At Douglasville Dinner Church, Jesus is Breaking the Hearts of His Servants and Healing Those of His Guests


(Douglasville First UMC's Dinner Church April 22, 2018. Photo by Johnny Cain)

Written by a Dinner Church Volunteer

There was a summer about 18 years ago when ‘I heard’ a pastor preach the Gospel for the first time. Over several weeks he preached about Saints and Servants like St. Francis, Dorothy Day, Henry Nouwen and Clarence Jordan. His preaching helped me see the gap between how Christ called us to live and how I was actually living. And like the rich young man Christ admonished, my heart sank because I realized being a Christian had an action set.

With the Gospel ringing in my ears, I knew I needed to do something. I went onto AOL with a dial-up modem and searched for volunteer opportunities. The first organization that called me back was Youth Villages at Inner Harbor. This is a facility for children who have been abused and neglected.  At a certain age, the trauma catches up with the children and they begin acting out so that they lose the privilege to stay in foster homes.  Youth Villages tries to help them.  In addition to therapists, they also have a mentoring program which I volunteered to join.  When I have a mentee match, I pick up a young man on Sunday morning and take him to breakfast, Sunday school, and Church. I stop at the drugstore and let the kid pick out a treat on the way back to campus. My role is to consistently show up and encourage the young men. 

Fast forward to fall of 2017. Pastor Heather Jallad, who has a heart for mission, started recruiting for a program called Dinner Church. The idea pitched was to go out into sore neighborhoods around town, invite guests to an abundant feast, and share with them a Jesus story and a message of hope. Heather said, ‘Volunteers simply show up share a meal with guests and talk to them about life.’  At some point when relationships are formed, guests will start talking about limitations. We then share our own limitations with our guests. Maybe, after hearing Jesus stories and messages of hope, guests will begin to talk about their spirituality.  Then we share with them our own stories of transformation. This is where healing happens. For some reason, without hesitation, I joined the team.

On April 21, the Douglasville Dinner Church team served its 4th dinner. After each event, I have reflected on my own abundance and the lack of abundance of our guests. I have also reflected on the love and nurture I received growing up and the lack of love and nurture, and frankly the abuse and neglect our guests likely grew up under. I have been shaken to the core. 

This past week, at the last minute, our musician called out sick. Someone printed out a half a dozen hymns.  After Heather shared a Jesus story and a message of hope, we were told to pick out a song to sing. You knew Amazing Grace was going to be first! Below is my journal entry for the following morning:

‘I encountered a Holy moment of grace at Dinner Church last night when Tammy Kone led the hymn sing along. Tammy has a beautiful voice that is Heavenly on its own. But what really caught my attention was the reaction of our dinner guests.

Next to me was a simple man who has lived by himself for the last 18 years in a single room apartment. I don’t know if he had ever sung a hymn before, but he mouthed the words and was totally captured by the moment.

Nearby a deputy sheriff wearing a 
bullet proof vest sang too.  His face was full of emotion.

Towards the 
back a lady stood up at her table to sing ‘How Great Thou Art.’

On the other side of the room, a female postal worker who had just gotten off work, looked as though this was the first time all week she had encountered something lovely.

In the middle of the room, some older women, one with a respirator mask, were reverently signing.

I saw God’s Holy hand touching people around the room with His sweet, loving, forgiving, healing and reconciling spirit. I will carry this Spirit with me and I’m certain others who participated will too.’

After more remembering, I could have added to my journal. Sitting on the other side of me was another man who showed up late. This was the third time I had met him. Each time, he has been inebriated and most of his talk has been hard to understand, a little loud, spoken at inappropriate times about the weather, racing and sitting on the porch drinking. But each time, through the grace of Jesus Christ, he has had at least a moment of clarity. The first time it was after Heather’s message. He looked at me and whispered that he prayed before going to sleep every night even though he didn’t deserve forgiveness. Then back to babble. The second time I met him it was the same, mostly loud and unintelligible. But then towards the end of the dinner, he looked over at me and said, ‘It takes Y'all a lot of work to do this dinner, and Y'all are good people.’ Last week, he was inebriated more if that is possible. He was louder and even less clear with his words. But as the hymn sing-along started, he stopped eating his food and cocked his head sideways. Like Peter who three times replied to Jesus when He asked him if he loved Him, the man said, ‘I didn’t expect that.’ I said, ‘You mean, Tammy’s beautiful voice,’ He said, ‘I didn’t expect that,’ I said, ‘You mean Tammy’s beautiful voice,’ He said, ‘I didn’t expect that.’ Then the moment of clarity was over.

And there was this. After the message of hope and before the hymns were sung, I asked the simple man on the other side of me how he kept busy. He said he was working to get his apartment cleaned up because his landlord was about to conduct the annual inspection. And he had a cat, he took care of. Then he added, ‘Since I can’t keep paid work, maybe I should start to do some volunteering.’

A few weeks back on the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I watched a short video clip of an interview he did shortly before his death. Dr. King said, ‘I’m all for people taking responsibility for themselves and picking themselves up by their bootstraps.’  ‘But, it’s a cruel jest, to ask a bootless man, to lift himself up by his bootstraps.”

There are broken, abused and bootless people all around us. More of Jesus and His Dinner Church is needed in our community, perhaps yours too? Feel free to reach out to Rev. Heather Jallad to learn more about our experience at