Connections: Steve Donaldson
Of the 250 consistently poor counties in the United States,
240 are rural. Child poverty rates in these jurisdictions often exceed 35
percent. One in six children living in rural regions (2.5 million) is trapped
in deep poverty. Rural Compassion, an interdenominational ministry partnering
with the Assemblies of God, seeks to strengthen small communities by utilizing
and building on indigenous resources and maximizing those resources through the
local church. Steve Donaldson, Rural Compassion founder and president, recently
spoke with Editor Ken Horn.
evangel: How did your early ministry lay the groundwork for
your vision to serve rural America?
DONALDSON: I pioneered a church in a rural community, and I
was shocked by the needs around me. But I was excited about the opportunity for
ministry. From the pastorate, I worked with Convoy of Hope for nine years
serving the poor in the United States and internationally. It was so
encouraging to see the innovative ways our AG missionaries and national
churches were serving the needs of their communities. But I could never get
away from God’s prompting towards rural America. The need there is the most
overlooked part of poverty, largely because of the isolation.
evangel: Describe the mission of Rural Compassion.
DONALDSON: We work alongside the local rural pastor and
local rural church to serve the public school system, partner with community
leaders and also look for gaps in service and identify needs in the community
no one is meeting. We believe God gives the local church a responsibility to
meet local needs. We’re seeing churches really get excited about the
relationships they’re building in the community, and it’s really increased
On a recent weekend, for example, we did five different
literacy fairs. God cares that kids know how to read. And when the church
engages with the school to reach those goals, it’s refreshing to the schools,
and it builds rapport with the church.
evangel: Talk about some of the critical needs in rural
DONALDSON: A lot of people are surprised at the drug problem
in rural communities. That is largely attributable to how methamphetamine is
made. It’s much easier to manufacture in isolation, and it’s somewhat
inexpensive to make. For years, alcohol has been an enormous problem. And all
that substance abuse just leads to other kinds of abuse.
The downturn in the economy and the outsourcing of U.S. jobs
to other countries severely impacts rural America. In southeast Georgia
recently, several companies were outsourced, and 300 people stood in line to
apply for minimum-wage jobs when a local dollar store opened.
Local poverty filters down to our pastors. I believe our
rural pastors are the most sacrificial ministers we have.
evangel: What are some current projects for Rural
DONALDSON: We’ve been training churches for outreach. One of
our seminars presents 10 outreach ideas for under $100. These churches can’t
afford large-scale projects, but they can do something. And we find that as we
get them out in the community and they’re doing different types of small
outreaches, it gets into the heart of the people, and the church starts
prioritizing more and more efforts.
For example, we’ve been partnering with Light for the Lost
to distribute personalized Bibles to firemen and law enforcement. These Bibles
have a badge right in the middle, and on the bottom we’ll put the name of the
officer and then the badge number. Churches follow up with a celebration day
— it could be a barbeque in a local park — to say thank you to
their public servants. We’ve seen God really bless that effort.
evangel: What ministry opportunities do you anticipate for
rural AG churches?
DONALDSON: I have no doubt that God wants to do a great work
in our small communities. The majority of AG churches are in small towns, and
that’s been the backbone of our Movement. I believe that God wants those
churches to thrive and impact their communities for Christ. But it takes
everybody pitching in.
Watch a video of this interview
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