Lawton, Oklahoma is home to Fort Sill, a U.S. Army base serving 20,000 troops. This post is one of four Basic Combat Training locations, and it has played a significant role in every major American conflict since 1869. It also influences the dynamics of our church, Dayspring Community Church.
E Pluribus Unum — Out of Many, One
Our church draws people from all different denominational backgrounds and ethnicities. Embracing this kind of diversity means we do not all agree on every theological issue. Instead of allowing these disagreements to divide us, we desire to see them used to strengthen us. Unity does not mean agreement on all things. When it comes to areas of theology we seek unity in the essentials, liberty in the non-essentials and love in all beliefs.
Unity is important to us, so we are passionate about nurturing it. John 13:35 says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (NIV). At Dayspring, we want to be known by our love for each other within the church and for those in our city.
A major component of creating unity is having common experience and purpose. So within our church family we actively share the love of God with each other. Also, we seek to build unity with other churches and organizations who spread God’s love in and around Lawton.
The motivation for unity is to attract people to God. We want observers to notice, “There’s something about that church that we want! We want to know why they have so much love and compassion for others!”
Sponsorship as Common Experience
Compassion’s child sponsorship is one of the unique bonds that give our church unity. Sponsorship has been an intricate part of our church for the last 10 years, and it’s a shared experience that unites us despite our diversity.
There are roughly 50-75 sponsors scattered throughout our church. Our network of community groups is large, and when a new group launches it is often in a home. As people in these small groups look for points of connection, surprisingly it can center around Compassion. A child photo on a refrigerator is easy to spot, and it is often a conversation-starter: “Oh, you sponsor a kid in Burkina Faso? We sponsor a kid in Ecuador!” The conversation begins with a common experience. From there it’s just a little easier to connect on other topics because the ice was broken through a shared purpose with Compassion.
Recently I overheard a conversation between two sponsors. One person had sent a financial gift to their sponsored child and was amazed at the child’s thank you letter. The conversation quickly moved to the exchange rate of the dollar in a developing country and its tremendous purchase power for the gift recipient. The inevitable conclusion the two sponsors came to: Lord, thank you for what you’ve given us financially, and help us to steward it well.
Poverty as Shared Concern
Compassion International not only provides a rally point for unity within our church; the focus of children in poverty is a concern we share with other churches in Lawton. In this context we brought The Compassion Journey to Dayspring last summer. Our objective to display this experience might have been a little different than other hosts. While this encounter is primarily a family-friendly event that focuses on social injustice, we saw it as an opportunity to encourage unity in Lawton. Sadly, churches are often known by what they are against more than what they are for. We viewed The Compassion Journey as an opportunity to let the community know that we are a church that is for releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. This provided us with an open door to invite other churches and organizations in town to act upon our shared concern by engaging with Compassion.
The Set-Up Surprise
The Compassion Journey arrived in two large crates delivered to the church. Since our church has so many individuals who are familiar with Compassion, it was easy to get them to volunteer to set up the six learning stations. People bonded within teams as they shared the goal of preparing for guests. The set-up task was simple and not overwhelming, and soon people were laughing and enjoying each other through fellowship and excitement of the event. I sensed the prevailing thought: We’re doing something that really matters — something that’s bigger than us, individually, and even bigger than Dayspring! The surprise of set-up was the fun, relational unity rather than a prescriptive, tactical outcome.
The Mosaic Church
At the time we hosted The Compassion Journey, I was preaching a sermon series titled, The Mosaic Church. The series had a specific focus: Looking at the broken pieces that create a mosaic — a beautiful piece of art. The Church is made up of a lot of broken pieces — people who are burdened with life’s unfairness yet redeemed by Christ. We all come together to make a picture of Christ’s redemption.
To give practical application for each week’s sermon, I highlighted several “I” statements that demonstrate how individuals contribute to the mosaic: I serve. I pray. I love.
It “just so happened” that the focus of my sermon the week of The Compassion Journey was “I Care.” Unbeknownst to me, one of the learning stations of The Compassion Journey is called “I Care.” I shared with the church that this illustrates how God designed the pieces of the mosaic perfectly to align The Compassion Journey with my sermon. And in the process we saw a beautiful picture of sponsors and children coming together where financial, emotional and spiritual strengths are shared.
We often see sponsors contributing to the well-being of their sponsored children. But I also have firsthand knowledge that sponsored children breathe life into the lives of their sponsors who are weighed down by life. It’s another striking image of the mosaic church in action.
A Byproduct of Unity
Compassion helps us build unity at Dayspring Community Church. Our alliance with Compassion also positions our church as part of a foundation of unity with other churches in town. And in the process of welcoming participants through The Compassion Journey, lots of kids were released from poverty in Jesus’ name. What a great byproduct of unity!
As we are sensitive to God’s prompting, the Church in action becomes part of the beautiful mosaic God creates through his redeemed people. This is a picture of unity that can only be attributed to God’s grace.