Connections: Hal Donaldson
July 21, 2013
Partners in Compassion
Launched in 1994, Convoy of Hope is an international ministry reaching millions of people through community outreaches, children’s feeding initiatives, disaster response, and partner resourcing. Hal Donaldson, president of Convoy of Hope, recently talked with Scott Harrup, Pentecostal Evangel managing editor, about the ministry’s latest projects and the continuing vision that drives each team member.
evangel: What led you and your brothers Steve and Dave to found Convoy of Hope?
HAL DONALDSON: Our father was hit and killed by a drunk driver when we were young. My mother was in the car, too, and was seriously injured. Our family was forced to go on welfare. But we survived because our church and neighbors brought groceries to our door. We never forgot how it felt to be given a can of soup or box of cereal when our cupboards were bare.
evangel: What core values have remained constant for Convoy of Hope from your beginnings?
DONALDSON: We’ve always believed that local churches were the ideal agencies to deliver aid and care. Eventually Convoy of Hope has to move on to other cities, other disasters, other needs, so it’s important that we partner with local churches and organizations that will have an ongoing presence and lasting influence in their communities.
Second, we don’t believe in throwing food off the back of a truck. Anyone can do that. Our core value is that we deliver food or supplies with a loving smile and the message of Christ.
evangel: Convoy is all about volunteers. What kind of ministry did your 40,000 volunteers make possible around the world in 2012?
DONALDSON: Convoy of Hope wouldn’t have the reach it does without the people who give of their time. They’ve enabled us to feed and share the love of Jesus with more than 58 million people. But, for us, it goes beyond the numbers.
We’ve always believed that being a catalyst for a movement of compassion was more important than building an organization. That’s why such an emphasis is placed on mobilizing volunteers to respond to disasters, feed hungry children, and conduct community outreaches. We’re thankful that the Assemblies of God and Convoy of Hope share a common vision to serve the poor in Jesus’ name.
evangel: Your children’s feeding initiatives now serve more than 125,000 children in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Why is this outreach so critical?
DONALDSON: We saw scores of impoverished children standing outside the fence of Christian schools looking in on children who had uniforms and plates full of food. The kids inside were learning to read and to write and experiencing Christ’s love. Those outside weren’t.
We launched the feeding initiative because we believe Jesus wants more kids inside the fence. We rejoice over the 125,000 children being fed, but we have an estimated 100,000 children on waiting lists. Honestly, that keeps me awake at night. With God’s help, we must find a way to do more.
evangel: A number of your team members are helping impoverished women develop microenterprises. How does helping these women open a door to wider impact within a community?
DONALDSON: Our Women’s Empowerment Program in Ethiopia began as a partnership between USAID, Convoy of Hope, Assemblies of God World Missions, and the national church. Over the last two years, more than 1,000 disadvantaged women have graduated from the program, where they learn job skills and receive help in starting businesses of their own.
The graduates represent an estimated 9,000 children being fed every day because of what their mothers can earn — and that is not included in the 125,000 children in our feeding program worldwide. We’re hoping we can replicate the program in other countries.
evangel: Convoy meets life-and-death needs in many impoverished regions. How can something as basic as a water-filtration system dramatically change lives?
DONALDSON: Millions die each year from hunger or water-related diseases, but it doesn’t have to be that way. For many, a simple water filter can save their lives.
evangel: Convoy of Hope repeatedly garners high recognition from financial oversight organizations and has a reputation for maintaining very low operational costs. Talk about your commitment to making the most of every donated dollar.
DONALDSON: When we founded Convoy of Hope, we made a commitment to do things right so we could be an open book. We want to be known as an organization that pursues efficiency and excellence with integrity. Because a wasted dollar represents wasted meals for a child in need.
evangel: You travel widely and meet numbers of the people you are helping face to face. What is a recent encounter that stands out for you?
DONALDSON: I was recently surveying the devastation and recovery efforts related to Hurricane Sandy. I heard one heartbreaking story after another from victims. Many have lost everything they own and have nowhere to turn. When the news media moves on to the next story, it’s easy to forget that people are still struggling to put their lives back together. There’s certainly a lot more work that needs to be done. But we’re thankful for the sacrifice and partnership of AG churches and districts in the region. They have been heroic.
I will also never forget a young girl in Africa who was dying of AIDS after being raped. She represents millions of kids with dire needs, many of which have been passed on to them through no fault of their own. I believe we have a biblical obligation to give them tangible hope, and that’s what our children’s feeding initiatives are all about.
evangel: Whether it’s a tornado in Moore, Okla., a superstorm on the East Coast, or an earthquake in Haiti or Japan, Convoy of Hope has put people and resources on the ground. How has disaster response influenced your mission?
DONALDSON: Jesus taught us to take a portion of our resources and share with people in need. He didn’t bless Convoy of Hope so we could hoard His resources or waste His favor. He gave us warehouses, food and supplies, and a fleet of Speed-the-Light semitrucks so we could help disaster victims, hungry children, and families whose cupboards are bare.
evangel: Your partners not only contribute financially, but through gifts in kind and creative fundraising.
DONALDSON: Yes, it’s everything from food staples to diapers for children. It’s cleaning supplies for homes recovering from flood damage, toiletries, and much more. Visitors are usually blown away by the amount of product that flows through our 300,000-square-foot world distribution center. But, truthfully, we always need more donated food and supplies. If readers have contacts with grocers, wholesalers or suppliers, it could open a door to help many more people.
We have also been inspired by the generosity of individuals. For example, Rich Dixon is paralyzed, but he uses his hand-cycle to bless so many people through the money he raises riding for Convoy. Shawn Askinosie is an attorney turned chocolate maker who is helping us feed kids every day in the Philippines through his sales.
I’ve been amazed by the number of kids who have helped Convoy through Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge, and the vehicles we receive from young people through Speed the Light and donations from college students through Chi Alpha. And we’re grateful for the churches that participate each year in our One Day to Feed the World campaign. They are all saving lives and giving people hope.
evangel: What has been an eye-opening experience for you in your ministry with Convoy?
DONALDSON: It’s been a joy to link arms with a wide range of people and organizations with big hearts: churches, corporations, civic groups, professional athletes, the media and more. We’ve seen so much good accomplished by extending a hand of friendship, rolling up our sleeves, and working together to accomplish common goals. I really believe that kind of unity pleases God.