lives during the holiday season. The Roussels decided to host a Christmas dinner for the church's widows and widowers at a local barbecue restaurant.
"Most of our widows and widowers [have been] longtime workers in our church and community," Amy Roussel said. "[Bill] wanted to do something that was separate from the church and funded by ourselves. That way, the folks we invited would know it was not something that was an obligation but heartfelt." Each year about 30 people attend the dinner, which has been held for more than a decade. Evening festivities include door prizes and games, and Hal Stroupe, minister of education and administration at FBC Searcy, drives the church bus to take attendees on a tour of local Christmas lights.
A few years ago the Roussels asked fellow church members Bob and Karen Davis to help out with the dinner. "There is no better reward for us than the hugs, smiles and thanks we receive from all the widows and widowers," Bob Davis said. "The fun and pleasure they get from eating, playing the games and fellowship enjoyed is evident in their faces. It truly is a festive affair where Christmas spirit abounds." Pat Charboneau, who has attended the dinner since her husband passed away in 2007, said it's "a wonderful thing they are doing, and I believe it is scriptural." "It is very much appreciated by all of us. It is a very special thing for us to be cared for in this way," Charboneau said.
The Roussels and Davises see the Christmas dinner as reflecting the biblical mandate to care for widows and orphans in James 1:27: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (ESV)." "The two dear women who inspired my husband are no longer with us but their lives are not forgotten," Amy Roussel said. "I believe the Holy Spirit touched my husband's heart to share in his unique way to provide a little light in these special lives. We hope this will inspire others to do even one small thing."
Beyond the Roussels' Christmastime ministry, First Baptist members are engaged in carrying their faith into the local community and beyond. Its members help in staffing Searcy's interdenominational Good Samaritan Center each December. The church provides toiletries and other necessities as well as a ham for each needy family. At the end of December, the church's youth gather at the center to clean up and organize for the next year.
In foster care ministry, several church families are either foster parents or have adopted foster children. Additionally, First Baptist provides a meeting place monthly during the school year for foster care training and childcare services. Church members also provide meals for foster families. In its missions outreach, First Baptist supports mission trips at home and abroad and contributes to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The church's women's group hosts "Lattes with Lottie" during the first week of December, learning about Lottie Moon while having lattes and raising money for the Christmas offering. First Baptist also contributes to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the Dixie Jackson Arkansas Missions Offering.
"When it comes to multi-generational ministries and global missions, the First Baptist Church family seeks to make a difference in the lives of people inside and outside the church," pastor Brian Whitney said. "I am grateful for the multiplicity of ministries this body involves themselves in for God's glory. Both at the Thanksgiving/Christmas season and all year long, this local church is loving each other, praying for the advancement of the Gospel, and serving each other in Jesus' name."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Smith is a freelance writer based in Brandon, FL.