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This week we welcome Rev. Dr. Mia Chang to the blog. Mia Chang founded NextGen Church in 2008 and serves as its lead pastor. Rev. Mia was ordained as a pastor by the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey upon completing her studies at Alliance Theological Seminary in New York.  She obtained her doctorate in ministry studies at Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University in PA.  Rev. Mia is a board member of American Baptist Home Mission Societies, the Ecclesia Network and Spring In the Desert Ministry. Rev. Mia is a founder of Africa River of Life, an NGO that supports education in underserved areas of Africa.

The menu for tonight is meatloaf, collard greens, pasta with meat sauce, coconut rice, and Texas toast.  It is a delightful, colorful array of dishes prepared with pride and infused with love.  The aroma of food wafts irresistibly from the kitchen.  Our “chef” Minister Lorie, a nurse by trade and ministry leader, is preparing yet another fantastic feast.  Our dinner guests have arrived early and are eagerly waiting to dine together and catch up on the past week.  

As a church located in the leafy suburbs of West Windsor, New Jersey, we prayed that God would open opportunities for us to connect and worship with others beyond our immediate vicinity.  After a time of prayer and discernment, we were able to partner with a church in the Trenton, N. J. that also shared a vision to reach out to their local community.  

Thus began the Capital City Dinner Church in 2018 as a new way to extend the love of Jesus to our neighbors in the Capital of our state.  

The first and most important task of our two churches was to pray.  We walked out onto the streets and prayed that God would lead our next steps. These prayer walks opened our eyes and hearts to the concerns of the community including food insecurity, violence, and rising crime.  We clearly sensed that our neighbors longed for a safe and welcoming space to simply gather with family and friends over a meal.  

When the Dinner Church launched three years ago, guests of varying age, culture, and life experiences came to the table to break bread and share one another’s life stories.  Over time the Dinner Church started growing into its own community of faith.  When Covid-19 suddenly brought unexpected challenges to this young ministry, we prayed and devised other means of keeping our doors open.  As more families faced food insecurity and economic hardship, the Dinner Church provided take-out dinners that were prepared and bagged for pickup by our guests.  

We also procured groceries, paper products, and basic necessities to supplement supplies at home. When the days grew colder and nights longer, some in our team delivered the dinners and groceries to each family. In the warmer months of spring and summer, we set up tables outdoors for safe dining and welcomed neighbors passing by.  More than a few guests very kindly expressed their appreciation for our resilience and steadfastness throughout the pandemic. 

In late 2021, we reopened the Dinner Church for in-person, indoor dining. While some guests still prefer to take their dinners to go, some others have been consistently returning to the table to eat and fellowship face-to-face.    

Our time together as church and community is an expression of Christ’s love.  People with various struggles and in different stages of life journeys gather around the same table.  Some have started to open their hearts and share personal stories often filled with painful memories. But they also speak of triumphs and the hope and healing found in Christ Jesus.  

One evening, Harry spoke about his battle with drug addiction that led to a broken marriage and his eventual homelessness; but in that darkness, God met him and spoke to him.  Harry began a long road to recovery and renewal, and today he is no longer ashamed of the past, but rejoices in it and shares it openly as he and his journey testify to the power and love of Jesus.  

That same evening towards the conclusion of our time together, we all joined hands in a circle to pray for one another.  With social distancing the new norm, holding hands in prayer felt like a warm and tender gift from God.  

Our Dinner Church continues to slowly, steadily grow into the community that God invited us to build; a safe, welcoming place where the love of Jesus is shared through a delicious hot meal.  

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