A Place at the Table

With more than seven decades, and medical issues behind and ahead, you might think Don Deardorff has every reason to take it easy. But instead of striking up the violins, Don would rather spend his hours reaching out to the communities around his home in the Nampa/Caldwell, Idaho, area.

For years, Don and his wife, Linda, have been feeding the hungry with the help of church friends. And this year, with all of its challenges, is no different.

Don and Linda would insist the story surrounding this outreach is not so much about them as it is of the God who gives them an opportunity each week to serve their community. It's about the God who not very long ago led them into the Adventist Church through a juxtaposition of divine appointments.

We caught Don and Linda on a recent Monday with some friends making shepherd's pie — a batch, we might add, large enough to feed 100 people that evening. Every Monday is filled with menu and food preparation, all leading up to the main event in the evening.

Community Connections

This weekly repast is served in a spacious room at Nampa's Gateway Crossing apartment complex. For months Don had canvassed the area looking for an opportunity to help out where people were hungry. He checked with the city hall and the local parks and recreation department. They granted him limited permission to use several outdoor facilities or a local park for free. But he didn't like the prospects outside in the cold, with wet winter.

And that's when Don's persistence paid dividends. One of the city departments tipped him off to the Gateway Crossing facility. He visited the manager and found a listening ear where all was warm and dry. They agreed to open their doors to the project and its mission of helping people in that neighborhood.

And this relationship continues each Monday evening. Amanda Ausmus, site manager, says, "Don Deardorff and friends provide the greatest program — we just appreciate that we can host this kind of service. It gives people a chance to visit with new friends and feel normal, at least one night a week."

And what about Don and Linda? Well, they couldn't be happier. "What an honor to be able to do this for the community," Don says. "We've seen the hand of the Lord really move through the years we've done this. People have given their lives to Christ, and that's what it's all about."

DNA of Giving

The DNA of giving is deeply rooted in Don. He came from a poor family with a father who worked in the fields until he was almost 80 years old. But it was a Christian home that gave, even from its meager supply. "In spite of the hardships, I saw how God always moved to provide for us," says Don.

And so, on a Monday, the Deardorffs and their friends move about a kitchen full of edible blessings. God provides food through individual donors and other suppliers. The garage is lined with boxes of donated food supplies. The latest arrival is 50 pounds of rice. When each Monday rolls around, they scan what they have and develop a menu to fit. Sometimes the food combinations are creative, but they haven't yet missed a meal.

Don put word out on the Internet that they needed a freezer. A newly donated unit is now out in the garage packed full of donated goods, frozen hard as a rock, awaiting their sacrifice to the cause.

On Monday evenings, people start to gather around 6:15 at the center. They sit in this warm, welcoming environment, waiting for the meal, which begins at 7 p.m. Following the meal there is time for some Bible study. "Do the people stay for that?" you ask. Well, yes — you see, dessert is served AFTER the study, followed by more visiting. There are real community connections developing and some spiritual interests as well.

Don and Linda hope more of their church family will get involved in this project. "We want to get our youth pastor and some of the youth down to the center and train them in to this avenue of service," says Don. "We send our kids out to the mission fields, but right here at home there are so many needs."

Jim Berglund is the Deardorffs' pastor at the Caldwell Church. "There are always people in a community that make a difference," he says. "Don and Linda are two of those special people."

A Divine Appointment

The relationship between Jim, Don and Linda is the rest of this story. It's a bit of miracle really, since not too long ago the Deardorffs were integrally involved in a Pentecostal church. Don had even served there as an interim pastor.

But one day, while traveling, Don picked up a flier in a rest stop. It described the end times in a way that piqued his interest. He thought about it for months. Three years passed until he decided one day to call an Adventist church. He found what he thought was the Nampa Church number and dialed.

Instead, he reached the Caldwell Church, and Jim Berglund answered. You can call it a coincidence. Don calls it a divine appointment. Both had backgrounds in Pentecostalism. There was an immediate and strong connection. When Don asked why Jim had left the charismatic movement, he replied, "I was looking for the truth." And that is exactly what had led Don to make his initial call.

"It's amazing how God prepared things ahead of time for us to understand each other," says Jim. "He took truth and just absorbed it. He'd say, 'I can't believe the way I understood things before.'"

Don has appreciated Jim's willingness to share. "I've never had a pastor who was so eager to just sit down and share truth together out of the Word of God," he says.

An Adventist Family

The move into the Adventist Church hasn't been seamless. Adventists may raise their hands in a classroom but are less inclined to do so while in church. It's taken Don and Linda some time to adjust to their new, more reserved worship environment. But they have also inspired love and acceptance as they work together with their Adventist church family to discover what it truly means to worship in spirit and truth.

Don's son, Ray, who is not an Adventist, initially looked on with dismay, uncomfortable with what he saw as their journey into a sect. But even he acknowledges the good. "This is one of the first times they have had friends that didn't have agendas, who just want to help," he observes. "Pastor Jim will call and say 'I've got no agenda — just wanted to check to see how you're doing.'"

Don and Linda will tell you, beyond their love for the truth, that they have never before experienced such love and unity. They probably wouldn't acknowledge their own role in inspiring such an attitude. That atmosphere pervades their outreach work on Mondays and beyond.

The needs they meet each week are simple, yet great. One person wrote: "Thank you for the chance to sit down to eat with my whole family. We have only one chair at our own table."

Because Jesus has invited them to His feast, Don, Linda and their team are making sure the people of their community have a place at the table as well.

April 01, 2012 / Feature