VALDOSTA – Hot dogs are synonymous with summer.
Long associated with baseball games and summer celebrations, hotdogs are now, at least in this South Georgia town, quickly becoming associated with a United Methodist church, according to church officials in a statement.
At Bemiss United Methodist Church in Valdosta, the last Saturday of each month is “Hot Dogs and Jesus” day. From about 10:30 am until 1 pm, folks can drive up to the church and receive a free hot dog with all the fixings, snacks, drinks, prayer, encouraging conversation, and fellowship.
What almost began as a whim has turned into a full-fledged ministry. Since beginning “Hot Dogs and Jesus” in March, the church has had dozens of new visitors and a few have even decided to make UMC their home.
But it’s not all about visitors and new members, said the Rev. Jerry Hudson, pastor of Bemiss UMC. The congregation wanted to meet more people in the community and pray for their neighbors.
“We had been looking to do ministry outside the church, some sort of outreach beyond the church walls,” Hudson said. “We wanted to reach people face to face on a consistent basis to meet them and let them know we love them and are here for them.”
When he arrived at the church a little more than a year ago, Hudson found a congregation that was mostly older but still wanted to see the church grow and do new things.
“They wanted to see it alive and excited again,” he said of the Bemiss UMC members. “They like new ideas and new things and excitement. They like to see new people and they still had a lot of fire in them.”
After a new hot dog roller and bun warmer machine was found tucked away in the church, the ministry was launched. The church sits on a busy highway, and the idea was simple and inexpensive: cook hotdogs, offer them plus a few snacks and drinks for free, be friendly, and offer to pray with people.
The response was better than anyone expected, Hudson said.
“What has surprised us the most are the number of individuals and families who will pull through just to ask for prayer,” he said. “This has been a wonderful exercise in outreach and evangelism for our church, as our members are able to connect relationally with people in our community who we otherwise would never meet.”
Rudy Koop isn’t surprised so many drive up asking for prayers. He believes in the power of prayer and enjoys praying with people and for people. He’s had strangers share their worries, problems, and fears, and Koop prays with each one.
“God hears all prayers,” he said. “I let them know the power of prayer; it works wonders. They might not be answered today or tomorrow, but I believe all prayers are answered.”
Lorelei White, Bemiss UMC member and “Hot Dogs and Jesus” volunteer, who usually holds a sign that reads “Free Hot Dogs” or “Free Prayer,” quickly jumped on board to help.
She’s seen the ministry invigorate the congregation while serving the community.
“This has definitely helped and encourage our church to be more active in the community. I hope it will continue for as long as it can.”
“Hot Dogs and Jesus” is scheduled for 10:30 am-1 pm Saturday, July 30, Bemiss United Methodist Church, 4879 Bemiss Road. The event includes the giveaway of 200 backpacks, along with other school supplies this weekend, Hudson said. Health screens, free COVID-19 vaccinations, games and other activities will be offered. Officials from the fire department will be there, along with representatives from Valdosta Nissan who will be giving out supplies and other goodies, the pastor added.