"We started on a shoestring and look how God has grown it. We are investing in our kids because they are the future… And a lot of these kids won't have a homemade meal like this until next Wednesday."
Virginia Cloud, volunteer
Almost every Wednesday during the school year, a group of volunteers gather in the Fellowship Hall of First Baptist Church, Killeen, in a circle, hold hands and pray: "Watch over the teens that are coming to us today. Begin to open hearts and minds to you God for those who don't know you. For those who this is their first experience inside a church, God I pray it would be a memorable one so that they can know there is a place that loves them and accepts them for who they are. We pray that you'd help us move mountains in these students' lives and bring down barriers so we can share the Gospel. It's in Jesus' name we pray. Amen."
Five years ago, Matt Cornelius, youth pastor at FBC Killeen, and eight ladies started what has become known as "Freebie Wednesday." Cornelius confessed, "We moved our church location and at that time I began to feel God's pressure to find a way to impact the Ellison High School campus in a massive way."
After researching church and school law, Cornelius found a way to minister to these students: invite them to a free lunch at the church. Thirty-six students came to enjoy sloppy joes on their first day. Cornelius remarked, "Now we feed around 250 students every Wednesday with not only a hot meal, but also with the Gospel."
But while the ministry started with just a free meal, it has become much more: three of Killeen's high school campuses have started attending; a prayer ministry has begun where students submit requests and later during the week receive a letter, email or text from a church member who prayed for them; and many students with no other access to church have started to attend church youth events resulting in several professions of faith.
Many of the volunteers feel as if they have become surrogate grandmothers to these students. Virginia Cloud, a founding volunteer, said, "We don't push any of the children, but they have started inviting us to special events or award nights and even to their homes to meet their families."
Many of the students have started attending a Monday night Bible study at Cornelius' house or youth at the church on Wednesday or Sunday nights. In January, the church will be hosting their D-Now weekend and among their 12-14 homes, they hope to have at least two homes of Freebie Wednesday kids.
While I learned so much more witnessing a Freebie Wednesday, I believe no one can tell you more about the impact Freebie Wednesday has had on the community than the volunteers and students, themselves.
Matt, youth pastor at FBC Killeen
God has opened the doors of Ellison High School, the Career Center, and Pathways to get us recognized by the principals as a viable and much appreciated entity. We get new students each week and it is not uncommon for us to hear, "This is my first time in a church, what do I do?" But what amazes me the most is that God has taken this simple ministry and has brought countless teens into a relationship with Himself. This ministry is not only a blessing to the students but to the workers as well.
Ezequiel, an Ellison senior who wants to attend UNT to major in music
I became involved because of a friend. That was three years ago, but I stayed not only for the free food, but because they send us off with a blessing. It's different here. It's nice to see the "cool kids" change. When they get in the church building their behavior changes and their language changes. They are nice. Maybe that'll start becoming a habit.
Alyssa, an Ellison senior
This is such a positive environment. I love coming here so I can get away from all the negativity at school. It's nice to know that there are people here that will talk to us if we ever need them. I can't wait for D-Now weekend, so I can attend!
Kalin, a senior home school student who has been volunteering since August, 2014
Before I graduated, I wanted to help out. I like seeing so many teenagers coming here and get to plant the seed of the gospel. It's exciting to have that opportunity.
Margie, one of the founding volunteers and loved by all the students and volunteers
We have the best kids in town. The kids are always so appreciative and come back to thank us. A coach was here the other day and said, "These are the best kids I've ever saw." This is one of the best bunches to work with too.
Lysia, an Ellison senior who wishes to attend Temple College to become a dental hygienist
Sometimes I feel bad coming every Wednesday because I don't need the free food. I normally eat out the other days. But it's a good reminder to not take anything for granted.
Randy Wallace, pastor of FBC Killeen
Did you meet Logan? He was cutting up the brisket. He's my hero. He's a vet in our community, but he plans his whole week around Freebie Wednesday, just so he can come help.
Miles, teacher and coach at Ellison and member at FBC Killeen
I bring my daughter and some of her friends every Wednesday. I love the fellowship I get to have with these students. It's different than the type of fellowship I have with them in the classroom. And what can we do better than to get these kids in church?
Students as they walked by the servers to return to school
I am thankful for you every week.
Joseph, student at Ellison
We come for the free food. You never know what predicament someone is in. During the rest of the week, we struggle.