In late 2017, Aroldo Velázquez, a member of the Memphis Central Church in Tennessee, helped deliver food to the homeless on the eve of Thanksgiving along with church members. As he delivered the food and watched the great need, he thought: “What happens to these people when it’s not Thanksgiving? Where and what do they eat?”
Statistics say there are more than 1,800 people in Memphis who don’t have a roof to sleep under, and a large number do so inside their cars as they have lost their homes. Handing out food only on special occasions made Aroldo feel bad, as this doesn’t solve the problem of hunger. Thus, three years ago, he and his family decided to start a family ministry of feeding people in need. Aroldo, and his wife, Fabiola, are not rich, but they set out to give everything they could. This plan wasn’t so straightforward. It was hard to decide how to organize a practical menu, easy to transport and serve, economical, and at the same time healthy.
Aroldo, who had never dabbled in the kitchen, created a fairly original burrito recipe: he spread mayonnaise on the tortillas, added beans and eggs, wrapped them in aluminum foil so he could heat them, and then serve them hot and wrapped. This way they wouldn’t need cutlery or plates. This menu was very successful among diners.
They started out carrying two dozen burritos. The amount soon rose to 75, and then to 120. This was the beginning of a three-year story during which, every Saturday, whether it rains, snows, or thunders, Aroldo, Fabiola, and sons Jason and Yazid go out to make this love work. Jason loves this job and not only gives out burritos, but prepares a devotional to share with the hopeless people, while Yazid distributes literature in English and Spanish.
In that environment, they found a man who was lying on the ground overcome by alcohol and drugs. They helped him, and the man became a faithful assistant for one year. Unfortunately, the man fell back into the web of vices, and again Aroldo and his family continued alone. At that time, a church brother joined the team. He worked with great enthusiasm. However, the church brother soon became ill with cancer and died.
Armando de León, pastor, seeing the faithfulness of Aroldo’s family in his ministry, spoke with the Conference, which decided to donate $330. Visiting the site of the outreach work, and observing the needs that exist in the marginal community group, Steve Ross, director of the Community Service Department, donated 700 blankets. This is how many people changed their coat of plastic bags and cardboard for the gift made with love last winter.
Among some of Aroldo’s experiences, he shared that in order to feed a greater number of people, he always gave one burrito per person. One day a man asked for three. When Aroldo tried to explain that the burritos had to be enough for all the people present, the man told him that he had two children who had not eaten for three days. Aroldo decided never again to question someone’s request. On very hot days he feels uneasy. He sometimes goes to the area accompanied by Cruz Ruiz, who, together with his family, have begun to collaborate in this ministry when they can, to bring water or fresh drinks. The need of these people is never erased from Aroldo’s mind.
I heard this story during a phone conversation with Aroldo. I knew that he also ministers in prisons, and I wrote about it, so I decided to call him to hear about this ministry. One of the things that most caught my attention when listening to this man of God, is how many times his voice broke when he spoke of the suffering he sees in the streets. Aroldo repeats numerous times how good God is to his family, and how much he blesses him in doing this ministry. The happiness of seeing his children highly involved, and seeing that these people gratefully receive the love that is brought to them is a blessing that makes his cup overflow.
Aroldo made it clear that he does not seek fame from sharing his outreach ministry. He didn’t call me; I heard about his ministry through de León, his pastor. “What I want is to encourage others to do the same,” Aroldo said humbly. He shared this experience with members at his former church in Guatemala. A friend was excited about his ministry. Helped by a group of people at the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, she prepared food with $1,000 that the church in Memphis sent to help. The neighborhood they went to is a deprived place in the mountains, which can only be accessed by foot. There, a large number of people benefited from the food. The woman worked until her last day, as she was plagued by an incurable disease and died a few weeks ago. She enjoyed the blessing of giving love until her last breath.
At the beginning of the pandemic period, Aroldo had to decide whether to put his family at risk and continue with the outreach ministry. As they thought about it, the verse from Matthew 16:25 echoed in their minds: “For everyone who wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” With masks, gloves, and the confidence that their lives are in the hands of God, the ministry now continues with the help of the CADENGO tortilla factory, which donates 120 tortillas per week.
Love your neighbor is a mandate. The entire Bible expresses in different ways that true religion is mercy and love of neighbor that come from the knowledge of God and His love for us.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Isaiah 58:6-7 NIV.
is the SURF customer service and accounts manager at the Southern Union in Peachtree Corners, Georgia.
Southern Union | August 2020