Who and Why 2010

Posted by: Julie on Friday, December 24th, 2010

Yesterday I did one of the most fun things I get to do all year – write out my end of year giving checks.  J  Go ahead – call me a dork, lump me in with all of those crazies who get a rush out of paying bills or cleaning toilets, and I’ll be just fine with that.  Because for me, giving is one of the most exciting things I get to do throughout the year, and reading over everyone’s end of year appeal letters and reviewing in my mind an organization’s best moments of 2010 and moments yet to come in 2011 is just about one of the neatest things we get to do as givers.

And for me, it’s a bit more about giving FROM rather than giving TO.  Allow me to explain.  Giving TO is powerful.  It makes things happen on the other side of the gift.  There is some type of an ROI that you see when you do it, whether it’s tangible or intangible.  It’s cause-driven giving, and it’s wonderful when your heart is so vulnerable and open that it allows itself to sacrifice and make an impact where there is a compelling cause and vision to give TOWARDS.  This kind of giving is awesome, and it is where we start.

Over the last couple of years, however, a dimension has been added to my giving, and that is the dimension of giving FROM.  Sometimes we have a tendency to get prideful about the amount we are giving TO places, and we take our generosity litmus test from the amount we ARE giving rather than the amount we AREN’T giving.  So the question then becomes, What AREN’T you giving, and why?

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have any children yet nor do I have a spouse who dips out of the same money pot as I do, so my spending/saving/giving picture might look quite different from some of my readers.  Which is precisely why I can’t ever think I have “arrived” in my generosity just because of some percentage or level of giving I think I might have attained compared to the average generous Christ Follower.  That is absurd, arrogant, and fill in another “a” word here to complete the alliteration.  Many of you have college tuition payments for your children, multiple mortgages for you and for your aging parents, medical bills for an unavoidable illness, and the list goes on.  For all of us, however, regardless of our situation, giving FROM requires us to take a look at the condition of the heart from which we give and determine why it is that we’re not giving the rest of that amount we see there and what instead it is going towards – the things we do have a decision about.  And I don’t care who you are, there are things in your budget that aren’t fixed – that you DO have a decision about.  (In fact, I would argue in many cases that none of your budget is fixed when you really get down to it, and that the decision is yours about every line item in there.  Read Who Gets Paid First.)

For me, my spending picture changed a bit this fall when I purchased a home last month.  I could write more here than you’d ever care to know about my emotions in deciding on whether to do so as well as my emotions even now as I seek to keep my heart in check when taking a honest view at my spending/saving/giving picture.  No worries – I did all the smart things and got a great deal, put a lot down, have a low payment, yada, yada.  But now the temptation arises of x,xxx square feet needing to be furnished, needing to be decorated, needing to be filled with all the bells and whistles that my personality of hospitality demands, and I look over this sentence and my excessive use of the word “needing” and see that even there my view is becoming a little skewed already.

So I am in a constant state now of keeping myself in check, in a much more intentional way that I ever had to do before.  And this is probably elementary to those of you who made this home purchase decision 20 years ago and since have added four little precious children you now have to provide for, sacrifice for, and make tough spending decisions about.  I know bigger decisions are coming for me, but I’m just sharing with you where I’m at right now.  And if I let it get out of control right now, then I won’t ever get it back.

So now that I’ve shared my giving FROM, I also do want to share my giving TO because they are birthed out of a heart of desiring to give FROM.  Now the paragraphs that follow must be prefaced with this: I share this not to pound trumpets about how many different organizations I give to – I could be giving them all each $1 for all you know!  So just pretend that I am, and that’ll make you feel better about me sharing such intimate information about my generosity in hopes of inspiring my readers in the final 8 days of 2010.  THAT is my purpose in writing.

I must begin in the place a Christ Follower should always begin, and that is with my local church.  Community Christian Church is one of the best places on the planet, and I could write a novel here about why I give to Community.  But I’ll just say this: I fully believe that God’s plan for the local church is that it would be a catalyst for ministry to happen all over the place – for other organizations to be formed from it, other non-profits to be incubated as a result of it, and for individuals to be impacted within it to go out and evangelize their worlds.  So I ask my readers, many of which I presume have a local church they love and are involved in, is your local church a catalyst for these things?  List them out right now in your specific church context.  Put that on a piece of paper, and send that in with your 2010 gift to your church.  I’m not talking about your tithe or your ‘regular giving’ for December.  Send in an extra end-of-year gift, and tell your pastor exactly why you are investing in this way.  Tell him about the condition of your heart, tell him about why you believe in the ministry of the church.  Tell him about why you believe in him.  And do it today.  To those of my readers from Community, I appeal to you to send in an extra gift to Community through the mail today or tonight/this weekend when you attend services.  We need it now more than ever, and our church is living out the great vision from Acts 2:42 that epitomizes what a catalyst church looks like.

I move next to my undergraduate alma mater, Wheaton College.  Any of you who know Wheaton College might ask why I would give to a place with a $350 million endowment, an annual budget that far exceeds most of our church’s annual budgets, and a constituency with several thousand other households that could bear the load of the giving instead of me.  But I see it differently.  Wheaton is not only a place that absolutely shaped who I have become personally and professionally, but Wheaton is also a place that is unwaiveringly committed to the mission of Christ through filling up and sending out young people into this world.  More organizations, churches, non-profits, you name it, have been started by Wheaton grads than any other Christian liberal arts college in the US.  And to not elevate the entrepreneurials, tens of thousands of others are serving in domestic and international capacities in all types of industries and ministries, living out their lives by the Great Commission and actively seeking for others to join them.  I also give to Wheaton because they have asked.  Wheaton is in its fifth and final year of its Promise of Wheaton campaign, a $260 million campaign that surpasses any other endeavor Wheaton has taken on in its 150-year history.  I respect an organization who can put its priorities together in a compelling fashion, who can rally the hearts of its givers, and who can cast vision for specific ways it desires to move beyond its current pace in such a way that moves you to want to make it happen now.  I’m excited to give to Wheaton, and for me it represents not only a gratitude for the education I have received as an undergraduate, for the professional expertise I gained while serving on their development staff, but it also represents a desire I have to want to see this legacy continue and even accelerate as a result of the advancement of this institution as led by its amazing and talented leaders.

Ok, I see what’s happening here… I’m going to have to write a whole lot less about each organization or else you’ll never read to the end (that is, if I’ve still got you with me!).  So let me be a little more brief with the remaining ones, and feel free to ask me to expand on anything if you’d like more words:

Martin Luther Square, a church planting / community center initiative of the Northern Illinois District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod on Chicago’s south side (has no weblink yet because we’re still in the private phase!).  Originating as one of the campaigns I am working on, this particular initiative has moved me to tears on multiple occasions, and I stand in awe at how this LCMS leaders are bringing together politicians, educators, pastors, and other community leaders for an amazing spiritual and economical revitalization of this are of Chicago.

Greater Chicago Food Depository – Back when I was a junior high youth group leader at Wheaton Bible Church in 2002-2004, we took about 200 junior highers on a mission trip to the inner city of Chicago, and we split them up into 6 groups to work in places all over the city throughout the week.  I ended up leading the team at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.  To make a long story short, this organization did a great job of following up with its volunteers and engaging us in continuing to be involved as well as prompting us to give.  I excitedly give to this great organization this Christmas as I thank God for all he is doing in uniting people together to provide millions of pounds of food for the hungry all across the city of Chicago.

[The glorious privilege and danger I have as a fundraising consultant is that I become moved by many of the campaigns I work with.  I cannot list them all here who I am giving to this Christmas, but I’ll just say this: Pastors, don’t ever think that your only target constituency is your current attenders.  Others from the ‘outside’ who work with your church in some capacity are sometimes more affected and inspired than you might ever imagine.  Ask boldly, and ask confidently.  You might just surprise yourself at how your giving audience will grow beyond your pews/seats.]

Bill and Rachel Carroll, church planters in Paris, France – Besides the fact that these two are going to start one of the most amazing churches on the planet, my investment in them goes beyond what they seek to accomplish and dives into the heart of the people they are.  Bill helped to unlock my inner creativity for worship through my love of playing the piano when he discipled me onto the worship team at Community about three years ago.  It was Christmas of 2007 when Bill asked if I would play keys on a TSO song, which has now become one of my favorite things to play at Christmastime, and then continually invited me onto the team week after week.  I now serve on a consistent basis with our current worship team, and it is one of the things I enjoy most about being a part of Community.  The point I make in sharing that is that Bill and Rachel know how to develop people and grow them into who God is calling them to be, whether they are Christ Followers yet or not, and they do so in such a selfless way that has no personal gain but rather displays a true love for the person reaching their fullest God-given potential.  They are two of the most creative people I have ever met in my life, and I pray God’s best for them as they plant a new church in France.

Now as I list all these things, I give not because they need it (because remember, I’m just giving them all $1 for all you know :) ) but because what it says in my heart when I give it.  Think about that as you give your 2010 end of year gifts.    Write out as I have done here why you give to certain places and what it does to you when you do so.  Write out about what you are giving up in order to give to these places.  That is your giving FROM story.  Tell it to your kids, talk about it with your spouse.  The impact that comes from sharing openly about things like this is greater than we might imagine.  So be intentional about your end of year giving.  Let’s make 2011 one of the biggest ministry years we’ve seen for the Kingdom yet, and let’s keep carving out pockets for generosity in our own hearts that replace those currently inhabited by other things.  Reclaim your heart, and give from it.

Freedom in Generosity: A Generosity of Us

Posted by: Julie on Saturday, December 26th, 2009

Back in college, my roommate Amy and I used to do something when things were tough or when we started feeling like we were focusing too much on our own selfishness for whatever reason.  We would go out back of the Jewel-Osco near campus and pick up all the trash and put it in the dumpster.  You see, this particular Jewel somehow always had a massive amount of trash out back – an absolutely ridiculous amount, and it was one of those scenes where it broke your heart to think that at some point in the evening, someone’s boss is going to ask them to go outside and clean it up as part of their job at Jewel.  Amy and I hated the thought of that, and so we felt like as often as possible, it was something that we wanted to do for them.  Except the truth was, we were doing it more for us.

I can’t take credit for the idea – it was Amy’s.  She was always challenging all of us in taking a closer look at the reasons behind why we do things and why we spend so much time worrying about our own lives instead of looking up and looking out to help someone else.  It originally came about one Saturday night when I was particularly upset.  A big disappointment had occurred in my seemingly important college life, and I would not stop obsessing over it.  Finally she grabbed our coats, grabbed my arm, and said, ”Come on, you’re coming with me.”  It was that night when she showed me the back of the Jewel and told me what we were going to do.  It was no heroic act or anything.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the Jewel employees rarely knew we were even there - because the trash seemed to pile up so freqently and they’d just have to do it the next night anyway.  But it was for us.  It was so we could stop focusing on the things we think are the end of the world in our lives and the disappointments we think are going to matter forever and humble ourselves for just a moment to gain a little perspective of why we were put on this earth.

I’m not sure why I remember those nights so clearly.  Maybe it’s because we did it like a bazillion times.  But they stick out more than mission trips, more than serving at homeless shelters, more than delivering Christmas baskets to every tollbooth person in the Chicagoland area.  I think it’s because of this dichotomy I always feel in the dilemma, “Is it about us, or is it not about us?”

As Christ Followers we are called to lay down our lives for the mission of Christ - to seek those who are lost and help them find their way back to Him.  Forsaking all our own wants, thoughts, and feelings, we are called to put the needs of others before our own.  It’s most definitely not about us.

But then I think of the work God does in this world and how He accomplishes it.  He accomplishes it through His people.  It’s not that He can’t accomplish His mission without us; but He does accomplish it with us.  Our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health is critical to our ability to follow Him and accomplish His mission.  So yeah, it is kind of about us in some ways.  And that is ok.

For me, those Saturday nights, Tuesday nights, some Monday nights of picking up trash in the back of the Jewel had nothing to do with a ministry project, absolutely no one knew we were doing it except us, and it was totally and completely all about humbling ourselves and remembering that our lives are about something bigger than our situations, bigger than our feelings, bigger than our disappointments – even bigger than our triumphs.  Our lives are about humbly serving our God.

Anyone who knows me knows that I think, breathe, study, bleed, and dream about generosity.  I am fascinated by it, challenged by it, inspired by it, and perplexed by it.  We so often think of generosity as this noble thing we do for someone else – whether that someone else is an organization, our church, or another person.  As Christ Followers, we seemingly do these generous acts in the name of God as to bring glory to Him from our obedience and sacrifice.  And I believe that is true – it’s definitely true.  Generosity in the name of God to the mission of God brings glory to God.  Without a doubt.

But I ponder so often about this subject of freedom.  Freedom is a word that unfortunately got stuck with the charismatics and pentecostals when it may have been overdramatized to mean some sort of euphoric, out of control state in which our human minds have no reason.  (No offense whatsoever here to my charismatic friends.  I too was a part of that camp just 6 or 7 short years ago, so I get it. :)   )  But freedom – true freedom - I believe lies in this dichotomy we speak of, the tension between whether or not it is really about us.

What does it require of us to truly turn over our lives to God?  Our time?  Our money?  Our relationships?  What does that really mean?

It means nothing is out of the question.  Nothing.  It means no matter what entitlement we think we have because of whatever situation has happened to us, nothing excuses our ability to give it all to God.  Nothing.  It means we don’t get a ‘pass’ just because of this or that, because of some earthly scenario that has caused it to be an inconvenience for us to serve God at this particular time.  No, I am afraid not.

But why are we so inclined to feel this way?  And why are we (yes, us as pastors are sometimes the worst) so inclined to quickly make excuses for people when they are in this ‘perceived inconvenience’ and cause them to miss out on the joy and freedom that is generosity.  I’m not speaking solely of financial generosity here – though that is obviously one of the most sensitive to discuss and thus, in my opinion, the most impactful when released – but I am speaking of whole life generosity.  A generosity of us.

See, it is about us.  It is about us living our lives in such a way that we aren’t caught up in what we may or may not get out of life, what we may think or feel on a particular day, what accomplishments of our own we did or didn’t make.  What would it look like if we lived tomorrow like we were called to a generosity of us…. I’d love to see what would happen….

For me, I surely need to abandon some things that are standing in the way of generosity of myself.  But I need others around me in order to do it.

So would you join me?  Humbly take out the garbage while no one is looking and open up your eyes to what God is asking of you.  It’s not about you but it is about you… It’s about us.

Defining Moment: We were made for IMPACT!

Posted by: Julie on Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

impact-logo.jpgAbout a week ago I attended the advance commitment dinner for Community’s 2-year IMPACT initiative.  As we sat and shared dinner with good friends all around us and were challenged to sacrifice beyond what we had ever experienced, a realization came to my mind.  It’s something Dave has been saying for the last several months, but it never really sank in until that evening.

We really are MADE FOR IMPACT.

Some good friends of mine, Doug and Mary Leddon, gave their giving testimony that night at the dinner.  Doug shared how he has gone through a radical transformation in the past three years as he has continued to release more and more of the hold money has had on his life.  Doug and Mary both have substantial incomes and could have the potential to be considered ‘wealthy, affluent Naperville residents’…if they wanted to.  If they wanted to, they could purchase a fancy home in Naperville and drive fancy cars, but instead they have lived in their ‘starter home’ for the last 18 years.  They drive very modest cars, and their children are being raised to learn the value of a dollar and its potential when used for God’s Kingdom.  The whole family is involved in serving at the church.  Doug and Mary lead a small group, they lead our First Impressions hospitality team on Saturday nights, they lead teams in Community 4:12 – our ministry to an under-resourced community in nearby East Aurora, and Mary has recently taken on the role of co-director of our Caring Hearts and Hands service ministry after serving the past several years as a women’s small group coach.  Allie and Sarah serve as leaders in Kids’ City and for junior high StuCo.  They also serve in Community 4:12 as well as assist in First Impressions on Saturday nights.  11-year-old Bobby is active in junior high StuCo and frequently helps out the family on the First Impressions team as well.

The transformation in Doug’s life over the past three years has been incredible.  I have often referred to him as the ‘poster child’ for generosity at Community.  You can read some of his blog posts during our 10-for-10 Worship Challenge by clicking here.  But this evening was different than when I had heard Doug and Mary share their testimony before.  This evening was different because they were intensely inviting us on the journey with them – a journey they were taking in a HUGE way and that we all had not yet taken.

Being in the profession I am in, campaign dinners are like candy to me.  I love them, and I can’t get enough of them.  I love sermons on money and generosity, and I love being challenged and asked to give.  Strange I know, but it’s why I do what I do – I love it and I believe in it.  Being challenged in the area of generosity has changed my life, and so it is my life’s mission to challenge others similarly and catalyze a movement of generosity in churches.  But this evening Doug and Mary challenged me.  They, combined with others who spoke that night, challenged me in a way I had not been challenged before.

After Doug and Mary shared, another couple who are good friends of mine shared their story later in the evening.  This couple was Jeff and Pam Haines.  Jeff serves on the board of Global Family Rescue with me, and Pam serves on the Leadership Commission (elder board) at Community and leads women’s small groups.  They have become close friends, and I respect them very much.  Jeff and Pam shared about their 18 years at Community and how God worked in their marriage, worked in their health, worked in their family’s life, and worked in their friends and neighbors’ lives over the past 18 years.  I thought about what they said and thought, “I want that to be my marriage in 18 years.”  I want to invest in a church who will surround us and strengthen us and challenge us so that we can live out the Jesus Mission.

So when the pledge time came and we were asked to fill out our cards, we did so with a realization that we were MADE for this.  Our hearts crave to impact the world around us.  That is why I serve as a generosity strategist to churches all across the country.  And that is why we are choosing to invest in Community Christian Church.  We are MADE FOR IMPACT.

And you know what else?  Here is the cool thing.  Jon Ferguson got up after the pledges had been turned in, and he asked us to take a look around us in this room and remember exactly where we are at this moment.  For many of us, he says, this will be a defining moment for us in our life with Christ.  For me, it certainly was.

I look across our table at Doug and Mary, a couple who I consider to be two of the most generous people I know, a couple who has supported me and inspired me endlessly as if I were their own daughter.  What a privilege to invest alongside of them.

I look to my left to my good friends sitting next to me, Dave and Sue Ferguson, a couple who has not only served as the leaders of this church but who have personally invested and challenged me beyond belief.  The years I spent on staff under Dave’s leadership have yet to be matched by any other time in my life.  I have been sharpened, challenged, encouraged, inspired, and led courageously by this couple.  It is from Dave’s God-inspired asks that most of my gifts have been given.  What a privilege to invest alongside of them.

I look to the next table over and see Tim and Diane Bakker.  Tim serves on the board of Global Family Rescue with me, and Diane serves on the worship team and in StuCo.  Besides being my former boss and a good friend, Tim has challenged me significantly in my walk with Christ.  There are few people in this world who can tell me I am wrong, and Tim is one of them.  Diane is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met in my life, and she stood by me during a tough time in my life.  I will never forget the friendship she extended to me in a time of need.  Tim and Diane have challenged us with their generosity, and I will always remember how they gave thousands of dollars to the church and to build a house in Uganda after Tim won $50k in a putting contest.  Most families would have used that money to buy themselves something nice, but not the Bakkers.  They sacrificed generously to set an example for the rest of us to follow.  What a privilege to invest alongside of them.

Also at the next table over are Brad and Anne Prunty.  Brad serves as our Plainfield campus pastor and our regional campus pastor over the north zone.  Anne serves as our IMPACT director assistant, and she has been responsible for putting together all of the events and content for the IMPACT campaign alongside its director.  Brad and Anne have set the model for generosity, not just as leaders of a very generous campus, but as staff as well.  They continually inspire me with how they search for opportunities to become more generous and extend their lives and hearts out to others even when they are committed to so many things.  The Plainfield campus has grown to be known by its generosity, and that is largely due to Brad’s and Anne’s leadership.  I am honored to call them friends.  What a privilege to invest alongside of them.

Also at the next table over are Steve and Thelma Kerby.  Steve serves as our Aurora North campus pastor, which will be our next newest campus in just a few short months, and Thelma serves in small group ministry and multiple other capacities at the Montgomery campus – soon to be transitioning over to serve at the Aurora North campus.  I’ll never forget the first trip I took the campus pastors on just after I had began as stewardship and generosity pastor at Community a few years ago.  I had only been there a month, and John Ciesniewski and I took the campus pastors and a lay leader of their choice to Saddleback in California for the Exponential Generosity Conference.  It was this weekend that inspired the months to follow.  Steve was one of the lay leaders picked by Carter, our Montgomery campus pastor, to join us on this trip.  Steve was currently serving as the Montgomery small groups director at the time, but Carter saw in him a higher capacity for leadership.  Steve and Thelma have continually challenged me in my personal growth, and they have supported me through various transitions of life.  What a privilege to invest alongside of them.

At the table to our left are Jeff and Pam Haines, who I mentioned earlier.  If my life looked like Jeff’s and Pam’s in 18 years, I would consider myself very blessed.  To be surrounded by a church family who encourages and strengthens my own family to live out the mission of Jesus would be a life I would hope to get to live.  What a privilege to invest alongside of them.

Also at that table are my good friends Rudy and Amber Stefanski.  Rudy serves on our Leadership Commission (elder board), and Amber serves in generosity and in women’s ministry.  In fact, Amber has recently joined the Generis team as my assistant and is doing a fabulous job.  I couldn’t ask for a better associate in ministry and a good friend.  Rudy and Amber are living a life of radical generosity.  Though young in their age, they are mature in their giving.  They have given up family vacations, overdue kitchen remodeling, money they could have spent on themselves, and all kinds of time to invest in the Jesus Mission at Community.  Not only have they been givers themselves, but they are huge champions for generosity at Community.  I’ll never forget when I asked the Leadership Commission to personally underwrite our first Generosity Conference in 2008, and Rudy and Amber were one of the first to commit a significant amount of dollars to the total.  They are truly modeling how Jesus calls us to live generously.  What a privilege to invest alongside of them.

At a table further back I see Lisa Ferguson, while Jon is up at the front sharing from the stage.  Jon and Lisa have become close friends who never cease to challenge me in my faith.  Jon not only served as my boss while on staff at Community, but he has become and remained a trusted friend.  I see the commitment Jon and Lisa have to one another, to strong family values centered around commitment to Christ and a love for community, and I want that modeled in my own family as well.  I have enjoyed getting to share time with them and are excited for the possibilities that may come in partnership with them for Community’s new campuses in the city.  What a privilege to invest alongside of them.

At another table further back I see John Ciesniewski.  Amy was home with the boys, but she is still to be mentioned as an vital part to this duo!  John and Amy Ciesniewski have modeled a life of frugality and of generosity not only as the leaders of the Shorewood campus but also as the leaders of the IMPACT campaign.  John, also one of my former bosses (did I mention I had like four of them?!), has been someone who has challenged me intensely in my convictions and stretched me in my thinking.  While I might have told him he was wrong most of them time instead of listening to what he had to say, it is undoubtedly true that John has had a profound impact on my life.  John is brilliant, and sometimes a stubborn person like me finds that hard to deal with.  J  John and Amy demonstrated loving hospitality and inclusion to me when I was first starting on staff, and they are extremely generous with their time and resources as they reach out to the Shorewood and Joliet communities.  What a privilege to invest alongside of them.

At tables all around the room, I see families I love and am privileged to be surrounded by such as Greg and Laura Bruno, Brian and Amy Theis, Bruce and Cheryl Jones, Brian and Judy Zehr, Michael and Carla Strominger, Dave and Shelley Egeland, Cesar and Fanny Rodriguez, TJ and Ginger Friesen, Sean and Jill Bublitz, Matt and Julie Leman, and so many more who I know I am missing right now or weren’t there, but you are all are so important to me.  I love you all so much, and it is such a privilege to invest alongside of you.

As I look at my IMPACT pledge over the next two years, it scares me as well as excites me.  It will be a challenge, but it will be an honor to be in this together – together with Doug and Mary, Dave and Sue, Tim and Diane, Brad and Anne, Steve and Thelma, Jeff and Pam, Rudy and Amber, Jon and Lisa, and hundreds of others.  We are in this together, and it is my privilege to be MADE FOR IMPACT and investing alongside of you.  J

From Despair to Hope: Over 1500 people touched by GFR Medical Clinic in Uganda

Posted by: Julie on Thursday, August 20th, 2009

clinic-pic-1.jpgI am emotional again even as I sift through these pictures to upload to this blog post.  I wish I was sharing this story with you all in person right now because I fear that my written words will not convey the fullness of this experience.  I will never forget this day as long as I live.

A week ago, on our final clinic day in Uganda, we pulled up in the car as over 900 people waited in line to see Dr. Bill at our GFR medical clinic.  It is mind-blowing to me how many people in Uganda do not have access to healthcare.  People will walk literally for days to get to a medical clinic; and even then, the chances are slim that they’ll even be able to afford the fee.  Our GFR Team, with the help of our trained emergency room physician and GFR board member Dr. Bill, ran three days of a free medical clinic in three different villages of Uganda.  In those three days, we treated over 1500 people.  It seems impossible for one doctor – with untrained assistants like us following his orders! – to see 1500 people, but it is absolutely phenomenal how fast Dr. Bill works.  He is highly proficient in international medicine, and his work in the ER prepares him well for stressful and fast situations.  I took about 4 minutes of continuous video footage of this so you could see how it works.  As soon as my video buddy TJ edits these videos, I’ll post them to this blog.  Thank you TJ.

The day we saw the most patients was this particular day last Thursday, our final day of the clinic.  That day we saw over 800 patients.  In this particular village, more people gathered to see the doctor than had gathered at any other clinic we had done – either this trip or our last one in March.  We were told by our GFR Ugandan staff that this was because there are no medical clinics for several, several miles in this area and so people had been walking for a couple of days and many even stayed overnight to wait in line to see the doctor that day.  It was an amazingly humbling experience.  I can’t imagine how Dr. Bill felt.  Being given the gift of being able to treat people with medical care is a gift straight from God, and when he saw that crowd I know he felt the weight of that responsibility.  He took it as a great privilege but also as a great responsibility.

dr-bill-and-baby-at-clinic.jpgWe set up the pharmacy (tables with thousands of bags of pills we put together and labeled the night before), set up the registration table at the front, designated a couple of the guys at the front door to control the crowds and ‘organize’ people as they came in, and set up the doctors’ station for Ugandan medical intern Dr. Ivan to sit with Dr. Bill and translate patients’ requests as they came in.  We were ready to go.

We saw about 300 patients before the sky began to get a deep grey and the wind began to blow… Suddenly it began to pour rain outside.  People waiting outside in line didn’t move a muscle.  They had not walked tens of kilometers for a couple of days to leave their spot in line and miss their chance of seeing the doctor.  Only a handful of the 600 people who remainined in the line had umbrellas, everyone else simply crouched down onto the grass covering their heads.  Then the tin roof above us in the small building we were in began to get very loud… Hail!  It was hailing outside.  We looked out the open windows and sure enough there were large hail pellets crashing down on the people outside.  This scattered about 400 hundred people in the crowd as they screamed and ran for safety.  Anyone who has never been in a hailstorm before without shelter, it is incredibly dangerous to let large hail hit the top of your head directly.  It’s very sharp and coming at a high speed to your head.  400 people left, but…. the 200 people waiting closest to the door remained.  I could not believe this.  People were screaming and clamoring to get into the doors of the clinic, and Bob and David had the difficult and heart-wrenching job of keeping them out so chaos would not ensue inside the clinic – where 30 people were already inside waiting to see the doctor next.  So we kept things moving as quickly as we could, all the while not being able to hear ourselves at all because of the loud and fast hail pounding on the tin roof above.

Someone suggested lunch might be a good idea since we could no longer communicate with one another because of the loud noise of the hail.  But as our lunch pails came out with our supplies to make PBJs, crackers, and bananas, I lost it.  For us to sit inside this shelter and eat while people were waiting outside in line getting pelleted by hail just didn’t seem right.  Tears ran down my face in an uncontrollable fashion, and there was no way I was eating that food.  It just wasn’t right.  My friend Melissa had the same thought.  She took one look at my tear-stained face and said, “Let’s give our food to them.”

It was like the five loaves and two fish story.  We broke up our sandwiches into four pieces each, cut up our bananas, cut up our pineapples, broke in half our crackers, split open our hard-boiled eggs and cut them down the middle, and we began passing out our food to the people in line.  Our GFR team is an amazing group of humble servants, and the rest of them followed our lead almost immediately.  Everyone else gave up their food as well.  And between the 12-15 or so of us who had packed food, we were able to feed quite a large number of people in that line.  I’m sure it didn’t take away the pain the people were feeling from the hail pounding on their heads or the despair of potentially not getting to see the doctor after having waited so long, but it at least showed them the love of God that is in us to put their needs before our own.  I hope they felt that.  They were very grateful, and many of them cried and hugged with gratitude even for a small slice of food.

After the hail subsided about 30-40 minutes later, we were able to continue the clinic.  The 400 people who had scattered because of the hail returned and joined the other 200 in the front of the line who had waited through the storm.  We went as fast as possible to try and see everyone before darkness came because there was no electricity where we were and we’d have to stop as soon as it got too dark to see.  So we worked until it was absolutely impossible to see anymore, and we still left about 100 patients untreated in that line.  It was gut-wrenching to see the people still waiting to see the doctor, but we had done all we could do that day.  Dr. Bill gave a final charge of gratitude and inspiration to everyone who helped with the clinic, and then we had a moment of prayer in thankfulness to God for making this possible.

clinic-waiting-line.jpgI want you to take a look at this picture.  This sea of faces represents the hundreds of people waiting in line for the clinic.  Despair all over them.  There was an amazing thing that happened as they crossed over the threshold of the clinic doorway.  As they entered in to see Dr. Bill and be blessed with the medicine prescribed and given to them, hope fell all around them.  They left the clinic doors with hope, thanking God for giving them this opportunity to receive treatment.  It was absolutely amazing.

I was very convicted by all of this.  I flippantly cancel doctor appointments when something else comes up, I complain about having to wait in the waiting room any longer than 30 minutes, I argue about the high costs of things and negotiate discounts of ungratefulness for the treatments I have received.  How selfish am I to disregard the gift of healthcare with such disrespect.

No longer.  I am deciding today to change my attitude.  I want to make a challenge to you to join me as well.  Take your heart of gratefulness to God and invest with me in the efforts of Global Family Rescue to help bring more hope to these families.  We’ll be going back in March to run more medical clinics, visit more families, and bring the love of God to more people in Uganda.  It would mean so much to us to have your support.  I’m giving $1,000 right now by clicking here.  Please join me however you can.  And comment below in encouragement to us all if you’re in with me on this.  Demonstrate a sacrifice of our own selfishness and an investment in the lives of people living in poverty and in need of a transformation from despair to hope.

Thank you in advance for your generosity.  I love you all and appreciate the love and support you give to us and to Global Family Rescue.

Love,

Julie

Helping People Find Their Way Back To God in Namyoya, Uganda

Posted by: Julie on Sunday, August 9th, 2009

namyoya-church.jpgToday we went to Namyoya Christian Church, the church Community has supported through Celebration Generosity the past two years as a part of Community’s vision to eradicate poverty and help people find their way back to God one village at a time in Uganda, Africa.  Boy, is it working!!

Through the work of Global Family Rescue here in Uganda, we now have approximately 60 sponsored families in the village of Namyoya.  These families are coached and mentored by two of our Community Facilitators, Jeffrey and Justine.  We had lunch with them today and captured three testimonies of these sponsored families via video.  We will upload that video for you soon so you can hear the good things God is doing in this community.  Thank you to everyone who sponsors a family with GFR.  You are truly making a life changing difference.

Because of the generosity of Community, a new church building and roof has been built and a home on-site for the church’s pastor – Pastor David – who previously had to travel over two hours to get to the church on Sundays and was not present as much during the rest of the week.  Because Pastor David has been able to be on site and living IN the community with the people of Namyoya, people are finding their way back to God left and right!  Just today at church, Pastor David recognized and celebrated THREE PEOPLE who found their way back to God just this week!  It was so exciting to see the community rally around them with love and support.  What a privilege it was to be there for this!

Another exciting milestone of progress for this community is the development of a pigery.  Because of the family sponsorships and tithes going to the church from the families, the community was able to purchase eight pigs to start a pigery.  Half of our team spent Saturday constructing this pigery with the people of the community for their new pigs!  This income-generating business will not only provide sustainable income to this community and to the church, but it will also provide confidence to these families that they in fact can sustain life beyond the 3-year family sponsorship plan.  This has truly been an amazing development to witness within these families.

namyoya1.jpgOne of the best things that became so apparent today is that the church has literally become the center for EVERYTHING in the community.  Our three-year plan for Namyoya includes constructing and staffing a medical clinic as well as constructing and staffing a school – both located on the land next to the church.  Those things will undoubtedly cause the church to be the center of the community.  But even before those constructions have happened, this church is already the center of life for these people.  How incredible that is – the Church really is the hope of the world.

Praise God for all of you who have been generous to Global Family Rescue.  And praise God for all of you who will continue your generosity and in fact accelerate your generosity to a cause that is literally eradicating poverty and helping people find their way back to God in a village in Africa.  Thank you for your prayers for us on this trip, and we will keep you updated as we continue this life changing journey!

Don’t give me none of that bad economy talk!

Posted by: Julie on Friday, March 20th, 2009

magnet-giving.jpg 

The economy is bad.  That’s the obvious.  Now quit saying it and thus claiming it as true.  Rise above it.  Defeat it.  Generously give your way out of this bad economy and pour into a certain investment.

This past weekend, Community did just that.  Across all of Community’s nine locations, over $410,000 was given away to four teams Community’s attenders are actively involved in – the Village Team, the Neighborhood Team, the Barangay Team, and the Reproducing Church Team.  Click on each one of these links to read more about the teams.  This is the second year Community has done this ‘Celebration Generosity’ initiative, and last year the offering was $252,000.  To give you a little context, Community’s typical weekly offering is around $90,000, so this type of exponential increase both years is truly remarkable!

So what does it tell us when a church can pull this off in this type of economy?  Well, it tells us a couple of things:

 1. The bad economy is only in our heads.

The economy may be bad, but it is only as bad as we want to make it when it comes to our churches.  Generosity is a different issue, and we fail when we as the Church allow the economy to take the responsibility and opportunity off of us as church leaders to promote generosity within our congregations.  Shame on us if we are taking advantage of that excuse to lose hope for cultivating generosity.

2. People are generous to causes they care about, regardless of their personal financial situation.

In this economy, your vision better be compelling and your message better be clear.  If you’re a church, you have a spiritual responsibility to the people in your church to cast a compelling vision for generosity.  Not because you need to meet the church budget, but because they need to experience the life-changing transformation that happens in someone’s heart when they exercise generosity.  It literally makes them more like Christ and brings them closer to God.  You’re robbing them of that opportunity, church leaders, when you start shrinking your vision in a down economy.  When people are cast a compelling vision, they reallocate other areas of their life to make it work.  They just do.  Right now, one of your church attenders is being cast a compelling vision to go out to eat at an expensive restaurant downtown.  Too bad you didn’t get to them first.

3. You have not because you ask not.

If you’re not asking, then someone else is.  It might be an alma mater, it might be the local symphony, it might be the United Way.  Someone is asking, and those guys are getting the gifts.  It’s not about competition, not at all!  We want people to give where their hearts are.  But giving to the local church and exercising generosity as our worship to God is a glorious spiritual issue.  It’s not about what we as the Church get from our people.  It’s about what we want for our people.  If I have a brand new visitor, I’m going to ASK him or her to join a small group because I want that for them.  Ask your new people to join you on the journey of generosity, and explain to them what that means.  No more of this, “If you’re a first-time visitor, please let that bag pass.”  No more!  What are we saying when we tell people that?  Not just what are we saying to our first-time visitors, but what are we saying to our regular attenders and regular givers?… I smell some obligation in the room, not celebratory ‘I get to!’ giving.

4. We as the Church must set the example for generosity.

I’m in Uganda right now.  Never been here before.  I’m here with the board of Global Family Rescue, the organization of our Village Team.  I’ve only been here for a day, and already I am blown away by little of a life I have led thus far.  I have seen nothing.  Being the hands and feet of Christ?  I have not truly exercised that in the slightest, not a chance.  As we drove through the streets of Entebbe and Kampala this morning, my eyes and my heart suddenly opened wider than I ever knew they had capacity for - in love of these people here.  I don’t even know many of them yet and haven’t been to the actual villages where we’ll be serving yet, but I can’t explain to you the heart expansion that takes place even from driving through the streets and speaking with a few people.  Generosity is the ability to totally throw ourselves into the arms of God’s love and give where He leads.  That means our time, it means our finances, it means our relationships.  It means our whole selves.  I’m rethinking a lot of areas where I thought I was generous.  I had no idea the rest of this world was out here.

Explore something you have not yet explored, something radical.  Go to a third world country.  Church leaders, if there are people in your church who have not yet experienced such large parts of our world, do whatever you can to make that experience possible for them.  It will radically change their definition of generosity, and it will radically change the mission of your church.

Live generously.  No matter what the conditions.  It’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are.  :)

Love, Julie

God is Hitting the Accelerator at Community!

Posted by: Julie on Thursday, November 6th, 2008

accelerate-pedal.jpgOk so have you experienced this recently?….You’re in the car and someone (maybe it’s you!) hits the accelerator rather suddenly and you kinda feel this “umph!” as you jet forward and continue in a rapid motion down the highway toward your destination… My personal favorite is when you’re in a golf cart and you’re in Park (you golfers out there know this is true in all types of golf carts, no matter how fancy the course is!), then when you hit the gas it’s like this jolt of energy (because all golf cart brakes are so sticky!) that sometimes gives the unsuspecting passenger a bit of whiplash!

Acceleration.  It’s that feeling when suddenly everything gets kicked up a notch, the stakes get a little higher, the momentum starts to build a little faster, and the goal starts to get increasingly more attainable.

That’s the feeling we’re having at Community right now.  I can’t explain it in any terms better than that.  We’ve had more baptisms in the last couple of months than we’ve ever had in a 2-month period in the history of the church.  Our student ministry celebration services have a higher attendance than they’ve ever had and our students are preparing for a massive serve-explosion in a couple of weeks where they will impact the lives of literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of people in the Naperville/Aurora area through generosity.  Our Community 4:12 ministry to the under-resourced area of East Aurora just secured a 7,000-square foot space in downtown Aurora that is going to allow us to create a cultural and spiritual renaissance within the community of East Aurora through meeting people’s needs and helping them find their way back to God.  Our Celebrate the Journey support and recovery ministry continues to celebrate incredible milestones of life change through recovery from addiction, healing from divorce, confidence through tough circumstances, and they are currently seeking to determine how this ministry can expand to new Community locations so that more communities can experience the freedom of this life-changing ministry.

Additionally, I wouldn’t be telling you everything if I didn’t tell you what else happened this past weekend at Community.  In the midst of what many perceive to be a world financial crisis, God continues to further the mission at Community through blessing us with incredible generosity.  This past weekend, our offering was over budget by about 15%!  And this number is not just about a budget, not at all.  This number is about so much more.

This number represents:

Several new families at our newest Plainfield campus who have found their way back to God and have begun experiencing the joy of generosity through tithing and giving to those around them, discovering what it means to truly life a generous life…

Eleven new families churchwide who began giving for the very first time this weekend as a result of God working radically in their lives through this church…

A group of attenders at our Naperville campus who recently came together for a retreat to take a greater ownership over the mission of helping people find their way back to God through exploring new ways to reallocate generosity to this Jesus Mission at Community…

A group of attenders at our Shorewood campus who recently experienced a life-changing day called Walk Through the Bible where they discovered God speaking to them in specific ways through His Word and learned more about what it means to be a true Christ Follower…

Several hundred small groups churchwide who are experiencing what is said to be one of the best DVD curriculums our small groups team has ever put together called The Story of Everything

Over 5,000 people across nine locations who are encountering God week after week, day after day, and who are living radically different lives than they once lived as a result of God’s Spirit moving in their hearts… and who are devoting their changed lives to helping more people find their way back to God.

I can’t help but feel the excitement measured with the weight of responsibility that this type of acceleration brings to a church like Community.

God, give us the wisdom it takes to continue stewarding these gifts of time, talents, and treasure in a way that glorifies you and helps more people experience the joy of knowing you.  We are thankful for each and every person you have brought into this place.  Thank you for their hearts, thank you for their commitment, and thank you for their openness to allowing you to work through them in a way that only you can do.

Circumstances vs. Choices

Posted by: Julie on Monday, October 13th, 2008

jim-collins-booking.jpg“We are not imprisoned by our circumstances; we are freed by our choices.”

Jim Collins (pictured at the left, author of Good To Great, Built To Last, and pretty much one of the most brilliant guys ever) said this statement last week when we were at the Catalyst conference in Atlanta.  It has stuck with me over the past several days, and it continues to stick with me as I think about our current economic situation.

Many of us come home from work each day, take a look at CNN (if we haven’t already been following it on msnbc.com during the day), and watch in dismay at the stock prices falling and the economic crisis escalating as we make judgments, start to panic, and apprehensively watch political giant after political giant explain their predictions and suggestions of what will and should happen.

It’s quite a dismal way to live – remaining on the receiving end of the conversation, not ever actually feeling like we have a voice in the matter and likely becoming frustrated at times.  But these simple yet profound words from Collins most definitely bring encouragement at such a time as this.  We no longer have to be on the receiving end of the conversation.  Instead, we can be starting the conversation – choosing to start the conversation.

“We are not imprisoned by our circumstances; we are freed by our choices.”  Freed by our choices.  Freed!  By our choices!

My choice is to live a generous life, regardless of my financial circumstance.  And at such a time as this, that might mean living more simply that I ever have before so that I am no longer consumed by the things around me but rather by the people around me.  That might mean giving to those in need that are in our community, giving to our local church so that it can continue to bring hope to communities – being generous with our time, our relationships, and our money.  All of it.  That’s what I choose.

What do you choose?

It may seem like I’m describing it stupid-simply.   That’s because it is simple.  Try prioritizing generosity first and see what happens.  See where your anxiety is.  See where your thoughts are.  See where your time is spent.  Just try it.  I really want to hear from you.

Certainty In Times of Uncertainty

Posted by: Julie on Monday, October 13th, 2008

october-8-2008-girls-baptized-012.jpgDo me a favor.  Take a look at this picture and let me know what you see.  Can I tell you what I see?  I see two teenage girls, Allie and Sarah, who just committed their lives to following Jesus through baptism last Wednesday night.  Through the sacrament of baptism, they died to their old selves by being dunked under the water and were risen again with Christ as they were brought back up again.

I also see a young woman in the middle named Amy Ferguson.  Amy is the daughter of our lead pastor Dave and his wife Sue.  They have raised quite a tremendous young woman who has led many of her friends to Christ and influenced a young generation of leaders here at Community.  Amy baptized Allie, and Sarah was baptized by one of our Student Community leaders and faithful Community attender, Sue Lueders.

Know what else I see?  I see a miraculous celebration of baptism that was made possible by the generosity of time, relationships, and treaures of people at Community.  It is absolutely critical during these economic times we’re in that we do not let the Church get squeezed out.  It is tempting to think that our generosity is something that can get thrown out first when we look at our personal monthly budgets with perplexing thoughts of how to make it happen.

But will we?  Will we allow the uncertainty of our economy to hinder the work God is doing through the Church?  Will we allow the uncertainty of our own personal finances to keep the Church from bringing hope to the rest of the world?  Instead, might we consider the reverse and accelerate the Jesus Mission?

Won’t you join with me in prioritizing our generosity above all else, trusting God that He will provide our material needs so we don’t have to be tempted to shrink our investment in the Jesus Mission?  Allie’s and Sarah’s friends and neighbors and all those they will meet throughout their lifetime depend on it.  And I’d bet that yours and mine do as well.

An investment in the market is not certain.  An investment in the Kingdom most certainly is.  I’ll take the ROI pictured above any day!

Congratulations Allie and Sarah!  And thank you Amy, Sue, and Community for making it happen!

On Ramps

Posted by: Julie on Saturday, September 27th, 2008

ramp.jpg

We’ve been talking a lot lately as a staff about on-ramps – mainly in terms of new staff members and new leadership residents at the church.  But it’s got me thinking a lot about on-ramps to generosity as well.

With new staff members and new leadership residents, it’s important to have a process – or at least a conscious awareness! – that is intentional about acclimating them to the team.  We’ve missed on this a few times at Community, being such a close-knit team that moves at the speed of light.  We’ve failed a bit at taking valuable time to on-ramp a new team member so they can join us at full capacity and become a part of things.  We’re learning how to do this better, and I think we’ve all tried to be more intentional about opportunities to bring a new team member into the fast-paced movement of things around here, but it’s got me thinking about our on-ramps to generosity.

What ARE our on-ramps to generosity?  For some, the 10-for-10 Worship Challenge has been an on-ramp.  For others, each time we do our Giving Back To God (offering) time, it is an on-ramp.  For others, being in a small group with people who talk about giving and generosity in a new way is their on-ramp.  For still others, they have no on-ramp for generosity.  I think we might make a lot of assumptions about people when they walk through the doors of Community, and this area of giving and generosity is a tricky one to figure out.

For instance, I think many of our attenders come from a Catholic background, which teaches all kinds of very specific things about giving – some of which are similar to what we practice at Community, some of which are not.  That background alone can change the way someone might receive what we are saying about giving from the stage.  Others might be completely uneducated on the subject and when we say ‘tithe,’ they have no idea what it means.

I remember sitting in church a few years ago with an unchurched friend of mine, and when the offering bag passed she opened up her purse, quietly leaned over to me and whispered, “How much does the service cost?”

It’s hard to know what the people out there are thinking, and I’m so thankful that at Community we have so many people from so many different places.  It’s wonderful!  But I want to do the best job we possibly can at communicating effectively God’s truths about giving and generosity in a way that draws people’s hearts into a relationship with Him – so much that they can’t help but give all they are – in every sense of the word give – because all we are is His anyway.

What are some of the ways you think we could be doing a better job with this?  Or what are some of the on ramps we currently use that ARE effective and we should keep using them?