Pastor Albert Tate, Fellowship Monrovia, Monrovia, California
Pastor Albert Tate, front right, visits a child development center in Kenya.
Pastor Albert never leaves his congregation doubting just how important it is to help the poor.
“It’s who we are, it’s what we do, and it’s in our job description as a church,” he says. “We don’t get a chance to opt in and opt out.”
The conviction behind that message deepened when Albert traveled to Kenya not long after starting Fellowship Monrovia in January 2012. In one Kenyan community, Albert witnessed families scavenging in landfills.
“Kids were climbing on that heap of trash looking for food and looking for nourishment,” Albert remembers. “And one of our [trip] leaders … said these kids that are there now saw their fathers there, and those fathers saw their fathers there. So there was this generational poverty that’s been passed down. When we drove by it, there were grandparents digging for trash. That image blew me away.”
But he didn’t have to travel far to see some hope. “Just a few hundred feet away from there, you drive in and there’s a church there. Compassion International has partnered with them, and they’ve been able to build space for a classroom, for education. … I was able to see what my monthly donation would do to make sure kids weren’t on that pile of trash and make sure they would break the cycle of poverty for the next generation.”
After seeing the proof of Compassion’s effectiveness, Albert returned to Monrovia and hosted a Compassion Sunday that he called “A Miracle in Africa.” He spread out 250 child-information packets on the church stage and told his congregation he wanted every child sponsored by the end of the service. The church responded: All 250 Kenyan children found sponsors. “It blessed our church to be able to do such an amazing outreach for the kids in Kenya,” Albert says.
But Albert’s outreach hasn’t stopped in Kenya. His congregation has teamed up with Stadia, an organization that plants churches, with the goal of starting a church in every metro L.A. neighborhood. The congregation is also raising money to open a church and child development center in Ecuador through Stadia’s partnership with Compassion.
“The Word of God is all about people,” Albert says. “It’s not about projects, it’s not about programs. It’s about people meeting Jesus.”
Pastor Matt Keller, Next Level Church, Fort Myers, Florida
Pastor Matt Keller with his sponsored child in Guatemala.
As the lead pastor of a growing church with a young staff, Matt Keller has observed a change across the church world today.
“It is all about relationally connected ministry,” says Matt. “That’s why an issue like global poverty is hard to tackle. It feels big and faceless. But Compassion has figured out a way to hammer global poverty in a personal, one-on-one way.”
Matt and his family began sponsoring a Compassion child about five years ago. “I was already a fan of the ministry. I loved the way it made missions real for my kids,” Matt says. “But after talking with a member of Compassion’s church team at a conference, I began considering what it would look like to engage my entire church family with Compassion.”
Next Level Church already had a missions strategy in place. The church supported missionaries in Kenya and Guatemala, so Matt was interested in exploring those countries further by sponsoring Kenyan and Guatemalan children. “I’d rather our ministry be a mile deep and an inch wide than the other way around,” says Matt. “When Next Level attenders think of global poverty and the lost, I don’t want them to think it’s way out there … where they can’t see it. I want them to think of a community and a culture. I want it to feel personal.”
So Matt’s church members began sponsoring children. While they prayed for and wrote letters to their sponsored kids in Kenya and Guatemala, Matt knew that not everyone would have the capacity or resources to take an international missions trip. Yet based on his own experience, he knew how powerful a missions trip can be. So when Matt’s church had the opportunity to host the Compassion Experience in the church parking lot, he jumped at the chance.
The Compassion Experience is a mobile, interactive display that provides an up-close encounter with the sights and sounds of poverty through the perspective of a child. “It is as close to a real missions trip as you can get,” says Matt. “It is transformative. Yet I had no idea how it would grip my family. My mother is in her early 60s. She has had the opportunity to travel a lot. But she’s never been to the developing world, so she’s never been exposed to real poverty conditions. When my parents walked through the Compassion Experience, I honestly thought their reaction afterward would be congratulatory — that they’d be proud of the success of the event. Instead, I saw how personally impacted my parents had been. My mom and dad decided to sponsor a child from Central America at the end of the tour. This news made my year! I could see the heart change that had taken place, all because of a 20-minute walk through an immersive display that ended up transporting my parents to another world and bringing their hearts closer to what matters to God.”
Matt’s church sponsored almost 400 children through the Compassion Experience last October. “Seeing, hearing and feeling poverty has helped our church become more active in global missions,” he says. “Every month people send their support and write letters to their sponsored children, and their stake in the ministry gets personal all over again.”
Pastor Ken Burkey, Green Valley Community Church, Placerville, California
The Burkey family met some of their sponsored children on a visit to Burkina Faso.
Pastor Ken Burkey’s personal transformation on a visit to Mexico in 1994 has in turn affected thousands of other lives.
“It is a trip that changed me forever,” he says. During that trip to Mexico City, Ken and his church team worked with children living in both spiritual and physical poverty, he says. “First of all, in a city of 30 million people, the chaos, the poverty, the hurting, the sick were all around. It was very overwhelming to see the seas of people struggling to survive.”
The most heartbreaking scene unfolded when Ken’s team drove to a town constructed on a vast garbage dump. “It was as if we were on another planet,” Ken says. “The living were barely surviving, and many were dying of hunger as we tried to feed them. … None of the kids knew there was a world outside of the dump. There was no hope. It was not fair!”
That night, Ken wept in his hotel room. His internal struggle continued as he headed to a church service on the outskirts of the dump the next night. But Ken realized something as he worshiped God with the community there. “These people were truly grateful and content. And obviously it wasn’t because of their material possessions or their career dreams. It came from something so much deeper that I needed. They were living the words of Paul: I have learned to be content in all circumstances.
“I learned two things. One, contentment only comes from God and knowing that we are His children and nothing else. Two, I am responsible to use the material blessings of my life, not to try to find contentment — because it won’t work anyway — but use those material blessings to help and serve those in need.”
And that’s what Ken has done. It wasn’t an overnight change, but he says that over the next few years, “My broken heart began to mess with my conscience.” He wanted his entire church to change.
“Our values began to change, and rather than serving the poor being one of many things the church should be involved in, it became our number-one value, the foundation that we built everything else on.”
Ken found a way to channel that value when he heard about Compassion from Jim Copeland, who attends Green Valley Community Church. As a Compassion Advocate, Jim volunteers to raise awareness about kids living in poverty and about Compassion’s ministry. Ken was interested, but it wasn’t until Jim returned from a sponsor trip to Bolivia with such a passion for what he saw there that Ken was persuaded to act: “I knew then we needed to partner with Compassion.”
Since then, Ken has traveled to several countries to see how Compassion changes lives. He’s blogged about meeting his sponsored children in Haiti and Burkina Faso. And his advocacy for Compassion has inspired his church to sponsor about 1,500 children. He says that Green Valley congregants understand “that ending extreme poverty and serving the poor is not an event, a project or a trip, but a lifestyle where we’re simplifying our lives and changing our priorities to take care of the poor both locally and globally.”
That understanding, Ken says, “has changed the question of how we use our resources, from ‘What do I need to give to help the poor?’ to ‘What do I get to give to help the poor?’ and ‘How can I simplify my life so that others can live?’”