PROFILE: Newport Assembly of God Newport, Pennsylvania / Gary Bellis, pastor
Reaching a Community Through Compassion
by Christina Quick
Gary Bellis was a drug dealer and an addict when he walked into Newport Assembly of God in Newport, Pennsylvania, on Palm Sunday 1971. When he walked out, he was a born-again Christian. His wife, Mary, then his girlfriend, accepted Christ as Savior the same day.
Sensing God's call to ministry, Bellis enrolled in Bible school within months. Four years later, he was back at Newport Assembly of God as a member of the pastoral staff.
“It's the only church I've ever known,” says Bellis, who now serves as senior pastor.
Bellis says his personal experience compels him to reach out to others with Christ's grace and compassion.
“It's just my heart,” Bellis says. “There are so many people today in spiritual and economic poverty. We're determined to meet those needs and reach the community in any way we can. It's the center of everything we do.”
The church of 350, situated near the state's capital city of Harrisburg, operates a compassion ministry that serves more than 4,000 individuals. Since its founding in 1994, Bread of Life Outreach has distributed more than $122 million worth of food, medical supplies, and other products to the needy.
“We're not trying to be another social agency,” Bellis says. “We believe that if the gospel doesn't go with it, we've failed. Compassion is the point of contact that shows people we love and care about them.”
Members of the congregation adopt families and individuals through the outreach. They develop relationships with them, invite them into their homes for meals, and introduce them to Christ's love.
“Once they get to know them, they minister to them through acts of kindness,” Bellis says. “Along the way, God opens doors for sharing the gospel.”
The church has a 7,000-foot-warehouse stocked with groceries, household supplies, and other goods. Three days a week people in need are allowed to shop for free. Large-scale distributions of boxed items and frozen foods are held semimonthly.
The church also helps supply seven other churches with goods for their food pantries. In addition, it assists other community outreaches, such as the women's crisis shelter.
Plans are under way to open a satellite church in neighboring Thompsontown, Pennsylvania, where facilities, including a 300-seat auditorium, were recently donated to Newport Assembly. The second site will allow Bread of Life Outreach to expand into yet another community.
“Everything we do is compassion based,” Bellis says. “We aren't just providing meals for the body. We're reaching deeper — not to promote Newport Assembly but to promote and advance God's kingdom.”
CHRISTINA QUICK, freelance writer, Springfield, Missouri