The Real Underdogs
Matt Keller, Founding & Lead Pastor
NEXT LEVEL CHURCH, FORT MYERS, FLORIDA
Have you ever felt overwhelmed because it seemed the world was against you? Have you stalled out because the path ahead seemed too difficult? Or because the odds were gigantic and your chances for success were slim to none?
We’ve all felt like an underdog at some point in our lives.
Now imagine how you would feel if the odds really were stacked against you. What if you had to fight every day to meet your most basic needs? What if you were constantly surrounded by scenes of despair and hopelessness? And think about how helpless you’d feel if you weren’t allowed to have a voice amidst your situation.
Imagine being a child living in the developing world.
Children in poverty don’t know if the world is against them or simply doesn’t see them. Their daily road is one where food is scarce and so is good health. The threat of death and disease are ever-present, and the pursuit of education falls to the wayside for the pursuit of food and safe water.
These children are underdogs for reasons that are beyond their control. They are underdogs due to their birthplace.
I wrote God of the Underdogs to encourage those of us who feel we can’t win. The book looks into the lives of some of the most famous Bible heroes of all time and reveals their vulnerabilities. King David didn’t feel qualified enough. The apostle Paul felt his past was too bad. Moses was insecure. Jacob felt his reputation was too scarred.
As I poured into God of the Underdogs, my prayer was that every person who read it would know they are not alone. That there’s hope. That God is on our side and He has given us all the ability to overcome every excuse in our lives so we can fulfill His plan and impact the world.
But what about children in poverty who have lost their hope?
What about children who have never experienced the reassurance that there is a God who loves them, chose them and has a plan for them?
Building relationships with children through sponsorship
More than five years ago, my family decided to sponsor a child through Compassion. The fact that my family could help support and build a relationship with one child was the kicker for our decision. Each month, our contribution would help provide one child ¬– our child – with education, nutrition, healthcare, love and hope in Jesus. Because we were paired with this one child, we also had the opportunity to write letters and pray for him. In turn, he wrote letters back. We were actively discipling and building a true relationship with our boy.
Over time, I was able to see how comprehensive Compassion’s ministry to children in poverty really is. Today I can tell you: I believe Compassion is hands down the most thorough, life-giving, Gospel-centered missions organization on the planet. That’s a bold statement, but I believe it with all my heart.
The face of missions is changing across the church world. The new generation is all about serving relationally. More than ever, people want to see and feel connected to the ministries they invest in. So for Compassion to hammer something as big as global poverty in such a personal, one-on-one way is truly revolutionary. Yet they’ve been doing it for over 60 years. Remarkable.
Taking a deeper dive to serve the world’s underdogs
A few years ago I was teaching at a conference in Atlanta. After one of my sessions, I connected with Kevin Myers, a member of Compassion International’s church team. I was personally sold on Compassion through my own experience, but after my conversation with Kevin, I started thinking about what would happen if my church partnered in ministry with Compassion.
Next Level Church was already supporting missionaries in Guatemala and Kenya. So Kevin and I talked about layering Compassion on top of our existing strategy. Because I would rather our impact be a mile deep and an inch wide than the other way around when it comes to global ministry, we decided to continue pouring into Guatemala and Kenya by sponsoring children in those two countries.
We had great success with our first child sponsorship event. Soon after, people in our church were writing to their sponsored children and praying for them on a regular basis. I felt a change happening. There is an undeniable power that is unleashed when we as pastors encourage our body of believers to act in unison together for a Kingdom cause. I think the synergistic effect is undeniable.
Then last year we had an opportunity to host The Compassion Experience in our church parking lot. The Compassion Experience is a traveling, interactive display that allows people to see, hear and feel the realities of extreme poverty. People can walk through the immersive exhibit and experience a child’s journey from hardship to hope through sponsorship. Let me tell you, this rocked our people’s worlds and softened some hearts! In less than a week, our church sponsored nearly 400 additional children. That’s almost 400 young underdogs who are now being provided with the care, support and spiritual encouragement they need to face the road ahead. God willing, these children could literally change their family trees – and impact the trajectory of their lineages – for Christ.
Whenever there are people in trouble, God’s answer is always to find a leader.
As pastors, we believe to our core that the church is the hope of the world. That’s why I’m completely sold on a key component of Compassion’s ministry strategy. When it comes to serving children and their families in some of the most difficult regions of the world, Compassion only works through, and in partnership with, indigenous evangelical churches.
I LOVE THIS.
Not only does it build these local churches by infusing them with resources, support and guidance so they may shine brighter in their own communities. Not only does it protect the bigger ministry by working with nationals who know the nuances of their local culture and issues.
This strategy gives the local church all the credit.
When children and families are restored to health, and they have the opportunity to experience and understand the hope of Jesus, people notice. They can rightfully attribute this positive change to the local church serving her people as only she can. Working exclusively through local churches in villages, towns and cities around the world means the church – the bride of Christ – wins. Is there anything better than that?
We all can do mighty things for God.
Sometimes we’re called to lead the charge and sometimes we’re called up as soldiers, doing our part for the greater good. And yet we are all just average underdogs.
As you face your own personal challenges, and strive to push past your own trials, my hope is you will consider what might happen if you encourage your church to invest in lifting up young underdogs on the other side of the world.
It may just be that by courageously picking up a child, God lifts you up, too.