Winds of up to 60 miles per hour were blowing as Jan Marko and other Alliance Church of the Valley members in St. Croix Falls, Wis. prepared the evening meal for the community.
“We were thinking that our numbers would be down,” Jan says, but more than 140 people showed up for the meal that the church had been providing once a month since March 2010.
“The wind was blowing so hard all around us,” she recalls. Jan and the other volunteers didn’t know it at the time, but power lines in area and throughout a wide swath of the Midwest were snapping in the powerful storm. That night and the next day, 4,000 people in nearby St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn. would be without power, as would many in St. Croix Falls and other Wisconsin cities.
God will provide
Jan had been praying for a long time about what the church could do to help the community. “It was the time of the economic crash and people were without jobs, and I saw families in need at the school where I worked,” she says. She felt God prompting her to speak to the church’s elders about providing a free monthly meal. “They asked what it would cost,” she remembers. “And I told them what God had told me: It would cost nothing.”
“How will that work?” the elders had asked.
“Well, God is going to provide,” Jan told them. “I remember thinking, they must think this blonde is really out there. When I went home, I felt like Moses, thinking how in the world is this going to happen?”
About 50 people showed up at the first information meeting about the new venture, and the Open Arms community meal was launched. Church goers donated money for the monthly meals, and volunteers quickly joined greeting, cooking, set-up and take-down committees. Backpacks, coats, garden produce, blankets, groceries and more have been given along with the food. On the fourth Tuesday of every month, an average of 130 people now attend Open Arms.
“People with tears in their eyes have come up to the pastor and told him that if they didn’t have this, they would not have a meal that day,” Jan says. “God has provided. It’s amazing!”
God provided in a new way on that night in October, when the deepest low pressure system on record raged with fury over the Midwest, felling trees and ripping roofs off buildings. After the 140 guests finished their homemade meal and set off for home, Jan and the other volunteers closed up the church. They found their outside signs blown over. The lights were out in the nearby town of Dresser, three miles away. Lights were out in St. Croix Falls and at the nearby Wal-Mart on Highway 8.
Jan didn’t know it as she drove home that night, but the power was out at the pastor’s house, right next door to the church. And the other nearby house, the home of a church member, was dark, too. Jan didn’t think much about it until the pastor did a little research. The church, his home and the neighboring house are all served by the same power line.
There was no reason that the church lights should have been on when the others were off, he told Jan. Except that a greater power than the storm was at work.
“Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.” Isaiah 58:7-8 (New Living Translation)