Bev’s story began in a small town in South Australia. Her mother ran a launderette and her father was a violent alcoholic with a hot temper. It eventually got to the stage where police intervention was necessary to protect Bev and her family. The police personally flew Bev, her mother and her little brother to Adelaide to get away from her father. They moved in with Bev’s grandparents, who ran a boarding house.
At the age of 10, Bev made two staunch resolutions. Firstly, she would never drink alcohol. She had already seen for herself the pain, heartbreak and irreparable damage that it could cause. Her second resolution was to give the world her love because she had never experienced love herself. Unlike fickle New Year’s Eve resolutions that are broken a few days later, she was determined to meet these goals.
I thought I had been a ‘good’ Seventh-day Adventist, but actually I was like the priest and Levite when they wanted nothing to do with the wounded traveller.
But how could she give her love to the world?
Many years later, on a rainy day in 1996, Bev and her husband John were in the city of Perth (WA). Bev noticed a group of homeless people taking shelter under trees in a nearby park.
“Let’s go home and make some soup for them,” she suggested.
John was speechless. He realised that Bev didn’t mean this to be a one-off activity. It wasn’t that he was opposed to service. Quite the contrary. They had fostered several children over the years and even adopted a three-and-a-half-week-old baby. They had been involved in their fair share of community work—Bev had even formed the first deaf signing choir.
But everything was different now. They were retired farmers. John had worked hard all his life. And he had no desire to start up a new mission now. He silently prayed that his wife would either come up with a different idea or that the council would refuse them permission to work with the homeless people.
“When I look back to 1996, I had been an Adventist for 42 years. I thought I had been a ‘good’ Seventh-day Adventist,” John says. “But actually I was like the priest and Levite when they wanted nothing to do with the wounded traveller.”
His attitude quickly changed once they began feeding the people in the park.
“Instead of this work being the last thing I want to do, it has become the first thing I do!” John declares. He and Bev formed a community organisation known as Manna Inc.
Today, Manna Inc has fed the homeless for more than 19 years and it’s one of the largest providers of meals for disadvantaged people in Perth. The organisation distributes more than 90,000 meals each year, including soup, a main course with a vegetarian option and dessert. More than 200 volunteers give up their time on a regular basis to prepare and distribute these meals.
But that’s not all Manna does.
In 2001, they discovered that many children in Perth were attending school each day without breakfast and this inspired their School Breakfast Program. It aims to provide a healthy and substantial meal for students five days a week for 40 weeks of the school year. In 2011, they also began a breakfast program for high school students. But it wasn’t just food that the students needed.
In 2008, Manna began providing winter school uniforms for students who couldn’t afford them. By winter of 2014, they had provided uniforms to children in 42 schools.
Manna has also been involved in several other projects such as Christmas lunches for seniors, providing meals for other charities and even running Manna training programs for other states and countries.
“All this and much more is only possible by God’s grace,” John says. “We have had many miracles, learnt many things and we are still learning. It has been a wonderful journey.”
Vania Chew is PR/editorial assistant for Adventist Record.