GIVE: Mercy's Kitchen
by: Cari Canterbury
photos by: Tamara Jo Southard
The basis of Pastor Sheilah Rollins' personal life and the Mercy Today Ministries she serves is caring for others who may be considered spiritual outcasts.
“All I am doing is about the kingdom of God. It is not about my life,” she said. “It's one person who will say yes to the call of Jesus, to love and serve Him and the world, and to follow Him where he leads.”
Sheila incorporated the multi-outreach, non-profit Mercy Today Ministries in 1998. The ministry includes Mercy Church, and a mentor program for men and women newly released from prison, as well as those still behind bars. While serving the needs of the incarcerated, and homeless individuals of Fremont County, Rollins teaches that it is truly better to give than to receive. She gently challenges those around her to make giving an everyday habit.
It was during her 10 years as a correctional prison chaplain in several Cañon City, Pueblo, and Arkansas Valley facilities that Sheilah founded the Barnabas Fund. Its purpose was to allow inmates the opportunity to give toward world-wide missions.
“I told the inmates they needed to learn how to give,” she explained, because “they were inprison where they were receiving all their care and a place to live.” Inmates willingly gave their 35-cent pop machine tokens and withdrawal slips from their personal accounts toward the fund. In eight years, they donated an astonishing $20,000 to mission organizations in Bosnia, Africa, and Russia. The Barnabas Fund also assisted several other charity needs, such as helping hurricane victims relocated in Colorado, and a child in need of a kidney transplant.
The success of the Barnabas Fund has spurred Sheilah to extend the charity challenge to those who partake of the free Tuesday community lunches hosted by Mercy Today Ministries.
“I ask poor people who come in hungry, 'Can you give a penny? A nickel? Let's give and see what God will do.'” In its first month of collecting “Coins for Kids” in a red coffee can, the lunch kitchen raised $117 to help feed children in the Philippines who are searching for food in dumpsters. “I believe with all my heart God will provide thousands of dollars through this fund to feed starving children that live in the Philippine dump sites,” Sheilah said.
The Tuesday lunch originated in 2004 when she and other volunteers cooked and delivered hot lunches to hungry men and women in Cañon City's Veterans Park. When cold weather hit, the lunch was moved indoors and now serves approximately 70 people each week in the basement of Vineyard Christian Fellowship at 629 Harrison. Mercy Today also maintains an emergency food pantry for those in need.
Providing food of a spiritual nature for the outcasts of society is part of the energetic pastor's agenda. From 1986-1990, she single-handedly led a worship and Bible study group for about a dozen AIDS segregated inmates at Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility. They met in Colorado's one and only (former) gas chamber.“I never had any fear,” she recalled. “God took care of me.”
Working with the Department of Corrections has been a positive experience for Mercy Today Ministries. Sheilah noted, “We have great favor with the D.O.C. We are highly respected and treated with great kindness.”
The fruit of her endeavors has extended to the children born of incarcerated women. More than 100 newborns have been blessed by a program she was a part of organizing a decade ago. She remembers when her heart was deeply burdened for a pregnant inmate who was about to lose another child to the Department of Social Services. During this time, she learned about a group of Mennonites who were looking for a way to serve in the community.
“There were about ten babies born per year (to inmates) at that time and it was not always the best option, or not possible, for the children to go home,” Sheila said. Thus, the New Horizons ministry was created. Since then, dozens of children have been well cared for and loved by Mennonite families until they were able to be returned to their mothers. In some cases, the children have been adopted.
Although her involvement with the New Horizons ministry is limited due to her work in other areas, and many of the women and children do not even know her, Sheilah feels she knows them.
“In the Psalms it says, 'I will cause you to feast your eyes upon your inheritance.' I see these women out around town with the babies and I stop and say, 'Lord, I am feasting my eyes upon my inheritance.'”
Mercy Today Ministries has had a hand in helping people from every walk of life. From homeless newborns and societal outcasts, to men and women preparing for a fresh start outside prison walls, immeasurable lives have been enriched and blessed by one person who said “yes” to the call. Her inspiration and energy is seemingly endless.
“I have no intention of retiring. Ever.” Sheilah affirmed.