FORT VALLEY -- When we started the Feed Center, we didnt really know what we were doing, we were just following the Lord, said Al Sanders, director and pastor of the Feed Center Outreach Ministries.
What Sanders started in the mid-2000s after retiring from the Air Force has become a collection of services and ministries that comprises a food pantry, a meal delivery program, substance abuse programs, job-seeking and leadership programs, a free medical clinic for the working poor, after-school mentoring programs and almost more partnerships and outreach ventures to reach people for Christ than you can count.
A year ago last March, the Feed Center also became a church.
We decided to become a church as well after one of our board members, Charles Bartlett, and I were praying, Sanders said. Our dilemma was that we were reaching people and meeting spiritual and material needs but it seemed they had no place to worship and be discipled. Many of the people we deal with arent your normal church people. We deal with gangs and pimps and prostitutes. They didnt feel comfortable in normal church settings. Mr. Bartlett said he believed we should have a place they -- and anyone else -- could come worship and grow in the Lord.
Sanders is a Fort Valley native and 1985 graduate of Peach County High School. When he retired in 2005, he and his wife, Chywana, and their three children were going to move to a home they purchased in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. They both had post-retirement jobs there.
Sanders said God had other plans.
I had given my life to the Lord in 2001, he said. In 2004 he spoke to me about coming back to Fort Valley. I said, If this is what you want me to do, I want somebody to tell me the same thing. In two hours, someone came and said I needed to go to Georgia. A year later we were in Fort Valley, homeless, trying to figure out what to do.
Sanders said the couple had previously bought a house in Fort Valley as an investment but it wasnt fixed up. He said God told him to start the Feed Center there and promised to provide. Soon, a group of Christians who knew about Sanders intentions came together and provided funds and labor to remodel the house and make it ready for ministry.
In the meantime, Sanders said he was hitting the streets talking to people about Jesus, a practice he continues. He said he often wears jerseys to help start conversations about sports that often lead to talking about Christ.
Our main focus has always been to reach those on the streets, Sanders said. During the early months it was me out talking to people or sitting at my desk with not a lot to do but get into the Bible and pray. Imagine me, somebody who stuttered and had a hard time talking to anybody before I met Jesus, out talking to people. I also started writing a lot of the programs we have today, some which have become model programs recognized by the state.
Sanders was encouraged by an area pastor to pursue further education as well. Hell soon be a graduate of Luther Rice University.
I heard a sermon by Andy King of Christ Chapel in Warner Robins who encouraged Christians to be investing in other peoples lives, Sanders said. I went up to him and challenged him to invest in me and weve met Wednesday mornings since then. Hes mentored me in leadership and my Christian life. He taught me my job is to love people and do what God says. Its had a huge impact on me and the work.
Sanders said God miraculously provided a home for his family, a church building and other houses to use for ministry purposes.
We have no big funding or resources other than God, he said. We dont worry about the money. God tells us what to do, we start doing it, and God provides. I hope people understand its important to just do what he says and trust him. The big thing though, is people. There are countless stories of how God has worked in peoples lives. We baptized 22 people last year and there are about 15 more this year. God cares about people.
Contact Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.