A 3 a.m. wake-up call left no doubt in Jason Berry’s mind about God’s direction. The then senior pastor at Elim Baptist Church had earlier sensed a call to social ministry but wasn’t sure how or when to pursue it on a deeper level.
“And then I got a call from God at 3 a.m.,” he said. At that early-morning hour back in February 2012, Berry opened the Bible and read where it was recorded in Matthew 22:37-39, “Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“That was it,” Berry said. “I knew I had to share the promise of hope and it had to be the community’s mission for Christ.”
And so, after a month of prayer and fasting, Berry left his pastoral position at Elim and devoted his energies to developing Anoka Community Mission.
The first work of that mission was the relocation of Elim Christian Learning Center from the church building at 503 Polk St. to 440 Pierce St., Anoka (just a couple of blocks away), where it became Little Blessings of Anoka early childhood learning center.
Ron Danielson, an elder at the church, described that evolution.
“The Christian Learning Center had been at Elim for 40-45 years, but in the last 10-15 years there’s been a change in demographics at Elim,” he said. The church went through a transition to become an urban church and became quite a bit smaller, Danielson said.
As Berry began to develop a broader social ministry at Elim, the difficulty of managing a day care at the church and to see how that ministry fit in with Elim’s changing ministry focus became apparent.
“There was less passion among the church body,” Danielson said. “But Jason has a very, very deep passion for that and so we made an agreement with him to do that, to step away from Elim and to start the Anoka Community Mission and to operate that.”
And so, Little Blessings of Anoka began to take shape. With all the paperwork filed and requirements met, Little Blessings of Anoka became official on Oct. 1, 2013.
“Basically, we said ‘Here’s all the employees, all the equipment, everything you need. It’s yours,’” said Danielson. “Jason really had a passion to relocate the facility to a more accessible, more visible facility and he found it at 440 Pierce Street. They have our wholehearted blessing.”
Early childhood learning center director Stacy Baker made the transition from Elim Christian Learning Center to Little Blessings of Anoka.
“All the staff that was part of Elim Christian Learning Center moved over to Little Blessings. And all the families from Elim came to Little Blessings. It really went very smoothly,” Baker said.
And Berry put it this way, “Elim helped give birth to a Christ-centered social needs department.”
Little Blessings is the first of five social needs programs Berry hopes to develop with Anoka Community Mission.
Tuition for children enrolled in Little Blessings is about the same as home daycare costs and for families in need, a Starfish Fund has been established to assist with the fee payment for struggling families.
Samuel’s Closet is another social needs program currently in development by Anoka Community Mission.
“I’m still praying about the development of this ministry, but Samuel’s Closet would be where families could go for personal hygiene items, diapers, wipes, shampoo, soap – stuff like that,” Berry said.
The third social needs program Berry is developing with the mission is called a book store called Pages of Hope. There, gently used children’s and Christian books and DVDs would be offered.
Fourth, the Brick Depot would offer used Legos and other toys.
Finally, Berry hopes to develop Tables of Blessing, a community cafe serving hot nutritious meals to families on a pay-as-you’re-able basis.
“This has really been a step of faith and it’s been such a blessing to see God provide,” Berry said. “When God says, ‘Go’ you go. And he never fails to provide.”
Sue Austreng is at firstname.lastname@example.org