Doing festivals over the next eight years, the Palau Association discovered something more: American churches wanted a witness of service to go with verbal proclamation. Without service, the festival format seemed insufficiently serious, portraying a faith without sacrificial living. In Fort Lauderdale, local leaders focused on foster care. For a 2004 Minneapolis festival, a door-to-door food drive and medical outreach program were added. A Washington, D.C., festival featured an extensive cleanup of inner-city schools. In Houston, community impact teams in multiple neighborhoods launched service projects, many of which continue today.
In Portland, these lessons coalesced. Organizers hoped for 15,000 volunteers; they got 25,000. Six hundred churches oversubscribed food drives, public-school cleanup days, medical and dental clinics, and homeless service events.
Dennis Fuqua, a Palau staffer who also organizes prayer summits nationally for International Renewal Ministries, notes that in every city he knows, "God is stirring the church to serve." Just as God began to restore worship 20 years ago, Fuqua suggests, so today God is restoring service to the church.
Indeed, many Portland churches were already involved in service. But it was different doing it all together. "Portland being an anti-church culture," says Rick McKinley, pastor of Imago Dei, a well-known missional church, "Christians have felt that they have had to protect themselves. That posture creates a chasm."
Service bridged the chasm between city and church, and also between the churches. "If the mission is to build up the city of Portland," McKinley says, "I'm not competing with other churches. We need each other."
A Divine Coincidence
The cleanup of Roosevelt High School exemplifies those broken-down walls. The project began when Palau team members contacted Wilson W. Smith III, a Nike shoe designer who also leads worship at a large local church, SouthLake Foursquare. Smith invited another Nike employee, Michael Bergmann, to join him for a planning discussion. On the way to the meeting, Michael received a call from a friend, Rich Recker, who had recently been hired at Roosevelt to bring community support to the school. "Rich asked Michael, 'Can you help me?' " Smith remembers. It seemed like a divine coincidence that the call came on the way to a meeting of Christians looking for ways to help their city.
SouthLake Foursquare is an affluent suburban church 20 miles south of Roosevelt's depleted neighborhood. (Because many students are poor, the school serves three meals a day, and 79 percent of its students qualify for government services.) Kip Jacob, SouthLake's senior pastor, endorsed the idea that the church would take on cleaning up the school. It had just three weeks to organize the day. Missions and outreach director Kristine Summer found the most difficult task to be working within the school bureaucracy. Some school representatives were resistant to hundreds of church people invading their school. Summer said, "It took a lot of humility and patience to stick with it and say, 'We are going to follow their policy.' "