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Help and hope

Touching the world with compassion

By Kirk Noonan

With the dust from Nairobi’s Mathare Valley still in the creases of his shoes, Hal Donaldson, president of Convoy of Hope, settled into his seat for the flight out of Kenya. Next to him sat Randy Hurst, communications director for AG World Missions. Both men were grappling emotionally with the images, sounds and smells they had experienced while in Mathare Valley, one of the world’s most impoverished slums.

Children scavenged for food through piles of slimy trash made warm by the ruthless sun. In rickety shacks, AIDS-stricken mothers clung to their last days of life. On narrow pathways toddlers lapped water from gutters filled with raw sewage.

On the flight back to the United States they alternated between pensive silence and talking of ways they might help the people they had met in Mathare Valley.

“Have you ever considered doing something internationally with Convoy of Hope?” Hal recalls Randy asking.

“I’ve thought about that,” Hal said. “But I’m not sure how to make it happen.”

 Randy leaned forward in his seat as he pondered the idea.

“Maybe Convoy of Hope and AG World Missions could work together,” Randy suggested. “I can imagine doing even bigger outreaches to serve throughout the world than you’ve done in the United States.”

Hal nodded as Randy projected ideas for Convoy of Hope engaging in such an endeavor. Hal liked what he was hearing, but international work — at that point — was only a dream for the faith-based compassion agency.

In the months to come, a partnership began to form.

Then Hurricane Mitch slammed into Central America.

In October 1998, Mitch triggered mudslides, flooded entire cities and killed thousands of people. Honduras, in particular, was devastated, recording 41 inches of rain in only 22 hours.

At the time, Convoy of Hope had recently moved into a 300,000-square-foot warehouse in Springfield, Missouri. Through generous donations from corporations and individuals — including monthly financial support from AG World Missions for the first three years — nearly 500,000 pounds of food and supplies had been amassed for Convoy’s inner-city outreaches.

Kenton Moody, international director at Convoy of Hope, asked if they could send some of the food and supplies to victims of Mitch. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Hal and his brothers, David and Steve, unhesitatingly agreed.

“Let’s empty the warehouse of everything we can and send it to our missionaries and national churches in Honduras,” Hal recalls saying. “God filled our warehouse; He can fill it again.”

Depleting the organization’s stock was risky. Replenishing it could take months. But with hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need, it was clearly the right thing to do.

The move proved providential. The occasion marked the first time Convoy of Hope partnered with AGWM on a large scale, and both organizations soon learned how well-suited they were to work together.

“We immediately saw that our missionaries and national churches were the perfect network for Convoy of Hope to distribute water, food and supplies,” Randy says.

Mike McClaflin, AGWM Africa regional director, concurs.

“Our national churches and missionaries are a natural delivery system that can efficiently distribute goods and services during a disaster,” he says. “With more than 2,000 missionaries and 300,000 churches worldwide in more than 200 countries and territories, it’s an unstoppable movement.”

The initial partnership in Honduras confirms Mike’s view. Like a well-oiled machine, the rapid response team coordinated by Kenton and Steve transformed AG churches in Honduras into relief centers. National pastors, laypeople and missionaries became hands of relief and hope in devastated communities. 

“When our people show up to help, the Lord shows up,” says Randy. “And it opens the door for the message of Christ to be shared.”

International relief

It’s a sweltering day in Nairobi. Two miles outside the city is Convoy of Hope’s satellite warehouse. On this day — as with most days — workers unload the contents of two 40-foot shipping containers onto a five-ton military truck provided by Speed the Light.

“We don’t try to store anything here for long,” says AG missionary Bryan Burr, who also serves as regional representative for Convoy of Hope in East Africa. “We try to move everything in and out as quickly as possible.”

With 300,000 refugees still needing help because of the political unrest that rocked Kenya earlier this year, the warehouse has become a vital link to food and supplies for thousands of families.

Bryan and other leaders say the goal is to keep a steady influx of goods circulating through the warehouse so the Convoy team can continue to meet current needs and any that arise in the region.

“We have goods on hand when disasters strike, so we don’t have to wait for goods to be transported from the United States,” says Bryan. “We can quickly enable our national churches to help their countrymen.”

The warehouse will also be used as a training center where nationals can learn to start small businesses, purify water and grow crops in the country’s challenging soil and climate.

“I am the fortunate one who gets to channel all these goods to people in need,” says Bryan. “But none of this would be possible without the prayer and support of faithful donors in the United States.”

Though Convoy of Hope’s international relief efforts have drawn headlines, the organization’s outreaches have also changed people’s minds about Christianity — especially in Europe.    

Gates swing open and thousands of hungry people pour into the neglected soccer stadium in Hungary’s Bükk Mountains. Most if not all of these residents in the mountain city of Ózd have never seen an event like this.

Fliers and word-of-mouth advertising promised bags of groceries, medical screenings, entertainment for the children, and sausage and bread for lunch.

“Momma, we don’t need to pay for anything,” says an excited boy to his frail mother. “It’s all free!”

Here, the impoverished are shown a tangible expression of Christ’s love and grace. This year outreaches have also been held in Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Scotland, Wales, Moldova and Kosovo.

In Negotino, Macedonia, some 1,500 people (about 10 percent of the city’s population) gather during three Days of Hope sponsored by Pastor Goran and the local Pentecostal church.

“Pastor Goran and his church are very committed to reaching out to the community,” says Doug Webber of Convoy of Hope Europe. “There is a definite need for food and assistance.”

And that need creates multiple opportunities to build relationships and share the gospel. Following the Days of Hope, ministry teams from the church visited 145 homes with food parcels as they learned of families in need who had not been able to come to the Convoy event.

“Numbers of these families invited the teams to stay for lengthy visits and to share the gospel,” Doug says.

On the hill above the Convoy site in Negotino, an elderly woman listened throughout the weekend to the music and festivities. That Sunday she decided to attend the service at the host church.

Associate Pastor Demi helped organize the outreach to the community even as he lived with the daily concern for his own parents’ salvation. They had vowed never to come to the church. But following the outreach, Pastor Demi’s father and mother have come to the church every Sunday.

“I met them,” Doug says, “and Pastor Demi’s father has stopped drinking and smoking for the first time in 45 years.”

During Doug’s follow-up visit to the region, nestled in the fertile Tikves Valley, he traveled to outlying villages where he met several children who had attended the Days of Hope.

“We distributed gospel literature and were invited into homes,” he says.

The ripple effect of the Negotino outreach continued with another outreach organized in a village soccer field. More than 200 people heard the gospel message there.

“Everything that is being done in the area is having long-term, relationship-oriented results between our churches and native Macedonians,” Doug says.

Cooperative efforts between Convoy team members and local soul-focused congregations create these ripples of influence — this has been the model of outreach since Convoy’s beginnings and throughout its expansion in the United States. It has proven to be adaptable and effective worldwide.

“We use the American model and adapt it to the cultural expectations of each country we work in,” says Michael McNamee, director of Convoy of Hope Europe. “Because of it, Europeans have responded to the authenticity they sense.”

Since the first outreach took place in Brussels in 2002, Michael says healings have taken place, myths and ideas about Christianity and Jesus have been dispelled, and churches have been started or have grown significantly.

“Europe is a spiritual paradox,” Michael explains. “Whereas there is a pulling away from the traditional religion of Christianity, there is a keen interest and seeking after the spiritual.

“Being His disciples in the middle of a Gypsy camp or ‘lifting up’ the Peacemaker in the conflicting areas of the Balkans attracts people. Europeans are tired of an empty gospel, so they respond to the ministry of Convoy of Hope as we care for the poor and offer ‘a cup of water’ in the name of Jesus. Across the continent the Church has grown and been strengthened as a direct result of the outreaches.”

While helping at an outreach in Glasgow, Scotland, Kenton met an 82-year-old man who could have been speaking for countless impoverished people across Europe.

“He looked at me and said, ‘This is the first free thing I’ve ever been given in my life,’” recalls Kenton. “During the outreach we served more than 6,000 people and were able to help start a church. The outreaches are effective because people everywhere respond to compassion.”

Hal is grateful.

“Europe Regional Director Greg Mundis, Michael and Kenton had a vision for compassion ministry in Europe,” he says. “The things we see happening there today are a result of God giving these men a vision for accomplishing great things and their willingness to go for it.”

Tough beginnings

When Hal was 12 years old, and Steve and David were 10 and 9 respectively, their mother and father left the family’s home one evening for a church board meeting. It would be the last time they would see their father alive.

A drunken driver slammed into Harold and Betty Donaldson’s small car, killing Harold and severely injuring Betty. Little did Hal and his brothers know that the tragedy marked the beginning of a global ministry that would reach millions of people with Christ’s message of love and hope.

“Convoy of Hope was born out of tragedy,” says Hal. “But God has taken my father’s mangled automobile and turned it into a fleet of tractor-trailers that is helping bring hope to people throughout the world.”

Since Convoy of Hope was founded in 1994, it has grown dramatically. Growing pains have come with establishing an organization bent on improving the lives of the impoverished and hurting. Great faith has been a requirement.

“At times we knew what it’s like to have pressing needs and an empty warehouse,” admits Hal. “But during those times our faith in God’s provision grew the greatest. On many occasions our leadership team gathered together and cried out to God, asking Him to open the storehouses of heaven so we could continue to help people.”

One example, from early in Convoy’s history, showed Hal how God would provide if the ministry remained faithful.

Convoy needed $53,000 in one day. Hal wrote his request on a Post-it note, then knelt in his office and prayed that God would provide. The next day a man stopped by the office and handed him a check for $53,000.

“It was exactly the amount I asked for,” Hal says, still astonished by God’s intervention. “To me, that’s proof of God’s love and provision for the poor and suffering.”

Miracles too numerous to recount have taken place since then.

“This ministry has had to exercise faith on many occasions,” says Hal. “The enemy has presented challenge after challenge, but God is bigger than the challenges and has provided just enough every single time. We have walked in the miraculous, and as a result, millions of people have heard and seen that Jesus Christ loves them.”

The future

To date, Convoy of Hope has helped more than 20 million people in 100 countries. As the ministry expands its reach with clean-water initiatives, agricultural training, and distribution of life-sustaining food and supplies, it continues to gain momentum as a movement of compassion with an aim to enable followers of Christ to help others.

Doors to government agencies, corporations, like-minded organizations, civic groups and churches continue to open. Such relationships are more evidence that God’s favor rests on Convoy of Hope.

“God has called us to be part of a spiritual revolution that will help change the perception of the Church in the minds of people across the U.S. and around the world,” says Hal. “The Church has not been called to be a building or a set of rules or even a Sunday morning obligation. Instead, the Church is people committed to demonstrating Christ’s love to others in need.

“My prayer is that the Assemblies of God will be known around the world as people who speak in tongues, but who also feed hungry mouths.”


KIRK NOONAN is managing editor for Today’s Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at Simple Plan (knoonan.agblogger.org).

E-mail your comments to tpe@ag.org.

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