by Jim Killam | 7-minute read
Jim Rosene is president of Kids Around the World, a Rockford-based ministry that has impacted millions of children’s lives globally. We spoke with him in advance of First Free’s Million Reasons2Serv event on Sept. 12. Our church plans to pack 50,000 meals to help address the global food crisis.
How has OneMeal come to fit within the vision of Kids Around the World?
When most people think of Kids Around the World, they think of playgrounds. When you build more than a thousand playgrounds it’s something that people will gravitate to. But the heart of what we are is this: We want to see children’s lives transformed by coming to know Jesus. So we are much more of a discipleship ministry using playgrounds, as well as the OneMeal program, to build bridges to gather children together.
Several years back we knew there were a lot of people who wanted to be part of this. They wanted to do something. They saw the needs that were worldwide. They couldn’t afford airline travel or to stay in places, but what they could do was pack meals. So we started packing meals. Right now we are packing somewhere between six and seven million meals a year. And we have several key partners. We don’t just give it to anybody. We want to be sure they are taking those meals and serving them to children with the love of God, but more importantly creating that opportunity to be able to share the stories of Jesus with those children.
Where are these meals that First Free is packing going to go?
These meals are going to go to Uganda.
We’ve been working with Moses for about four years now. He is widely recognized within Uganda. The government has given him freedom to travel freely even though the country is all shut down (because of COVID-19). That’s because of his heart for people in the distribution of food.
What is the setting where these meals will end up?
Poor and impoverished areas. It could go into the refugee camps themselves. And the refugee camps in Africa don’t look like the ones in Europe or the Middle East where you see tents all lined up in nice neat rows. These are little stick buildings made of thatch, people scattered here and there, just trying to get some kind of a roof over their heads.
The meals will also go to the churches that do outreach to the poor. So they are widely distributed, but Moses has pretty good control over where they go.
I haven’t read as much lately about the global food crisis as I was seeing last spring. Is it just off Americans’ radar right now?
It has been off of our radar for a long time. The needs are huge. The swarms of locusts are beginning to make their way from Africa further into the Middle East. They devour the same amount of food that 35,000 people eat in one day. Amidst the drought and COVID, it’s a terrible situation.
You guys are coordinating efforts to raise funds and pack meals, so there is the tangible objective. But what are you seeing taking place in churches and communities participating in this?
It’s been incredible. Last March, when word of the virus broke out, we had to shut down large groups — and most of our food packing was always done in very large groups, with hundreds of people gathered together. We couldn’t do that anymore. So our team got together and thought, How do we do this?
A family came to our staff in California and said, “We want to do something. Can we pack some food at home?” And it just took that idea to ignite something really exciting. Our Serve at Home program has really been a highlight for a lot of churches. It not only gives families the opportunity to pack food at home with their children, but they can invite the neighborhood in and still do the whole social distancing thing. We have heard of cul-de-sac packings.
My son did this with his family right in the middle of their driveway, and people were walking by saying, “What are you doing?” It just creates the conversation that most Christians want to be able to have with their neighbors.
Since we started this project, we have packed close to 700,000 meals. We’ve done a couple of projects lately in the area. We worked with Stateline Church with some meals for Ecuador. We worked with Redeemer Church (formerly Harvest Bible Chapel) – they did 70,000 meals, all in small groups. First Free is next on the list. We are so excited about it. It’s wonderful.
It’s hard to wrap our minds around packing 50,000 meals. How does the process work?
The rice, the lentils and everything all go through a funnel into a bag. That bag holds six meals. Those bags are then packed into a box that holds 36 bags, or 216 meals.
So, pulling out my calculator here, that’s 232 boxes we’ll be packing to reach 50,000 meals. Do they all get shipped right away?
Our goal is that we will always have food in the warehouse in Uganda. You don’t want too much food in there. You want just enough. So we will stagger the shipments every two months to get things over to him.
It will probably take us a year to ship it all. A full container of meals would be about 270,000 meals. So that would be four full containers if we get the million. We have had other groups working on it also, so we are already shipping some. In fact, there is a container leaving for Uganda this week. Some playgrounds as well as some food.
Typically there is red tape when shipping materials internationally. How are you able to cut through that?
Well, with a lot of prayer. There is a lot of red tape. The key people are the ones who are over there. They are the ones that have to carry it through. Food is a higher-taxed item as well.
It’s still about the greater need. There still are children who are starving, and we need to do all we can do to help them. So we go through the red tape. We ship over 50 40-foot containers every year out of Rockford. Which is a lot of meals and a lot of playgrounds going all over. So our guys are used to the red tape. We are grateful to God that we win more than we lose.
Where does the food come from?
The rice comes from Arkansas. The lentils come from somewhere else in the Midwest. The vitamins come from a company that partners with us in Dallas. Everything comes to Rockford and we disperse it.
Last weekend we did an event out in Pennsylvania. So everything came into Rockford. We sorted it all out, then trucked it to Pennsylvania. We did the packing event there — we sent a couple of staff out there because it was a large event, a church that’s been working with us for years. Then it gets sent back here, and we add a few more playgrounds into it, and that’s what’s leaving this week to go to Uganda. So it’s quite a task.
You mentioned the vitamins. That the powder called Phytoblend, right?
That’s an interesting story. Some of our staff were in South Africa and Mannatech, Inc. — that’s the group that donates this to us — they have some distribution points in South Africa. Somebody said to them, “You guys ought to meet up with Kids Around the World. They do great work.” So we met them in South Africa. It’s a secular company, but the guys who run it are all believers. And they love working with us. So they provide to us free the vitamins and mineral packets. Because they know we are taking it and sharing Jesus with it.
We are directly partnering with their foundation, M5M. They needed a distribution point for their vitamins, and they chose Kids Around the World. It comes out to millions of meals every year.
It must blow your minds to look back 20 or 30 years and then realize how God is using this organization today. It must be such a blessing to think about all that.
It really is. I remember the first time I talked with Denny Johnson, and he had this crazy idea about building playgrounds. And he said, “You ought to join in with us.” I remember meeting with John Crocker (First Free senior pastor at the time) about that and he said, “I think it would be something good for you to do.” Just to volunteer.
Little did I realize what that all meant. What a journey it’s been. (My wife) Denise and I so many times have just sat back and thanked God for the opportunities we have had and continue to have. For the incredible staff that God has blessed us with. They are so gifted. The thousands and thousands of volunteers who have come alongside either to build a playground or to help us in training with KidStory or with OneMeal.
It’s just amazing. I thought we’d be doing a few playgrounds a year and I could be doing some training of Sunday school teachers. And now, the children directly impacted by our work are in the tens and twenties of millions.