The CCT asked Jed and Bethany von Steinbergs to reflect on both the limitations and the potential of a “day of caring.” Knowing both is crucial to its effectiveness. As Fresno prepares for the Convoy of Hope, how would you describe its role?
What is it?
The Convoy Fresno, a community outreach of Convoy of Hope, will be coming to the Fresno Fairgrounds on Saturday, November 23. This large scale, free of charge, outreach will meet tangible needs through:
- A balanced lunch for the 15,000 guests.
- Groceries to take away for each adult.
- Medical and dental screenings.
- Education options.
- Referral and enrollment in health care programs.
- Connection to various community service organizations.
- Workforce development.
- Family portraits.
- A “Kid’s Zone,” where the family is encouraged to interact and have fun together.
- Stage and roaming entertainment by various artists.
- Prayer with trained prayer leaders.
- Connection to follow-up/partner churches, and information on activities happening in the guest’s neighborhood, such as free sports programs for kids.
For more than eleven months a multitude of churches, missional organizations, non-profits, medical communities and government agencies, have collaborated to prepare a day like no other in our city for those battling long-time or first-time poverty. You look at the bulleted list above and realize it is going to be quite a party. What you might miss is the party planning – the miraculous work involved in mobilizing a city by uniting organizations, strengthening existing connections, solidifying partnerships and facilitating new ones. That may be the enduring legacy of pulling off an event of this size – one that goes beyond a “day of caring” to truly strengthen a community.
Parties are biblical…the good kind of Biblical. God likes a good party. If God were to throw a party in our city, this very month, what would it look like? Where would it be? Who would He invite? What would be served? Would there be party gifts to take home? Who would be the servers? What would be the purpose?
In one possible party scenario, God would invite the poor of our city to come to a space they already knew about, a gathering place, where they may even have memories and feelings of fun and excitement. He would line up worship and praise of many kinds: entertainers whose goal is to brighten, uplift, and encourage. He would serve food and drink that is good and good for you, with some to take home. He would invite His servants, whom He calls His friends, those who already know Him and why He is throwing the party to “set the table” and pass out the invitations. He would know that they would need to work together to throw such a large and important party, and that this would be good for THEM. He would instruct His servants, “Love them, like you know I love you…Make it so they enjoy themselves, findrelieffrom their problems, and hope for their future – Be sure they know that I, and you, are committed to their wholeness, peace, and prosperity – SHALOM.”
The “event” of The Convoy Fresno cannot itself provide lasting change, which is one common objection to such large events. Most seeds need to be continually watered to grow. Many other conditions must also exist if the planting is to thrive. In the context of a garden, with a skilled gardener, the seed stands a good chance. Likewise, the event, partnered with churches and organizations who will continue to care for the individual, can provide the conditions for incremental transformation.
Transformation is defined as “complete change for the better.” Changed opportunities, changed choices, changed lives. What if God wanted to use an event as a catalyst to transformation in the life of an individual, part of an ongoing, multi-faceted process in their life? Would you tell Him that “events don’t transform lives”? What if a party, provided hope, which softened someone’s heart to a relationship with a community service organization, a church, or the love of Christ itself? Are relief and transformation really at opposite ends of a spectrum, or can they co-exist, the former serving the latter?
Another objection: If we continue to give away goods, rather than empower people to earn, we enable cycles of poverty and dependence on an inconsistent resource. This is true, if that is all we do. Meeting tangible needs must be paired with opportunities for change, toward systems of independence and interdependence. Artie Padilla, The Convoy Fresno Church Relations Leader, is working with churches in SE Fresno, around the Fairgrounds location, to be follow-up churches for the guests who are interested in involvement at a church near them. As guests exit the prayer tent and before collecting groceries, they will be shown a large map of the area with churches and Christ-focused organizations and activities in their neighborhood. The goal is to connect them with, or “provide on-ramps” to, organizations and activities that can lead to a relationship with Christ or an opportunity to grow as a disciple. We cannot guarantee all will respond to these opportunities, but then, not everyone who accepted the loaves and fishes responded to Jesus either.
Here is one tangible example of how principles of transformation are shaping this event. Sometimes, events promising jobs skills development, resume help, or a job fair, are known for giving guests false hopes and making them feel unprepared or like they wasted their time, increasing distrust in organizations. What should we do then, if we believe in developing our workforce and want to utilize the opportunity to reach thousands in poverty with a message of hope? Isn’t work for our hands a basic human need? The Convoy Fresno team has been leaning into these types of predicaments and thoughtfully shaping each service area. Our Workforce Development team, lead by Carlotta Curti, has done an amazing job facilitating a follow-up plan, including:
- Three follow-up workshops, following The Convoy Fresno (in Dec, Jan, and Feb).
- Partnership with Workforce Connection to provide “Passports” to all The Convoy Fresno guests – this is required for access to their job seekers Resource Room in Manchester Mall, thus establishing a connection of job seekers to the major service provider and encouraging guests to access this resource beyond the event.
- Administrators of Workforce Connection One Stop Center, as well as other partners, will meet with church leadership to dialog on ways to collaborate in reaching and serving job seekers. Carlotta Curti is working with Artie Padilla to assure this happens in January 2014
As Christ followers, our duty is summed up in the command to, “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself”. To love means we commit to offering our neighbors the opportunities we would want for ourselves. To love is to inspire hope. Convoy is a set of “on-ramps” to connect the poor in our community to the transformation super-highway, which is life in Christ.
 Miriam Webster’s Online Dictionary