Beaverton-based global evangelist Luis Palau is ready to launch thousands of Christians on volunteer missions this summer to fight homelessness, hunger and blight in the Portland area.
Last weekend, at an annual Christian men's conference at Tualatin's Rolling Hills Community Church, Palau called on 2,000 Christians to sign up for community service projects.
The idea has been in the works since last year (see "Holy Alliance," WW , June 20, 2007), and details have advanced to an official launch Feb. 12 of the "Season of Service" at Cedar Mill Bible Church in Beaverton. Organizers expect 500 pastors from as many as 350 area churches to attend, along with local elected leaders such as Portland Mayor Tom Potter and Commissioners Erik Sten and Sam Adams, as well as the mayors of Vancouver, Beaverton and Hillsboro.
Sten will tell church volunteers how they can act as mentors and helpers to formerly homeless families and seniors getting housing. While an alliance between a relatively secular Portland and churches might strike some as odd, Sten says it makes sense because no public money is going to the churches and because the need for community connections is so great.
The Palau organization aims to mobilize at least 10,000 volunteers over the summer to help the homeless, clean up public school grounds, mentor students, fill needy kids' backpacks with school supplies, serve free meals to children in need during summer break, and clean up neighborhoods. And in a series of one-day "compassion clinics," Christian doctors, dentists and nurses will provide free medical and dental services to uninsured people.
"We don't consider ourselves experts in these fields," says Palau's son, Kevin. "What we can do is generate a lot of interest and mobilize a lot of people, so that the people who are experts can have more resources."
Kevin Palau says the local collaboration shouldn't be compared to the Bush administration's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which some have criticized as a way to funnel tax dollars into church-run nonprofits. (While Palau can't guarantee that no volunteer will proselytize, he says that's not what the Season of Service is about.)
"We're not asking for any government funding for anything," he says. "This is purely local Christians who care about their community, raising the funds and volunteering, with no strings attached."
The "Season of Service" is supposed to end in one of Palau's signature tent revivals—an Aug. 22-23 festival in Waterfront Park that could draw more than 100,000 attendees. That festival will include one of the city's "Homeless Connect" events, in which homeless people can get services.