World Vision President Richard Stearns On Changing the World (And MyNameIsMission on Changing Allentown)

World Vision president Richard Stearns recently shared the following thoughts on the Huffington Post’s religion page:

“The kind of Christianity the world responds to is the authentic “love your neighbor” kind. Its appeal can’t be legislated through court battles and neither can courts stop its spread.

Dean Curry, senior pastor of Life Center Church in Tacoma, Wash., is a pastor who has made this change. He told me that a decade ago people would say to him, “You’re the church that has that neat Christmas pageant.” Like many churches, Life Center was also best known for what it opposed.

But that began to change after he made a trip to Lesotho, a small country in southern Africa in 2005. Dean had an encounter with suffering and an encounter with God. After witnessing the ravages of AIDS and the plight of orphans he had met one day, Dean lay in a bed in a grass-roofed hut weeping. He was overwhelmed by a problem that was so much bigger than anything his church could address.

“This is too big for our church,” he said. “We can’t just add this to our missions budget. How can I do this?” Dean believes that God gave him an answer that night. “You need to mobilize your city to care for these orphans.” The group returned to Tacoma with broken hearts and a determination to come together as a city to help this tiny country of Lesotho 10,000 miles away. The Global Neighbor project was born.

Today, now seven years later, more than 5,000 people have become involved in one way or another. The mayor, public schools, Rotary Clubs, other churches, small businesses, judges, the head of the humane society, the Jewish community and some of the local policemen: They are all transforming lives half a world away. Pastor Curry told me, “We also engaged folks from the gay community. These were people who wouldn’t have returned my call as an evangelical leader but now they want to partner with the church.”

They achieved in five years what they expected to take 15. HIV/AIDS orphans received help. Those who are HIV positive receive care so that their children won’t become orphans.

In the seven years since the Global Neighbor Project began, Life Center Church has seen its membership double. Pastor Curry told me, “We used to be known as that church with the big Christmas pageant — now we’re known as the church that is helping AIDS orphans.”  (more here).

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First Presbyterian is known by many as the big church on the corner of Cedar Crest and Tilghman.  But we’re also known for other things: the program members and staff at Lehigh County Conference of Churches’ Daybreak know us as a church that serves over 50 meals a year there.  The homeless community that gathers in various ways around St. Paul’s church know our commitment to ending homelessness in Allentown.  Many know us as the church with an incredible refugee ministry.

And yet we are being called to wonder what could happen if we followed Dean Curry’s example and committed significant leadership resources and congregation voices to engaging our entire City on the issues of homelessness and affordable housing.  What would that look like?  What would that mean?  What would it require?

In many ways, we’ve begun to address and consider these questions over the past few years.  Watch this space and our other communications platforms to follow and join this unfolding story.  Come to Local Care Mission meetings.  Join the Peace, Justice, and Missionaries Team.  Volunteer with Local Care at Daybreak.  Join the Lehigh County Conference of Churches Justice and Advocacy Committee. Volunteer to help HADC and Habitat for Humanity help build CALCV’s Sixth Street Shelter expansion.  Be part of a thoughtful, prayerful process of engaging our wider community in deed and word.  Help shape that conversation, those expectations, and those abiding commitments.

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