A Little Goes A Long Way

I don’t play music or speak outside anymore.  Especially not at anything called a festival.  This is because the only reason I tour anymore is to release kids from poverty, to ask the audience to sponsor a child through Compassion International.  And, truth is, folks have a hard time paying attention to one guy with a guitar strumming and talking in the Summer heat…especially when there’s no shade…and there usually isn’t…and there’s funnel cake in the air.  If I can only play for Compassion’s kids ten times a month (we limit my schedule to that) then I choose to do the gigs held in ideal listening environments: air-conditioned churches and colleges mostly, sans sun and funnel cakes.

So, you understand, don’t you, why I said “no” to Joan when she asked me to come play and speak at her church’s festival at three in the afternoon in the middle of a dirt field at an “ag center” without shade trees?

Then my friend and booking guy Ben told me more about Joan and her church and I had to change my mind.  I had to meet this woman and her church.

Joan’s a member of Hilltop Assembly of God.  Actually, she’s the pastor’s wife.  A while back Joan got the idea to hold something she calls a “tea” – I have no idea what this is – to raise money for something missions related.  The missions group she had in mind didn’t work out and so she went looking for someone else to give to.  She called Compassion International and a guy named Mark from their church engagement division called her back.  By the end of that first conversation, Joan was convinced that what Compassion does is worth supporting.

Specifically, Joan wanted to partner with Compassion to take care of babies and their mothers through what’s called the Child Survival Program (CSP for short).  This is a program that meets the physical needs of unborn children and little bitty kids and the physical, social, economic and spiritual needs of their parents.

Joan and her church decided to sponsor an entire CSP project in Ethiopia serving dozens of families for $20,000 a year. They raised that money in all sorts of creative ways, enlisting the help of their entire church, and paid for last year’s CSP sponsorship with money left over. And they’re doing it again this year with the goal of not just sponsoring their project in future years but also giving “seed money” to other churches so they can multiply it and sponsor CSPs of their own through Compassion International.  This was Hiltop’s idea and not Compassion’s, by the way.  No one’s done this sort of thing before.

The festival was a fundraiser, sure, but so much more.  It was created to celebrate what Compassion International and this church are doing together, to create awareness about poverty, and to ask people in the community to become child sponsors.  A mock-up of an Ethiopian home complete with chickens and a dirt yard was constructed.  Vendors paid to sell their wares out of tents.  A former Compassion child from Uganda, now an adult, spoke to the crowd.  I played.  There were concessions and face painters and blow-up things for kids to jump in.  And I’ve never had better sound or better treatment in general at any festival.

The best part was meeting Joan and her team of volunteers.  Together they inspired me with their story and their stats (I love me some stats):

69 child sponsors are in the church

99 children are sponsored by them in 24 of Compassion’s 25 countries

12 child advocates in the church (people trained as volunteers to serve at Compassion events like my concerts)

About 40K raised for CSP so far (Joan, please correct me if I’m wrong on that number.  I didn’t write it down.)

Now, how large do you think Hilltop Assembly of God is?

On average, when I speak about Compassion International to a group of people, 15-20% will sponsor a child.  But that’s a little higher than normal.  On the lower end, recently, a church of about 40,000 sponsored just over 1,000 kids after their pastor did a great job talking about Compassion with them.  That’s 2.5%.  So, working backwards, with 99 kids sponsored by Hilltop, it would make sense to guess Hilltop is a church between 3,960 people (2.5%) and 495 (20%).  Following me?

But Hilltop Assembly of God has only 96 members and 200 people attending on Sunday morning (a lot of those are kids)!

That means that more than a third of those in attendance are sponsoring children through Compassion International.  And that’s not all they’re doing.  This church is also ministering to people in their own community and supporting missionaries around the world and caring for orphans in the third world as well.  This church isn’t only supporting Compassion’s children, but many others experiencing physical and spiritual need at home and around the world.  And everyone is involved in the efforts, creatively raising awareness and funds to care for people.

Take Emery, for instance.  I met Emery and her mom at the festival on Saturday and I caught some of her story on tape.  Here it is.

Meet Emery from Shaun Groves on Vimeo.

(Also available on Youtube)

I have never seen this percentage of generosity on behalf of Compassion International before.  And, according to Mark, neither has Compassion.  But we’d both like to see it again.  If you are a pastor or church leader and you would like your church to be involved with Compassion International, please go to Compassion’s page for church partners and learn more about how your congregation can doing something together to release children from poverty.  You might just change your own children for the better in the process.

Thanks Joan, your army of workers and Emery for the inspirational Saturday.