Bringing home the message of practical ministry
10 February 2016
A new Salvation Army ministry is helping to alleviate poverty and disadvantage in Sydney’s inner-west.
Run by retired Salvation Army officers, Majors Hilton and Joyce Harmer OAM, the Wednesday morning drop-in food service is an extension of the weekly boarding-house food-delivery service that the Harmers started three years ago.
Earlier last year, health issues interrupted the Harmers' ministry and they handed over the Tuesday night food-delivery service to Dulwich Hill Salvationists Bruce and Kerrie Chapman. While recovering from surgery, Major Hilton wrestled with the concept of “slowing down” and asked God to reveal what he had in store for him next. The answer came in the form of a question.
“We had met people in the boarding houses,” explains Major Hilton, “and then they moved into private rented accommodation, but still struggled to put food on the table and no longer had access to the boarding-house food-delivery service.” There was always some food left over after the Tuesday night delivery ... but how could these people in need access it?
The resulting Wednesday morning drop-in service draws crowds of people to the Harmers' front lawn in Belmore each week. The atmosphere is warm and jovial, with gospel music playing, chairs set up and refreshments being served by 90-year-old neighbour and volunteer, Vera. Single parents with their kids, refugees, asylum seekers and the unemployed enjoy a hot drink and morning tea before helping themselves to lines and lines of boxes of food, toiletry items and donated clothing, toys and other goods.
“To bring 'strangers' to our front yard was a new thing for us, we have never done it before in our 53 years of ministry,” says Major Hilton. “But it seemed the only logical thing to do to meet a real need.”
Mother of two, Annie*, was told about the Harmers’ ministry after attending Dulwich Hill Salvation Army’s Mainly Music program. As a single parent who escaped an abusive relationship a few years ago, she struggles to make ends meet.
“You can survive but then there’s little things, like, the kids have friends at school that have certain toys and I have to say, ‘well, we’re not buying toys until Christmas’.”
She says meeting Hilton and Joyce Harmer was an answer to prayer.
“A little while ago I sat down and prayed and said ‘God I’ve only got $2 in my purse and I need money to buy food.” Later that morning a friend from Dulwich Hill Salvation Army called to tell Annie about the Wednesday morning food service. She drove around to Major Harmers’ home, not sure what to expect.
“I came and he gave me a bunch of stuff [food] and a couple of gift cards … I literally had only $2 to feed my family and then you get an answer [to prayer] like that – it’s just really obvious!
“As a single mum I’ve seen so many miracles met, just in small ways.”
Major Hilton says his motivation to act comes from God, and cites Proverbs 3:27-28: Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them. If you can help your neighbour now, don’t say, “Come back tomorrow, and then I’ll help you.”
Despite his health scare, Major Hilton continues to respond to requests for assistance, whether it’s to source furniture and furnish the unit of a domestic violence victim who left with nothing, or to deliver groceries to those who can’t make it on a Wednesday.
“I got a 'call-out' to a women's refuge,” he says, never short of an inspiring story of the work of God in his ministry. “The need was to supply food to a mother and her four-year-old little girl. When I walked up the stairs with the fruit, veggies and groceries (provided by Oz Harvest) the little girl looked into the box, and then she looked at her mother and said: 'Mummy, I prayed to Jesus for an apple,’ and (pointing into the box) she said, ‘there are some apples in there!’
“It was within the power of my hand to deliver that apple to the little girl (some might even say in answer to her simple prayer.) What if I had said, ‘No, I am not going out at night, they can wait until tomorrow!’”
*Not her real name
By Lauren Martin