Compassionate Conservatives Looking to Rebrand and Expand Their Mission

By Dave Donaldson 4-06-2009

I've been asked to comment on churches that are more conservative, predominantly evangelical, and how they are coalescing around poverty reduction. A little background: Convoy of Hope is a pretty sizable network. We serve as the relief agency for the Assemblies of God, which totals 380,000 churches globally.

Jesus called upon us to care for the least of these. Admittedly, many of our evangelical churches have cared the least and now there is a sea change. I'm seeing compassionate conservatives like myself that are looking to rebrand and expand the pro-life image to not only protect the child in the womb but the child fighting to survive in the slums. We are seeing churches becoming what I am calling Wal-Mart churches, one stop shops where people can go to receive help spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Over the past 15 years since the inception of Convoy of Hope, we have watched this sector return to its roots of compassion.

We have now mobilized close to 20,000 churches, a constellation of churches and organizations, now 250,000 volunteers to reach out to close to 30 million people. From our citywide outreach to our relief efforts for disasters overseas I have been encouraged by young people who want to swim against the tide of consumption. Young people around the country have raised enough funds to purchase 15 refrigerated tractor trailers which we use to provide emergency relief, and I could give you example after example of the volunteerism that expands across our nation.

But because of the economic downturn, we are seeing new faces of people being pushed into poverty. An example: At RFK stadium where we had over 10,000 people for one of our citywide outreaches, a woman who was a volunteer at the previous outreach was there now as the one looking for help. We have seen between a 15 to 20 percent increase; many are working poor. People are arriving earlier, staying longer, and our job fair area alone just in the area of preparing resumes has grown as fast as the groceries area. And we are also seeing the positive side of corporate America becoming more and more involved. This is one of the greatest ways to leverage private funds for public dollars.

I have also been asked to comment on this current administration. We have been encouraged by what we are hearing from President Obama. During his campaign he said that change comes not from the top down but from the bottom up. Few are closer to the people than our churches, and we are grateful for the welcome mat that has been thrown out for even evangelical churches. We are hopeful that the budget will reflect that sentiment because as he knows as a community organizer, when the church is the same zip code as those in need, we can leverage private resources with public ones in order to provide a continuum of care. We have seen this partnership manifest itself in the states. Yesterday I was the chaplain of the day in the Pennsylvania State Senate. I met with many of the senators for Pennsylvania afterwards and they are looking for new models and ways to partner with the faith community.

Lastly, I just want to mention why Convoy of Hope is participating in this anti-poverty movement. We have been asked to do a lot of things by many people. But first of all, we support this effort because we support the leader. We believe in Jim Wallis. He is a genuine advocate for the poor. He is someone whom we believe has vision and integrity to rally the church and groups like those who are on the phone here, and he is someone whom I believe is going to make sure that we target achievable goals to combat poverty. And secondly, as compassionate conservatives, we are looking for venues and partnerships that will access what we are for instead of venues that are just anti-this and anti-that.

And let me conclude with a quote from a teacher whom I've met. She said, "I am told that all my kids need is education. But how can I teach a child when he is collapsing from his desk from hunger?"

portrait-dave-donaldsonDave Donaldson is co-founder of Convoy of Hope, an international compassion organization that specializes in disaster relief, local outreach events, and long-term empowerment programs. This post is adapted from remarks he made recently during a media conference call announcing the Mobilization to End Poverty. Click here to listen to audio of the call.

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