ST. GEORGE – These days, it’s easy to say “Thanksgiving” in terms of the holiday known for family gatherings and turkeys overflowing with stuffing without really thinking about the name or reflecting on the meaning. But search for the “meaning of thanksgiving” on Google and the first return is “the expression of gratitude, especially to God.” For one man who definitely started out down the wrong path, that type of thanks-giving is now expressed year-round through service to his community.
“Our gratitude manifests itself through our service to others, because gratitude that is not expressed in the service of other people’s lives is not gratitude that’s really impacted our own life,” said Rev. Jimi Kestin, co-founder of Solomon’s Porch Foursquare Fellowship in St. George.
In addition to holding worship services and weekly Bible studies, Solomon’s Porch has also become known for its Friday Food Pantry and Sunday Feast.
Every Friday, people gather at the church to unload a truck from the Utah Food Bank and fill boxes of food for others in need.
Following worship services on Sunday, a free lunch is prepared and served to any who wish to attend. The Sunday Feast not only supplies a meal to those less fortunate in the community but also provides the church with multiple opportunities to reach out to others and help raise them up.
Over 20,000 people in the community are fed annually through the Friday Food Pantry and Sunday Feast, Kestin said. Solomon’s Porch has been able to provide the meals thanks to volunteers and private donations and grants from the community.
Jesse Stocking, a member of the Solomon’s Porch since 2007, said he is grateful for the opportunities provided by the church to personally serve others, including his efforts helping with the food pantry or taking part in fundraisers.
“It provides a great service to me because it allows me an outlet to be of service, which is a big principle in my spiritual life,” Stocking said. “I have a lot of gratitude for what God has done in my life – he turned my life around – and what he has used to do that has been the service that Solomon’s Porch provides by being here and having their doors open.”
Kestin called Stocking one of the success stories that has come out of Solomon’s Porch being able to aid others who are down on their luck or in dire straights. However, Kestin said, while he and the church may be a means of help, and it is gratifying to see hearts changed and lives improved, the credit really goes to God. The church was just a conduit the Almighty works through, he said.
“That is a special kind of satisfaction that tells you that God is at work, that good things are happening through what he allows us to do here,” Kestin said.
Another man who has been benefited through contact with Solomon’s Porch is painter Gustave Alhadeff. Due to a run of bad luck, Alhadeff ended up in St. George living in his car and in a dark place emotionally.
“I was suicidal,” Alhadeff said, but he added that his interactions with Kestin and the church helped change that. “I am a Jew. I was blessed to be saved, literally saved. I was suicidal, I lived in my car, I had no money. He saved my life.”
Alhadeff, an impressionist painter, showed his gratitude to Kestin and the church through a series of vibrant paintings he donated that depict Christian scenes, such as a portrait of Jesus Christ and a depiction of the crucifixion.
Alhadeff was born in the Belgian Congo at the start of World War II and spent some time growing up in South Africa, he said. He also lived in Belgium and attended art school there. His paintings are in galleries in Europe and examples of his work can be found online.
Kestin said he had no idea Alhadeff was a painter until he showed him the work to be donated to the church.
“At first he didn’t believe me,” Alhadeff said. Now five of his paintings are displayed at the church.
Whereas Stocking’s gratitude is shown by taking advantage of the opportunities granted through the church, Alhadeff shows it through the stroke of a brush.
For Kestin, gratitude is expressed through sharing the good news and helping to point people to Christ, as was done for him.
“Gratitude may be one of the most important words we have in describing the change that developed in my life,” Kestin said.
Kestin’s life before becoming a Christian, as he described it, was a life full of the “abandonment of anything that would be considered moral.” That way of life persisted until it caught up with him at 30. It left him feeling empty and without greater purpose or value, he said.
“The emptiness of chasing after a hedonistic lifestyle, a lifestyle based on the acquisition of pleasure for pleasure’s sake, really became empty and fruitless, which it is,” Kestin said.
For the next eight years, Kestin embarked on a personal journey looking for meaning, but he still wasn’t to a point that he sought Christianity as the source of those answers. He said his hesitance to embrace the faith was due to the less-than-Christian examples of those who professed such association.
That all changed while at a Bible study with a group of bikers.
“I really couldn’t tell you how I got there,” Kestin said, “but in that Bible study the word of the Lord was presented to me in a way that actually broke through all of the resistance that I had, and I realized that the real meaning of life is to know God and to find out what his purpose for me was.”
As it turned out, Kestin said, a part of that purpose was to become a pastor. It wasn’t something he originally had on his list of life goals, but it was on God’s list for him, so he followed. That path ultimately led Kestin and his family to St. George, where they established Solomon’s Porch 11 years ago.
“I don’t have the words to tell you what an amazing blessing it has been,” Kestin said. “That’s how I define gratitude – when you find that place, when you find the trust you put in God was not misplaced.”
And now that gratitude extends to helping others know the same joy and gratitude he feels in helping others know God has a plan for them, Kestin said, all while helping others who may be down on their luck either physically, spiritually or both.
“Having gratitude is only one part of the equation,” Kestin said. “To really experience gratitude, we need to show that, and we need to do it through service by serving others, by reaching out and impacting other peoples’ lives when they are in need. … If our relationship with God is real, we can say it’s changed us, and we should be able to see it’s changed us.”
This story was originally published in St. George News’ Thanksgiving 2016 edition.
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