Salt & Light started the way most things do, as a small conversation among four local men who shared a passion for Christian ministry, and at the heart of their conversation was a very simple question: “How should we live out our faith?”
The four men (John Prince, Mike Roberts, Greg Pennington, and Nathan Montgomery) shared their stories, their insights, and what it meant to live out their Christian faith. They talked about the importance of turning personal faith into community action, and about areas of local need. They saw this as the model Christ gave us during his earthly ministry—to meet those in need right where they are, by ministering to their physical needs. They not only believed this provided the opportunity for sharing the message of the gospel, but also that it was what their faith demanded.
In Matthew 5, they found their mission: to be the salt of the earth and a light to the world. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.” ~Matthew 5:13-16
In January 2004, Salt & Light was born as an emergency food pantry and clothing closet, giving out free items to local families for the first time. In 2007, financial education classes and counseling also began being offered, and in 2012 the computer classroom was added. Until 2014, Salt & Light continued offering these services, and eventually grew to be Champaign County’s largest emergency food pantry, serving over 350 households each week.
As the ministry of Salt & Light grew over time, it became increasingly clear that the structure of programs and services that defined our first 10 years did not seem as effective as we would have hoped, either in communicating a message of dignity to those who received services, or in proving a catalyst for lasting change. As we continued to study, reflect, and pray about how to carry out our mission in a way that was consistent with our core values, books like Fikkert and Corbett’s “When Helping Hurts” and Lupton’s “Toxic Charity” helped us think more deeply about how we could better walk alongside the families and individuals we serve, without unintentionally creating a dynamic of shame, dependency, or entitlement. By October 2014, we were ready to make a complete change of direction, closing down our previous operations and relaunching the ministry of Salt & Light with our current programs.