Forklifts cruise down the warehouse aisles, their distinctive sounds warning workers and visitors alike of their presence. Several women stand at waist-high tables, packing cartons with groceries as the temperature in the building rises to its typical, uncomfortable Florida high. In the office area, the phone never seems to stop ringing. All around people are in constant motion--a group from Virginia, here for the last several days to observe the operation, leaves as a half-dozen or so people arrive to shop at what appears to be a company store.
But this is no busy supermarket warehouse. This is "God's storehouse," headquarters for Harvest Time International (HTI), a food distribution ministry that helps alleviate hunger for hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. From this unassuming structure in an Orlando-area industrial park, a staff of 20, bolstered by the invaluable help of countless volunteers, oversees the ship-ping of tons of food, personal hygiene products, clothing and household goods to needy people in the United States and abroad.
It's also a far cry from the pickup truck John Murphy used to use to distribute food to the hungry. That was a mere seven years ago, when Murphy would preach and hand out food to vagrants in a crime-ridden, drug-infested park in a Washington, D.C., suburb. Little did he know then that the seed of compassion God had planted in his heart would blossom into a full-time ministry within a few short years.
But it did, though not without the struggles and lessons that often accompany God's work. At the start, Murphy, at the time a prominent builder, had to lose every last shred of dependence on man, including himself.
"When he first received the vision for this ministry, John was thinking his millions would accomplish it," says his wife, Mary. "But then the recession hit and depleted us of all our money." The couple lost their home and cars, and Murphy started a small house-painting business. Still, he did not lose sight of the vision.
In the meantime, the Murphys had become connected with the World Outreach Center near Orlando, which Benny Hinn pastored at the time. In 1994 a pastor on Hinn's staff called late one night to ask how soon the Murphys could relocate to Orlando. They left immediately and began distributing food locally from the church's parking lot.
In 1996 the Murphys moved the ministry to a 2,000-square-foot facility; their current warehouse provides 45,000 square feet of storage space. The ministry now distributes product throughout Central and South America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Asia.
The Murphys attribute that kind of growth to two factors: (1) God's favor; and (2) the networking relationships they have with dozens of similar ministries.
"We see Harvest Time as part of an end-time Joseph ministry that's helping to fulfill Isaiah 58, God's chosen fast, with the promise of walking in Psalm 37," Mary says in describing the mandate they believe God has given them. "When God called us into this, we began to meet people who had the same mandate from God.
"He began to show all of us that as we give product to the needy--product that we pray over before it goes out--an abiding, residual anointing would go with it. The presence of God would stay after we had left."
Among the many hunger relief organizations Harvest Time networks with are LeSEA Global Feed the Hungry, Food for the Poor and Storehouse Ministry. Through their relationship with Storehouse Ministry, located in the small town of Christmas, Florida, the first duty-free, national food bank was established last year in Honduras. The networking extended throughout Honduras, with some 600 churches--among the poorest in that country--coming together in the cooperative effort.
Domestically, Harvest Time's Community Assistance Program (CAP) helps about 2,000 central Florida families each week. Free food is distributed through 500 area ministries that feed the poor and hungry. In addition, Harvest Time operates a small store where shoppers--all of whom must be referred by churches or ministries and must show HTI identification cards--may buy groceries at a substantial discount.
That kind of networking is key to operating a food distribution program that will have maximum effect, John Murphy says, enabling a small ministry to operate as if it's a large one.
"The slogan I like to use is this: If those who gather much increase would share with those who gather little, there would be no lack."
As big as the current operation is, the Murphys' vision by no means ends with what their physical eyes see now. With eyes of faith they see the International Mission Center--a 100-acre campus featuring a 100,000-square-foot warehouse, a training center and dormitories for students who will be trained in relief ministry, a publishing house and recording studio, and much more. They also see additional trucks that will complement the 53-foot semi and 23-foot box truck HTI now owns.
Already, plans are in the works for the establishment of an air cargo company that will be used for free missions flights, a joint venture of relief organizations in the United States, Australia, England and Canada. The initial fleet of 32 planes will fly cargo for profit in order to fund the free flights, John Murphy says.
"We are compelled to do what we do," Mary Murphy told Ministry Today. "The energy we need to do all this comes from God. The work has to be done, and He enables us to do it."
Late last year, a report issued by the AD2000 & Beyond Movement criticized Christian relief ministries--including medical missions and disaster relief organizations--for failing to give the gospel along with physical assistance. But John Murphy sees relief work as a means toward successful evangelism.
"As we go out and love people--not just by telling them, but also by demonstrating the love and care of the Father--it destroys their defenses against the church," Murphy believes.
Murphy and others at HTI take the evangelistic nature of their work seriously, praying over every pallet of food that leaves the warehouse. With each shipment, they believe they are releasing the power of the Holy Spirit to "convince the world of sin, righteousness and judgment." And while Murphy agrees that the church can do plenty of good works and never touch people for eternity, that's not how he views the operation of HTI, which has seen its share of hardened hearts turn soft.
"A kind deed done in the name of Jesus causes that hard crust to be broken and cast down," he says. "What we're doing in this ministry is breaking up the fallow ground so the seed of God can be planted in the hearts of the people we serve."
STARTING A HUNGER RELIEF MINISTRY
So what can your church or organization learn from Harvest Time International? Here are the principles John Murphy suggests you follow as you establish a hunger relief program for your organization, assuming the group already has 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit.
Step 1. Become affiliated with a church to which you may direct the poor and hungry people you serve. "Networking with churches is one of the first things you should do, so you can direct people who are in need into pastoral care," he says.
Step 2. Find a building that is big enough not only to receive and store product, but also to process it for distribution.
Step 3. Contact local companies and national corporations to let them know what you are doing and ask if they will help. "Call first and ask who's in charge of donated products--for corporations, it's often the vice president of distribution; for local retailers, it's the shipping and receiving manager as well as the general manager," Murphy explains.
Step 4. Seek out local produce distributors that supply hospitals, restaurants and hotels. Often, orders are placed and then cancelled, to the benefit of your ministry.
Step 5. Maintain a big vision. Don't limit the Lord, but don't despise the day of small things. "Be open for God to expand your operation at any time," Murphy advises.
Murphy issues this caution when seeking product donations: Be clear about the volume your ministry is able to handle. Once you get a call indicating that food is available for pickup, you risk losing future donations if you have to refuse it--or worse, if you fail to get it at the designated time.
"This is where uniting with other ministries is important. If you know you cannot handle more than one truckload at a time, find other ministries that are also able to take product in bulk. When a corporation calls to tell you they have 10 truckloads and that's more than you can handle, pass the blessing on to the brother who can handle it."
Finally, Murphy reminds those in hunger relief ministry to never forget that God is their provision, a lesson he learned early on. Corporations and others that provide donations are a resource, he says, but God is the only true source.
"Any time we did what God told us to do, we received instant provision from Him," he recalls. "Every outreach needs to keep in mind that God is their source and that they need to be connected to a local church. We have to become family.
How to Get Involved
Several hunger relief ministries offer helpful resources for churches wanting to start a food distribution program.
If you want your church to get involved in a food distribution program--whether in your local area, elsewhere in the United States or in foreign countries--you can find the help you need from several national and international ministries. Here's an overview of three U.S.-based hunger relief organizations:
World Relief: This international relief arm of the National Association of Evangelicals emphasizes working through local churches, making it a good starting point for establishing a food distribution program in a particular congregation. The ministry offers a wealth of resources to help you get started, including videos, curriculum materials (for adults and children), special events highlighting the problem of hunger and customized project proposals. Contact the church relations staff at (630) 665-0235, or visit www.worldrelief.org and click on Church Relations to find a representative in your area of the country.
Feed the Hungry: Established in 1987 by Lester Sumrall, LeSEA Global Feed the Hungry also partners with local congregations, sending food, medical supplies and missions teams to Latin America aboard two ships that sail out of Jacksonville, Florida. Domestically the ministry, which also maintains 13 overseas offices, delivers truckloads of food to the poor and hungry across the United States, relying on local churches to help with distribution. An example of such partnering success is Bread of Life Church in Houston, which now feeds more than 9,000 people each month with the help of Feed the Hungry. For more information call (219) 291-3292 or visit www.feedthehungry.org.
Feed the Children: Here's another example of networking success. Feed the Children, founded by Larry Jones, distributes millions of pounds of food and supplies each year through 6,300 partner organizations, which in turn work with 50,000 local churches and groups that minister to the hungry. About 67 percent of the product is distributed domestically, with the rest sent to some 75 foreign countries. A ministry goal is to help families learn to stop relying on relief assistance by becoming productive and self-sufficient. Call (800) 627-4556 or visit www.christianity.com/feedthechildren for more information.
For further information on Harvest Time International--John and Mary Murphy's ministry--call (407) 328-9900 or write HTI, 131 Maritime Drive, Sanford, Florida 32771.
Marcia Ford is a freelance editor and writer who lives in DeBary, Florida. She is a former news editor for Ministry Today.