Hunger and How You Can Help


From famine in rural regions of Africa, to severe food shortages in refugee camps in the Middle East, to undernourishment in wealthy U.S. cities – hunger affects a multitude of people around the world every single day. Approximately 805 million people suffer from hunger on a daily basis according to the World Food Programme.

willowcreek_coh_C&J_blogpost_bowlFood is necessary to fuel the body and mind for a healthy life, and when people suffer days, weeks, and sometimes months without adequate nutrition, they cannot function in daily activities. Their minds are not clear, their bodies are not able to perform daily tasks, and their immune systems cannot fight off illness. Malnourished muscle tissue deteriorates, reducing stamina and making it difficult for one to perform the work necessary to support a family. Hungry children lose the desire to play, as well as the ability to concentrate in school. And when workforce and education rates are lowered, the result is economic troubles for the entire community.

The most dangerous effect of hunger and malnourishment, especially in children, is slow immune response. This increases the risk of infection and makes it harder to recover from simple illnesses like diarrhea and the common cold. Many children die from these illnesses because their bodies are not nourished, and therefore, not strong enough to fight infection.

The form of hunger most highlighted in the media is acute starvation – children who are just skin and bones and mothers so weak they can barely hold their babies. These images are real and true, and Willow Creek partners with churches around the world that are fighting to end famine of this magnitude. Whole communities are transformed when seeds are donated, cultivation methods are taught, water wells are dug, irrigation systems are built, and chickens are provided for farming. Contributions to our annual Celebration of Hope campaign go toward helping with these initiatives.
However, hunger is more than just the images of starvation you see in the media. Daily undernourishment is much less visible and harder to produce in photos. Sometimes people who have enough food to fill their bellies are still undernourished because they lack access to adequately nutritious food. Much like those in underdeveloped regions of the world who must subsist on plain rice or corn flour, Americans who rely solely on fast food and cheap, processed food are in danger of undernourishment.

The Willow Creek Care Center is addressing these local needs by providing nutrient-rich foods, such as fresh vegetables, dairy, and whole grains in our full-choice food pantry. We serve households that are food insecure – meaning they do not have ready access to nutritious food, generally due to insufficient income. We are also launching nutrition education classes at the Care Center to teach those who suffer from food insecurity how to obtain and prepare nutritious meals on a limited budget.

At Willow, we believe in coming alongside those who are suffering from hunger, not only by providing immediate food supply, but also by helping them find a way out of the hunger crisis. Our global church partners are working diligently to end hunger through areas of education, health services, and community development. The Care Center helps our local neighbors in need get back on their feet through employment services, dental and vision care, help with transportation, and many other areas of assistance. All of God’s people deserve to be freed from hunger, and as Christ followers we are called to be the hands and feet that help them.

So how can you help? Pray for those who are hungry, help educate the people around you, give to Celebration of Hope, and volunteer at the Care Center.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” – Matthew 25:35-36

Hope for the Middle East

  • World count of refugees is more than 51 million – highest since World War II
  • 3.2 million refugees have fled Syria
  • 7.6 million Syrians are displaced within their country
  • More than 43% of the entire population of Syria has been forced to flee
  • 60% of refugees are young people

willowcreek_coh_C&J_blogpost_servingrefugees“There are no longer any children in my country. Even a four-year-old can tell you everything about war,” says one childcare worker in Syria. Children have seen their parents tortured or killed; they’ve lost siblings, friends, and whole support systems. Now many Syrians, and others from war-torn areas in the Middle East, live in over-crowded refugee camps with scarce resources, and even more are displaced and hiding within their own countries.

Curt Rhodes, founder and director of Questscope, is committed to helping vulnerable youth in the Middle East regain hope for the future. Lynne Hybels interviewed Rhodes about the vast and increasing numbers of refugees funneling from Syria and Iraq into Jordan and Lebanon, and the subsequent need for resources within the refugee camps. He says the best way to serve this population is to work alongside the refugees and community leaders who have been most affected. He says that if you truly want to help, you must “take off your savior coat” and let the people who know best – the refugees themselves – come up with the solutions. And the best way to help them is to provide the tools they need to succeed.

Willow’s goal is just that – to come alongside partners who are experts in their fields and are already on the ground working in these areas. Portions of funds from Celebration of Hope (COH) will support the efforts of our partners in the Middle East who are working to bring peace and restoration to an entire culture of people.

Visit our Peacemaking and Refugee booths in the Willow Creek Community Church lobby during COH to find out how you can get involved. Visit

Sasha’s Story



When she arrived at the Christian Life Center Hospice Facility in Phumula, South Africa, 15-month-old Sasha was on the verge of dying. Born HIV positive, she is now living with the AIDS virus.

The hospice facility is a ministry of Christian Life Center, a local church that houses and cares for children diagnosed with HIV or AIDS. “This facility is a divine means by which God is using the church to rescue and care for His children,” said Pastor Siva Moodley, one of Willow’s Global Partners, working at the Christian Life Center.

Because of the social stigma attached to having a baby diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, Sasha and her mother, who also battles the AIDS virus, were ostracized and thrown out of their traditional rural community. They roamed the streets, often assaulted and harassed, until authorities eventually caught them living in a shopping mall and were thrown out. Day after day, Sasha’s health deteriorated because her mother couldn’t afford to feed her or provide her with the medicine she needed to survive. Knowing that her daughter needed immediate medical attention, Sasha’s mother tried to get her daughter admitted to a government-funded hospital, but was denied. Sasha was also turned away from various care facilities and orphan centers because doctors said her chances of surviving were considered hopeless—until she arrived at the hospice facility.

The Christian Life Center has given Sasha a second chance at life.

“The hospice program is able to provide Sasha a haven of hope that will provide comfort, care, and security,” said Siva. While Sasha’s health is still critical, she is now able to consume solid food and is no longer in constant pain. “The pain and anguish on her face has disappeared and is now replaced with a constant smile,” said Siva.

Sasha receives professional medical attention, has started a new ARV treatment, and has a housemother, Gogo (Granny), who provides-round-the-clock care for her. Her quality of life has greatly improved. “We believe that God will heal Sasha and that she will someday live a normal life,” said Siva.

Role of Willow members
 The Christian Life Center is able to help children like Sasha because of ongoing support from Willow members—support that comes in the form of prayers, resources, and volunteerism.

The hospice program has expanded and now includes a new building that will be able to house and care for 12 children, as opposed to 6. The new building is in need of modern medical equipment, medically approved furnishings, a professional nurse and two nursing assistants, Willow volunteers to train housemothers and the medical staff, as well as food, clothing, and linens. This new building will ensure children like Sasha receive the love and care they need and deserve.

If you are interested in working collaboratively with other professionals to enhance and support Willow’s global partners like Christian Life Center, consider joining one of Global Ministry’s Community Development Advocate Teams. These teams exist to equip global partners with resources and help them meet the needs of their local communities through development initiatives. CDA teams will meet at the Global Ministry Gathering at Willow Creek from 6-8 p.m., January 21, in Blue Sky 1.

Why offer tax assistance?



The Willow Creek Care Center Volunteer Income Tax Preparation (VITA) Program was introduced in 2012 to meet a real need of Care Center guests and Willow attenders. The program uses trained volunteers to prepare the income taxes of those whose household income is $51,000 or less.

Leslie was one Willow attender who utilized the free tax preparation services (VITA) offered by the Finance Team, in 2013.
“My family and I are so grateful…We were so blessed by this ministry! The benefits we obtained last year were spiritual, emotional, and financial.

 From making our appointment to the final submission of our taxes, we were accompanied by certified professionals and highly trained volunteers, who guided us clearly in every step. Every person we talked with provided support and treated us with compassion, respect, and good-will.

In addition to all of this, the services we received were at no cost. The Finance Team did not charge for the services they provided, which helped our family budget, and they helped us get a refund from the IRS after we submitted our taxes.”  –Leslie

This year the Finance Services Team will be offering the program again. This doesn’t happen, however, without fantastic volunteers.

With a variety of volunteer roles, there is a way for everyone to serve.  Volunteers will greet guests, schedule appointments, help with administrative tasks, and prepare tax returns.  Bilingual (English/Spanish) volunteers are needed in all volunteer roles.  Training will be provided for all positions and those who serve as tax preparers will go through an IRS certification process prior to serving.  You don’t need to be an accountant or CPA to qualify.

If you can do your own tax return, you can prepare a tax return for those who qualify for the program.  To learn more, contact the Financial Services Program Manager, Thelma Talamantes.

A New Leader in Malawi


Africa Pictures 222

Willow Creek has been working in Malawi, one of the world’s least developed countries, for the last seven years. Malawi faces challenges in building, expanding the economy, improving education, and health related issues. As with all of Willow’s global partnerships, all community development and ministry in Malawi is accomplished through local churches. Willow does, however, have a Country Manager (CM) who works in person to facilitate all church, government, community and technical partnerships in country.

This August, Derek Luhanga, accepted the position as Willow’s CM for Malawi. “We are thrilled with the unique and comprehensive gifts and experiences Derek brings to this position,” said Mark.

Derek holds both a Certificate and a Diploma in Project Management from Cambridge International College, United Kingdom. He understands the people, customs, and needs of those living in Chitipa (the community where Willow primarily works), due to the fact that it’s his hometown. Having moved away previously, Derek relocated back to Chitapa after accepting the CM position.

His excellent credentials make for a strong fit in his new assignment. In addition to speaking all of the six local languages, Derek has 21 years of experience working with vulnerable women and children in Malawi. Over the span of his career, he has worked for various international organizations such as Evangelical Lutheran World Service, Habitat for Humanity and Every Child. He also served as the Regional Superintendent over Central Malawi for a church denomination. In spite of all his experience with community development organizations, Derek is ultimately a pastor at heart, possessing great compassion for his people.

“Derek Luhanga is an answer to our prayers and our search for a Country Manager for Chitapa, Malawi. In such a short time, we are already seeing great things happening.” –Mark Haugen (Global Field Director)
To learn more about Willow’s work in Malawi and how you might contribute, attend the new Global Ministries gathering on January 21, 6-8 p.m.

Josie Guth Explains Changes Coming to the Care Center


Dear Compassion and Justice Core,

Since our move to campus, we have had an amazing run, experiencing great joys and challenges. Our greatest challenge has been that the demand for the Care Center’s services is greater than our ability to meet them within our current hours of operation. For the last couple of months, as a staff team, we have been thinking through how we might focus our services to better serve and develop relationships with our guests, honor our volunteers, and fulfill the second part of our mission statement “so that lives are transformed and Jesus is known.” In order to accomplish all of this, our first step was to implement a cut-off when we reached our capacity. While this has worked very well in terms of honoring our volunteers and having the ability to go deeper with guests, it has been very difficult to turn people away when we need to close our doors.

With that in mind, we have been continuing to work toward a better solution. Before you continue reading, I want you to know we have felt God’s presence guiding and instructing us in this decision. We have full support from the Executive Team and Elders. We move forward prayerfully as we desire to implement this plan in a manner consistent with His will.

Taking into account our mission statement and the compelling data we have about where the highest percentage of our guests live, we have arrived at an overall strategy that allows us to serve guests who are most likely to engage in our church, which allows us to serve them in a holistic and empowering way. We believe this approach will help prevent us from needing to turn people away from the Care Center, particularly our members and those in the church’s footprint. This focus will allow us to spend our energy on those in our footprint and at the same time honor our strategy to partner with our regional churches.

Whom will we serve?

  • Members and involved Willow attenders, regardless of where they live and which regional location they attend
  • Individuals who live in the footprint of our South Barrington campus, which includes the communities identified on the map below
  • Vulnerable people (for example, orphans, widows, elderly disabled, veterans, Safe Family parents, homeless) who are referred from our current or future local community partnerships

How will we serve them?

  • All guests may make 3 visits for food (no questions asked); however, upon their fourth visit, guests will be required to meet with a Care Team member to share their personal situation
  • Members will be served on an appointment-only basis for all services, including food, so we are sure not turn any of them away.
  • We are in the process of determining how we define what it means to be an “involved attender.”

On November 1, we intend to begin a comprehensive communication strategy about these changes in the way we will serve guests, and intend to have the changes fully implemented by January 1. During the transition, guests who visit us but live outside the geographical radius will be given a one-time “grace” visit. Additionally, we will begin providing emergency bags of groceries to those who arrive after we have reached capacity. Please pray that the transition will be smooth, that God gives us wisdom and instruction, and that we are able to serve our guests with the highest level of dignity and the love of Christ.

Peace and Blessings,

smaller josie
Josie Guth
Care Center Directorgeographical-area-we-serve

We will serve households living in the following communities:

Arlington Heights
Barrington Heights
Barrington Hills
Buffalo Grove
Carol Stream
Crystal Lake
Deer Park
Des Plaines
East Dundee
Elk Grove Village
Fox River Grove
Glendale Heights
Hanover Park
Hawthorn Woods
Hoffman Estates
Indian Creek
Island Lake
Lake Barrington
Lake in the Hills
Lake Zurich
Long Grove
Mount Prospect
North Barrington
Oakwood Hills
Port Barrington
Prairie View
Rolling Meadows
Sleepy Hollow
South Barrington
South Elgin
St. Charles
Tower Lake
Vernon Hills
West Chicago
West Dundee
Wood Dale

The Seeds Have Arrived!


An update and note of thanks from our partners the Jubilee Center in Zambia.

Hundreds of adults and children will receive Willow Creek’s lifesaving help thanks to an incredible response by church members to the appeal for seeds and food packs. Thousands of our families affected by poverty and HIV and AIDS live without adequate food.

Around 2,000 households will receive seeds of tomatoes, cabbage, onion and spinach. Lawrence Temfwe, the Executive Director of Jubilee Centre who participated in the Willow Creek Celebration of Hope appeal early this year stated that, “We are grateful to Willow’s church leadership and their members for this support.” Willow is not only providing seeds, but also supplies households with fertilizer and training in how to increase their harvest.

Willow, through its Celebration of Hope giving, has helped improve access to clean water by drilling boreholes in several communities in Zambia. This month three churches will have boreholes on their premises to provide ‘living water’ to their communities. Bishop Arnold Singoyi of Christian Bible Church is one of the people whose church will receive the borehole. He said, “The borehole will be such a powerful example when I tell members and the community that Jesus is the living water. We are thankful to God and to our Willow family for helping us in such a holistic manner.”

The Pro-grace Potential


Caris Girls

Samantha’s Story
When Samantha found out she was pregnant, she thought her life was over. “I was devastated,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.” Growing up in the church, she never saw abortion as an option to any pregnancy. “Everything changed when I was the one facing the decision. I couldn’t imagine living with the consequences of an abortion, but being a mom I felt like I had to give up on all my dreams,” says Samantha.

Samantha knew she needed to talk with someone, but she was scared to talk with her family and friends. So she turned to Caris, a faith-based non-profit counseling organization, serving any woman facing an unexpected pregnancy. At Caris a counselor listened and offered her resources. When Samantha decided to keep her baby, she felt like a huge weight had been lifted.

After her son, Jordan, was born, Samantha began attending a Caris Connection Group at Willow Creek where she met other women who were experiencing the same struggles she was. “I didn’t feel judged and I realized I wasn’t alone,” she says.

“I started going to church at Willow Creek and when they invited people to get baptized, I knew God was speaking to me,” she says. “I realize God has used my experiences and put people in my path for a reason. I cannot wait to see what He has in store for me.”
Every day women like Samantha find grace, acceptance, and hope through Caris’ program where each woman is valued and treated with dignity.square caris

Discovering Hope
While the Church should be first place that women in this situation turn, sadly, they don’t because they expect to be judged. “When women experience grace from Christians they’re often stunned,” says Angie Weszely, president of Caris.
This has shaped Caris’ vision and dream of helping the church become a place of radical grace that offers hope. “As Christians, we all recognize that we have experienced and desperately need God’s grace. Once women know they can expect acceptance and grace in the church, it changes the whole story.”

It’s through this radical grace, that women discover hope they don’t have to settle for an abortion or a life of struggle. They can live a new story.

Mutual Transformation
Radical grace also holds potential for everyone involved. “Demonstrating grace has the potential to transform one life at a time, starting with our own,” says Angie. “Every time we work in partnership with the church and with Christians, there is exponential transformation in the lives of women. I can’t wait to see the potential this unlocks.”

And that’s where the Care Center comes in.

Beginning in October, the Care Center will offer unplanned pregnancy counseling, and support groups using Caris’ pro-grace ministry model.  “We are thrilled to be in partnership with an organization that aligns so closely with our core values of hope, dignity and transformation,” says Josie Guth, Care Center Director. “Willow has always striven to be known as a radically inclusive community that welcomes everyone with grace. I am so excited the Care Center is taking the next step in becoming that kind of community.”

This new Care Center service will be offered from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday. For those interested in volunteering, visit our website to sign up.

Cures Made Possible Through COH



Imagine holding your three-week-old baby in your arms and looking lovingly into his face. For nine months you’ve waited and prepared for him and now, he’s here. But something is wrong. Instead of seeing the sweet face of a newborn, there’s a grotesque flaw. That’s what Samuel’s mother experienced. Samuel, was born with a meningocele, or fluid sac on his face. Pressure on his bran from fluid buildup was a serious health concern. In addition, the sac made it difficult for him to breathe and almost impossible for her to breast feed him.

Samuel’s mother took him to the nursing room at SCCP (Samfya Community of Care Providers). He was referred to the CURE Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia where doctors applied two shunts to drain the fluid—both attempts failed, but the third shunt successfully drained the fluid. A surgeon from CURE was able to replace bone in Samuel’s forehead and seal the problem area. Needless to say, this has led to a dramatic change for both Samuel and his family.

As a toddler, Bridget, an orphan who lives with her aunt, sustained an infection that resulted in a draining fistula and loss of lip structure. It was difficult for her to eat and talk, but her aunt could not afford medical treatment. SCCP referred her to Smile Train and after two reconstructive surgeries, Bridget is able to close her mouth, eat, and speak more easily.

Thousands of lives are being improved due to medical support made possible by Celebration of Hope 2013. SCCP is able to support special surgeries like these, as well as monthly nutrition and hygiene support for clients, medication for the nursing room and for care providers with First Aid training, client medical referrals, a translator for the nursing room, and more.

A Second Chance at Transformation


“My first time at [the] Care Center for food was on April 3 when you also had a job fair. All the food was awesome and much appreciated; plus, I got a job. The Care Center was a double blessing for me; praise Him. Willow has been changing my life ever since I started attending.”

-Employment Services Participant from Homer Glen


The beauty of the Care Center’s Employment Services is the incredible potential it holds for life transformation. A job can provide hope and a future to Care Center guests in a way that little else can. For a single mom, a job means the ability to provide for her kids. For a 21-year old recently released from incarceration, it means a second chance to build a new life. These stories and others have continued to pour in from guests who have found work and hope through participating in the Care Center’s Employment Services (ES).

The Care Center exists to fight poverty and injustice so that lives are transformed and Jesus is known. ES helps guests move from simply finding help for an immediate need to a place where they are equipped to meet their own needs.

This is accomplished in three ways: employment counseling, skills training, and job fairs. Employment counseling includes one-on-one advice on resume writing and interview skills. Skills trainings involve skill-building workshops and entrepreneurship training courses.

“One-on-one counseling is our mainstay,” says Anne Rand, Employment Services Program Manager. “And the great part of it is that our employment counselors are gifted inwhat they do.”

Each counselor is invaluable, offering his or her time and talent to help each guest. No appointments are necessary and counselors are available every Wednesday between the hours of 10 a.m-12 p.m. and 6:30-8 p.m.

In addition to one-on-one counseling and skills training events, ES hosts quarterly job fairs, which are some of the most anticipated events created by the team. These job fairs have been an imperative component to the Care Center, helping both the unemployed and the underemployed find permanent employment. At the last job fair alone, 31 employers were available to accept applications and conduct interviews with nearly 275 participants present.

At each job fair in the last year, Anne has distributed “celebration cards,” to each participant in an attempt to capture some of the stories of those who have found work and hope through Employment Services. The celebration card is simply a card that guests fill out and return to the Care Center with their story if they are hired by one of the employers at the fair. “It’s been so exciting to receive these cards and read about the families and lives that are changed as a result of finding work,” says Anne.

Employment Services has been active for almost two years, and it has continued to expand its services in order to meet the growing needs of the guests. “In 2014, we hope to do even more,” says Anne. “We just want people to have the skills and the support they need in the context of a Christian community— and to know that God is for them, and we are, too.”

New workshops and support groups will be added over the next several months. September 10 marks the beginning of an eight-week employment support group that was created to help people learn essential work skills while receiving the spiritual support they need.

If you or someone you know could benefit from the resources provided by Employment Services, don’t hesitate to learn more. Register for upcoming events at the Compassion & Justice webpage. Learn more about services offered at the Care Center.