Our leadership team was stuck—severely so. As pastors and elders, we’d worked tirelessly to secure the capital, confirm the plans, and build the building we longed for, but now that it was here, how would we keep those 1,500 new seats filled? If we focused on depth, discipling those already in our church, many seats would remain empty. But if we focused on outreach, how would our current people grow? We had to choose one strategy or another, it seemed. Debt loomed large in our collective consciences, and consensus was nowhere to be found.
This all happened more than a decade ago, and yet I remember clearly that the disagreement quickly became a personal one for me. Eventually, Beaverton’s leadership team fractured, causing some pastors—as well as many congregants—to leave the church. The remaining elders and leaders asked me to step in as executive pastor, to help the church navigate what had become choppy waters.
At the time, I had been in vocational ministry for more than 35 years. I’d seen my share of challenges. I’d also seen the opportunities those challenges tend to birth.
Climbing Out of Our Rut
I knew that we needed some outside, unbiased eyes on our organization, and so I engaged the services of a church-development foundation that could walk us through a strategic-planning process and help us climb out of our rut. A consultant was assigned to me, a woman name Chris who lived in nearby Portland and happened to be an executive pastor as well for another Christian church in town. As we met, I laid out the nature of our struggle—that we were making decent progress paying down our debt but were having trouble deciding how to fill those newly acquired seats. As we talked, it occurred to me that the things we needed, her church possessed, and the things that were big problems for her church—namely, the lack of a desirable suburban location and having adequate room for growth—weren’t even a blip on our screen.
We spoke briefly of the irony of our see-sawed situation, but I was hyper-focused on the challenges at hand. I blew past the discussion and moved on.
When God’s Plans Eclipse Our Own
Around this same time, a Beaverton member went with Compassion International to Bolivia, to see several of their child development centers (CDCs) there. She came back in awe. “Dan,” she said, “we’ve got to get involved down there.” One of Compassion’s partner organizations was offering opportunities for churches in the States to plant churches in the developing world, and for “a sum that was doable,” this member of our church was telling me, we could not only plant a local church in Cochabamba, but also come alongside that church to start a Compassion CDC. I remember looking at her with incredulity. Did she not understand the debt we’d yet to pay off? The leadership fracture we’d sustained? The thick fog we still were in? I thought we’d be better served focusing on healing our own brokenness and sorting out our pain here at home.
God had a different thought in mind.
Light in the Darkness
The clincher in the Bolivia deal was what the woman told me next: “An anonymous donor in our church will put up half, if we’ll raise the other half.”
Now, she had my attention. Maybe this was the right thing to do.
With that germ of an idea planted in my mind, I went down to Bolivia myself, also as part of a Compassion trip, and despite my having seen poverty the world over in my many years as a missions pastor, I was shocked by what I found. “Housing” consisted of tarps tied to beams serving as walls underneath a corrugated-metal roof. Children were shoeless, walking along streets paved with mud. People meandered around massive above-ground heaps of garbage, no longer noticing its wretched stench.
In all, more than 45 percent of the country lives well below the poverty line, but just as I was tempted to fall into a state of despair, our guide drove us to a CDC.
Contrast I Couldn’t Deny
Because of the 230 CDCs that Compassion has launched in Bolivia, more than 86,000 kids are helped each day. Those girls and boys come to those centers three days a week for four hours each day, where they are given a nutritious snack to eat, taught how to read and value the Word of God, exposed to service projects within their communities, engaged in sports, and, for the older kids in the program, invited into opportunities to pass on to younger children the training that they themselves have received. My point is, kids are thriving there. They are happy. They have clean shoes. Most importantly, they are connected to their life’s purpose, which centers on knowing and encountering the living God.
These things all happen in concert with surrounding churches, and to take in the symbiosis of that relationship was to breathe pure, clean air.
At one point, I was told we were headed to the home of a girl who received support from Compassion. Her name was Maria, I was told en route, and she was 15 years old. Soon, I was introduced to Maria, Maria’s mom, Maria’s three younger siblings … and then to Maria’s baby girl.
True to form in Bolivia still today, teenage girls too often become pregnant by a young man who then runs off, refusing to help raise the child. To see Maria with human eyes was to see a frightened and impoverished young woman, now a mother herself, desperate to survive.
The church had seen her with different eyes.
The church saw the possibilities in Maria’s situation, not the problems, and so, after seeing the strides that their community’s kids had made in the CDC, they turned to Compassion for help. Through Compassion’s program for moms and their babies, Maria was provided the resources she so desperately needed—a clear understanding of Jesus’ love for her, an education, food for her family to eat. For the first time, according to Maria, she and her baby had a future … and hope.
More than 86,000 walking, talking “possibilities”—and that was in the country of Bolivia, alone.
I walked away from Maria’s home that day thinking, “If God can use the local church in Bolivia to transform their community, then he can use our church to do that in Beaverton.”
Back at my hotel that evening, I tapped out an email to Chris: “You and I need to talk further about that ‘irony’ we discovered. I think God is up to something here …”
An Unexpected Union
It was shocking to no one that Beaverton’s elder team approved our half of the monies needed to plant the church in Bolivia and begin the CDC, a decision that quickly catalyzed members in our church to sponsor 200 children who were newly-registered in the CDC.
What was shocking is what God did after that. Like the Israelites who didn’t see the waters part until they mustered courage to set foot in the sea, once we’d taken a step of others-focused faithfulness, everything fell into place.
The consultant, Chris, and I got together as soon as I was stateside once again, within a matter of months, we’d drawn up a tentative plan, a plan for our two churches to merge.
A year later, in January 2017, a 60-year-old congregation that was experiencing massive growth and Beaverton, a 90-year-old congregation that was deep but not quite as wide, came together and said, “We do.” And their strong leadership team, passionate vision, and massive resource base coupled with our new facility, prime location, and strong global-outreach strategy made for quite the pair.
Knowing precisely where inspiration for such a shift had come from, our newly merged church began sending teams to Bolivia to serve the new church plant—a win-win … win, for all.
How Brokenness Gets Repaired
Recently I learned that another one of the CDCs in Bolivia—this one 300 miles west of Santa Cruz, where I’d been—is being retired. The fact was, so many fully discipled spiritual leaders had been raised up in that frontline church that Compassion was no longer needed for the program to continue. I couldn’t help but grin. The same scaffolding that Compassion had provided to that church, they had provided to my own. No, we’re not situated in a developing community—far from it, as you’d guess. But Compassion’s model of setting churches free to be all Jesus said they could be … seeing that approach in action had been utterly captivating to me.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served,” Mark 10:45 reminds us, “but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The lesson I’ll always associate with my involvement with Compassion is that it’s in serving God’s purposes in the world that we are put back together again.