USA (MNN) — The evangelical church in North America has been criticized for not being very loving, kind and compassionate. It's been said some Christians are so concerned about people coming to Christ they don't establish relationships with the people they're trying to reach. That's not the case in Portland, Oregon. In today's edition of USA Today, the Luis Palau Association is being recognized for its Season of Service ministry.
The ministry's executive vice president Kevin Palau says it all started with their evangelistic festivals held in major cities around the world where thousands attend and hundreds come to Christ.
Palau says, "What if that festival was a celebration of the biggest community service effort in the history of Oregon? So we met with our mayor and said, 'What are the needs in our community?' And the obvious things came up: helping with public schools, the environment, homelessness, and free medical and dental clinics."
So last year, local evangelical churches committed to providing 15,000 volunteers. Palau says, "In the end, more than 26,000 volunteers from evangelical churches took on hundreds of projects."
That was all celebrated last summer during the Luis Palau Association's Evangelistic Festival.
However, Palau says the Season of Service continues because churches have established goals. "The goal, for example, with the Portland Public Schools is to try to have an official church partnership, at least one church that's in relationship with every public school in the Greater Portland Area. So we're about halfway to the goal."
In some cases, they're providing mentors and reading helpers, and churches are also providing a dozen free medical and dental clinics.
While this all sounds like physical assistance, Palau says it's more than that. "The goal is building relationships: earning the right to be heard. In a place like Oregon where it's not the Bible belt and people are very skeptical, it's actually a big step in pre-evangelism."
While churches in Portland have been reaching out in the community for years, Season of Service has brought them all together. "If it's done collaboratively and in a formal partnership, and in a formal partnership with city leaders and corporate community, everybody wins by the heightened awareness of it."
While the first festival saw about 2,000 people turn to Christ, Palau says this type of ministry will help put feet to their profession. "We know that as we sow the seed, some falls on the rocks, some falls in the hard path and the birds come [and eat it]. And what we're all looking for is that seed that falls on the good soil and produces fruit. And that reveals itself over time."
Palau says they hope to replicate Season of Service this year in Kigali, Rwanda; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Santiago, Chili.