A Close Shave

How God Used a Beard to Feed Hungry Children

By John Butler   (Photo by Frank Schulenburg)

I admire a long “Smith Brother’s Cough Drops beard” — the longer the better! As a computer technician in Dallas, I was required to have the corporate clean-shaved’ look. But my dream was to live so far back in the woods that a long beard wouldn’t be noticed. While backpacking we found a place called Big Cedar in southeastern Oklahoma that was not on most Oklahoma maps. It was perfect! It took nine years, but we finally moved to the beautiful scenic solitude of a little house in the woods. On moving day I started my beard. One month later, in a little church 30 miles north, I heard the gospel and was baptized into Christ. My life was forever changed; I was really born again. I committed myself to do whatever the Bible revealed that God wanted me to do.

As I studied, I was confronted by the verses in Matthew 25:31-46 when Jesus talks about dividing the sheep from the goats, particularly verses 44-46 when Jesus says:

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Yikes! I was doing absolutely nothing like that!

Clearly country living was not easy or a paradise for many of the people living around us. Cancer, injury, illness, surgery, death of a spouse, aging, fuel cost, unemployment, divorce, addictions, isolation, or simply financial desperation created lives that were devastatingly harsh. Some had to chose between paying for medicine, electricity and food. There was no organization to call for help. What could an ordinary man like me do?

The tiny hunting cabin next door was supposed to be for family visits. An idea was born; we could use the cabin as a starting place and pray for God to supply whatever he wanted us to do! Immediately God supplied a source of food so we named it Christ’s Food Center. We wanted to encourage relationships with the true and living God by using the Bible as a guide to obedience and to create an atmosphere free of shame or harassment that centered on God’s love. The operation had to be simple, so if there were no volunteers my wife and I could do all of the work. We set 3rd Saturday of the month as Family Food Day to provide groceries for the hungry, and in 2004 we began to be God’s servants.

As years passed, God kept providing and lives changed. One skinny lady, who was raising her daughter by picking up cans along the road, became healthy and then employed. In the heat of the summer a nurse with five children had knee surgery and couldn’t work during her recovery. They survived without electricity or running water by cooling the food God provided in a mountain stream and cooking on a campfire. A grandfather living on $400 a month Social Security found the strength to raise his two abandoned grandchildren. A man on hospice read a donated Bible and made his peace with his past and with God.

Computers were donated and high school dropouts enrolled in on-line classes and isolated seniors connected via Internet to their distant families. Clothes were donated and a returning teenage runaway went back to high school because she found jeans to wear for the first week of school. Fabric was donated and an unplanned baby came home to a cheerful nursery.

Children on the school lunch program needed food while their parents worked weekends, so individuals who loved kids made Food-4-Kids financially possible. One 8-year-old lined up the backpack food on his bed every Friday after school and decided when he would eat each item that weekend. His dad learned about God from the Bible activities included in the backpacks. One day at a time I traded quiet solitude for busy service. Families moved in and out of our valley. After nine years, we served 550 families groceries for 235,000 meals.

I thought I had given all I could, but in 2013 I found one more thing to offer to God. Christ’s Food Center was nominated to participate in Walmart’s Feeding America Campaign on Facebook. The odds were astronomically against a place located in the “middle of nowhere.” But since the grant was a unique opportunity, I prayed for guidance.  I decided to let it be known that I would shave my beard if Christ’s Food Center won a grant. Local imaginations were captivated by the idea. There were articles in the regional newspaper. Strangers in neighboring communities started asking friends to vote in order to make me have to shave.

At first it was intrusive to find so many people joking and talking about my beard. My embarrassment faded when others learned of Christ’s Food Center’s real mission, and there was an outpouring of love for hungry kids. People from all parts of the country worked diligently to gather votes. The last few minutes of the competition were both exciting and nerve-racking as the vote count — totaled live online — swung back and forth between five ministries vying for a winning place. At midnight April 30, 2013, there were 443,382 total votes cast for all the contestants. As a result, the top 60 agencies received grants of $20,000 each. The impossible happened! Christ’s Food Center placed 59th! Wow!

So I (gulp) shaved my beard for the kids. There is no reason on earth hundreds of people should care if I have facial hair, and yet God used my beard to accomplish His work. The grant created a summer program providing milk and essentials for low-income children in our school district and also expanded the existing backpack program this 2013-2014 school year.

The beard has grown back and the last of the grant funds were spent as school ended in May. I still love the beauty of the country, but Jesus is my example of how to live. He embraced the quiet solitude of prayer, then spent the majority of His time expressing God’s deep abiding compassion and love to people in a harsh world. I have learned God uses ordinary people like you and me — and simple things like a tiny cabin or a beard — with amazing results. He can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine if we are willing to obey Him. There is no happier way for anyone to live — in the city or in the country — with or without a beard.

For more information about Christ’s Food Center, go to christsfoodcenter.org, e-mail johnbutler@christsfoodcenter.org, visit us on Facebook, or write Christ’s Food Center at 60591 Cliff Lane, Hodgen, OK 74939.

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