Filling Each Other's Backpacks

Living Compass was in Kansas City, Missouri this past weekend presenting at a program sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Western MIssouri.  The program was hosted by a local Episcopal church, the Church of the Good Shepherd Church.  It is a wonderful church with a lively sense of the Spirit, a clear commitment to youth and adult education, and a strong commitment to outreach. One of the expressions of their commitment to outreach is their Backpack Shepherd program.  The program is as powerful as it is simple.  Each week parishioners shop for and pack food staples into 100 children's backpacks.  Each Friday the backpacks go to children in area public schools who have been chosen by the school's guidance counselors.  The children take the backpacks filled with food home to their families to help make sure that they and their families don't go hungry over the weekend.  On Monday, the children bring the backpacks back to school and the church members pick them up and restock them for the following Friday.  The volunteers who work so hard to make this ministry happen  week after week never meet the children or families who receive the backpacks full of food.  They do get many thank you notes from the families, but it was clear from my conversations with several of the volunteers that their greatest reward in doing this work is simply the joy and satisfaction that comes from addressing the hunger needs of a 100 children and their families.

I learned about the Backpack Shepherd program shortly before I was to give my presentation about how churches can best offer wellness programs to their members and to the larger community.  I decided to start my talk by raising up the Backpack Shepherd program as a great example of one particular kind of wellness program, and then I asked the people this question,  “In addition to those in your community who are physically hungry, what other hungers  do you sense in the people in your community?”  Participants offered their answer out loud in front of the whole group and offered responses addressing multiple areas of wellness, including spiritual, emotional, vocational, relational, and intellectual wellness. Here are the top responses:

  • Friendship
  • Connection
  • Compassion
  • Community
  • Purpose
  • Direction
  • Sabbath Time--people are going exhausted from their busyness
  • Fun
  • Relaxation

From this list of responses, I would say that the people of Kanas City are no different from the people in all our communities. When our children were little, I would often grab them and give them a huge bear hug.  I would hold them and tell them how much I love them.  When they were old enough to comment on what I was doing, I told them that I was, “filling up their love tank.”  I explained that just as a car needs gas in its tank to run, each of us needs love in our tank to run.  This was great fun for all of us!.  In line with reflecting about the great work of the Backpack Shepherd ministry, I could say I was filling my children's “backpacks”--not with physical food, but with emotional and spiritual food.  And of course my own backpack was getting filled at the same time.

We all know someone who's backpack needs filling right now.  Maybe they need a hug from us, or a word of encouragement.  Maybe they need a phone call from us, or a prayer.  Maybe they need a visit from us, or a hand written note.  Maybe they need us to offer to babysit, or to run an errand.  Maybe they need an invitation to join our group, or just a listening ear.  And just maybe, we need some these things ourselves.

In healthy relationships, healthy families, healthy workplaces, healthy organizations, and healthy congregations, people are filling each other's backpacks all of the time, while at the same time they are are giving what we all hunger for most: friendship, purpose, connection, fun, and community.

So thank you to the Backpack Shepherd ministry at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Kansas City for reminding us of the many simple, but powerful ways we can make a difference in each other's lives.