By The Rev. Matt Titus, Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Newberry

It all started at a weekly discussion of life and ministry around coffee and cinnamon buns. A few local pastors in the Heartland Conference thought it would be a great idea to bring their congregations together in fun and service for those in need.

These pastors – Rev. James Henricks, Rev. Jason Schafer, and Rev. Matthew Titus – wanted to bring their congregations together to help raise funds and food for a local charity that serves many families in need within their communities; The Manna House. Like many wonderful ministries, there is a great need from The Manna House in order for them to better serve those who seek relief through them. In order for The Manna House to offer relief to families and individuals who were hungry, they need continued support from others.

These pastors knew they wanted to help The Manna House and desired to bring their congregations together in a fun way to achieve that goal. The congregations that they served had a plethora of athletic skill from their high school and more seasoned members – especially in basketball.

The decision forward was easy – host a friendly basketball tournament between their churches and invite others in the Conference to be a part of it. Two other churches took up the call to join and the First Annual Heartland Conference Basketball Tournament was ready to begin.

Teams from Mount Pilgrim, St. Luke, St. Paul, Summer Memorial, and the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer prepared and practiced in the weeks leading up to the friendly tournament on March 11. Even the pastors got in on the action, though they were considerably less gifted in the basketball department than those who they are called to serve.

Teams and supporters arrived at Redeemer’s Family Life Center in the early afternoon of March 11, 2018. With joyous conversation, cheering, and the waft of popcorn in the air, church teams began playing a simple game of ball and hoop.

Each person that came to play or support was asked to donate either a food item or contribute financially to The Manna House. After the totals were collected and counted, the Heartland Conference Basketball Tournament raised $310 and over 100 items of food – loaves of bread, flour, sugar, and numerous canned and boxed food items were donated as well.

In the end, the team that ended up victorious in this tournament was St. Paul Lutheran of Pomaria as they defeated The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer of Newberry in a game that pitted the two undefeated teams in the tournament. St. Paul’s speed and perimeter shooting were too much for Redeemer’s inside game. But, the real winners in this tournament were those who are a part of the Kingdom of God – everyone.

Fun. Fellowship. Serving those in need. Whether you played, whether you watched, whether you donated, whether you will receive this food – you were and are a ‘winner’ in God’s eyes.

The swish of the net as a ball passes through, the cheers in the crowd, and the sweet smell of popcorn may be over for this year, but the call to help those in need through ourselves and local ministries in our communities is one that continues onward.

The Manna House in Newberry continues to be in need of donations of food items, money, and volunteers throughout the year. You are invited to give what you are able to The Manna House or your community’s local food pantry.

The need and call to serve those around us continues each day. We are invited and welcomed into that service wherever we find ourselves.

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