I am a pastor and I am the founder of a non-profit organization to alleviate poverty. Both of these roles flow from my convictions as a follower of Christ, and for that reason I thought launching an organization to fight poverty while maintaining my pastoral role would be an easy fit. I was wrong. I share my story so other pastors with a desire to engage issues of justice and compassion can better understand the challenges they may face.
Nine years ago, my wife and I planted Quest Church in Seattle—an urban, multicultural, and multigenerational church seeking to be (wait for the buzzword) a missional community. Quest has grown to include about 450 people, 13 staff (two full-time), and a popular neighborhood caf with direct trade espresso, tea, art, and live music.
From the beginning we have articulated the importance of justice and compassion at Quest Church. Rather than presenting them as peripheral to the gospel, we have made these issues central to our theology and ecclesiology. I have focused the church's culture around four themes: the human soul, community, justice and compassion, and global presence. These themes are repeated in meetings large and small and from the pulpit. Because of that intentionality, people began to respond.
Inspired by my people
Rich and Teresa, two members at Quest, developed a passion for the persecuted Karen people of Burma (Myanmar). They partnered with a local non-profit, and Quest has subsequently helped plant a church in the Seattle area for refugees from Burma.
Sarah, a 25-year-old from Quest, began spending her Friday nights walking the streets befriending prostitutes.
Several families, including Tim and Louise, have hosted refugee families in their homes.
Erica, Jeff, and Carrie are teachers from Quest who have chosen to serve in city schools where the majority of students are living in poverty.
I could tell many more stories.
My responsibility as the pastor at Quest has been to lead and inspire others toward compassion and justice, but God has used people like these to truly inspire me as well.
As pastors we can easily focus on preaching and teaching, spending our time on our laptops in coffee shops updating our blogs, and putting our energy into programs within the walls of our church. But seeing men and women at my church live out their convictions gave me the courage to do something more. They were a significant part of what inspired me to actually do something about poverty and not just talk about it.
Seeing is believing
Ours is an average family. Neither rich nor poor, we're simply a middle-class family privileged with opportunities many in the world do not have. I've always known about the disparities in the world—in fact, I had committed many of the facts to memory:
Approximately 2.7 billion people live on less than $2 per day.
Approximately 9.2 million children (25,000 each day) under the age of 5 die each year, mostly from preventable diseases.
2.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation, and about 900 million do not have access to clean water.
Nearly 11,500 people die every day from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
But it was traveling to impoverished places and seeing it with our own eyes that wrecked us. It wasn't just the overwhelming realities of extreme poverty, but also the hope and courage of people working to lift themselves out of it. We saw organizations doing amazing work, and the people there compelled us to get more involved.
Inspired by the example of people in our church, and touched by what we had seen overseas, we made the decision to donate our year's salary ($68,000) to the cause of fighting extreme global poverty. The process of simplifying, selling, and saving took over two years, and we finally fulfilled this commitment in 2009. But we didn't want to stop there. We also wanted to invite our family, friends, and the rest of the world to consider donating "one day's wages" as well. That was the start of One Day's Wages (ODW)—a movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.