First Presbyterian Church
Serving Jesus is a common sermon topic. I point out examples in the Bible, we talk about it, and sometimes we do something that demonstrates we understand the point. But do we actually believe it as much as we say we do?
As I reflected, I had some clarity. First Pres is doing a great job serving Jesus locally. We have poverty in this town whose population hovers near 5,000. Our church serves in a local food pantry and a used clothing center; many of our congregants volunteer and support it financially. Every month we give bags of nutritious snacks to about 75 kids who are on free and reduced lunches at the public school. The church is a major influence in New Directions Youth Ministry and has a strong partnership with the school district. Yes—we are serving Jesus in Greenfield.
But when it comes to global missions, that’s another story. It’s challenging to have a global perspective when there are tremendous needs across the street. And without international connections, it’s even more difficult: Where to start? What to do? How do I adequately cast vision if my heart is in youth ministry right here in town?
And yet, I knew we needed global impact beyond the local ZIP code. The calling from Acts 1:8 and Matthew 28:18-20 loomed like a thick rain cloud.
New Directions Youth Ministry
For 16 years I have also been the director of New Directions Youth Ministry, a city-wide interdenominational program for kids third grade through high school. On average, New Directions has about 100 kids involved in various programs throughout the week. One of our weekly high school programs happens during the lunch period on the high school campus.
The mission is to love and accept youth where they are—to share the gospel of Christ and then to nurture and equip them to grow in their faith. Most of these kids come from unchurched homes, so we are their first exposure to the gospel. The exciting work is that these kids are blank slates for spiritual issues: Who is Jesus? What is the Bible? Who is God? Why should I trust him? It’s fulfilling to watch these kids begin to understand God’s love for them.
At a certain point in their faith journey, these kids need a challenge to put their faith into action. They grow spiritually when they practice the biblical principles we teach. We needed something that would impact these kids to nurture kindness and compassion—qualities of Christ-followers.
The Journey to Kindness and Compassion
Earlier this year I was offered an interesting ministry opportunity—The Compassion Journey. Thinking this might be the impact we were looking for at First Pres and at New Directions, we said “Yes!” With a little planning and promotion, we embarked on this community-wide event.
Two large crates arrived at the New Directions facility and after a few hours we had set up six hands-on learning stations and a World Impact Center. Each station represented a reality for children growing up in extreme poverty in a developing country.
People came from 50 and 60 miles away to go through this experience. Throughout the week, 300+ people came to walk through The Compassion Journey: women’s groups, Bible studies, youth groups and Sunday School classes from other churches, and families—parents and children, and grandparents with grandkids.
My wife, Becky, and our three teenagers were among the first to go through. After 20 minutes, we came to the end, and we were stunned. My kids asserted we do something tangible to make a difference to help kids who live in poverty. We all agreed we should sponsor a child. But how to pick? There are so many needs. With help from the staff in the World Impact Center, we sponsored 8-year-old Jonalson from Haiti.
Every group at New Directions went through The Compassion Journey. As we debriefed, the most common moment of impact came when walking through a “home.” It had few markings of what we know a home to be, and most noticeable was the fact that there was no lock on the door. Our students remarked that the voices of scary men outside the “home” at night was unnerving, and the danger lurking out in the darkness was palpable.
I heard empathy and compassion.
New Directions sponsors Kenny, a 7-year-old in the Dominican Republic. The other week, a fourth grader came in one night with several dollar bills in his hand. He said, “I brought this specifically for Kenny.” We have a snack bar with teeth-rotting candy and soda, but this kid passed it all up and gave his money to Kenny.
I saw kindness and compassion.
We want our kids to see Kenny as their little brother who lives far away, and we’re trying to help him out. We write letters to him, and we pray for him. Kenny isn’t just a face on the screen—he’s a real, tangible kid living in poverty. And we are impacting his life in a tangible way.
Living Out Faith
My prayer for the kids at New Directions is that Kenny is an image they can’t shake when they go to school. And because they are connected to Kenny, their empathy, kindness and compassion are heightened. It spills out in the lunchroom when “our” fourth grader befriends the kid who is sitting by himself in need of a pal.
That’s living out Christ-like characteristics--kindness and compassion.
My prayer for the congregants at First Presbyterian Church is that a believed faith will be a lived faith. I envision parents leading their children on a spiritual journey where faith is practiced--not just in Greenfield, but around the world in Rwanda, Thailand, Bolivia or wherever their sponsored children live.
That’s living out faith—globally, generously, daily—that we read about in 1 Timothy 6:17-18.
Your church is invited to experience The Compassion Journey. Please let us know if you want to incorporate Compassion into your missions/discipleship efforts through The Compassion Journey. We welcome the opportunity to do ministry together.