Member churches in Rochester team up to serve neighbors and community.
What happens when hundreds of people decide to go on a mission trip—yet instead of going to a faraway country, they visit their own neighborhoods? That’s what churches and individuals decided to do in Rochester a number of years ago.
Calling it “CareFest: Showing the Love of Jesus,” Rochester churches went into their own backyards to serve the community in a multitude of ways. This summer will mark the eighth and final year for CareFest. Phase 1 took place in June and Phase 2 will occur July 19.
In June, 500 volunteers visited nearly 30 sites across the city to “clean, refurbish, [and] repair dozens of people-helping organizations and low-income residents’ homes,” according to the CareFest website. Those work sites included schools, a ranch, a college, a hospice and a dozen private homes.
The Rev. Larry Orth, care and community outreach pastor at Calvary Evangelical Free Church in Rochester (a member of Transform Minnesota) remembers the impetus that got the event started.
“I really was looking and praying for a project that could make a big impact,” he said. “A number of us local church pastors in Rochester had been meeting together weekly for probably a few years before that, praying just that God would do something significant in our city. A number of us were kind of getting restless saying, ‘How can we put shoe leather to our prayers?’”
They eventually did put shoe leather to their prayers in the form of CareFest.
In the seven years of the event, more than 500 work sites have been visited and 100,000 hours of labor have been contributed. More than 30 churches have been involved in the project and 5,000 people have committed themselves to working around the city.
In addition to reaching out in Jesus’ name to those who need a helping hand, Orth said the idea of churches working together speaks volumes to the community at large.
“The unbelieving world needs to see that we can get along,” he said. “We think of John 13 and Jesus saying, ‘By this, all men shall know that you are my disciples [by your love for one another].’ Working together really demonstrates that in a very clear, compelling way.”
The collaboration on the part of churches doesn’t just occur during CareFest, Orth noted, but as a result of the event, churches are becoming more willing to work together in other areas as well. That willingness to work together has given the church a more positive perception in the community.
“We’ve seen the whole tone of not only our church but others report the same thing … that there’s way more outreach activity,” Orth said. “But also I think there’s been a tone change in the city in terms of how they perceive the church. I think there’s a way more positive overall perception of the church. So when any believer shares the gospel with other people, I think there’s just more receptivity. Overall, the climate has improved. I think that’s very much attributable to God’s grace in this whole project.”
Phase 2 of the final CareFest in Rochester will take place July 19 with a packing event at Feed My Starving Children.
For additional information about CareFest, visit www.rochestercarefest.org.