Celebration of Hope 2011


Each year as we move from winter to spring, there seems to be an excitement in the air knowing that warmer weather is coming. In the Compassion and Justice ministry, we also get excited because it means moving into our Celebration of Hope campaign.

For the past several years, Willow has come together to learn about the needs of people living in desperate situations. We have engaged our minds and hearts to consider the plight of those who are in need while searching Scripture for answers.  It was an amazing scene last year to see thousands come together to assemble more than 500,000 family seed packs that have brought hope to many. Today, once-barren land is home to vegetable gardens yielding a sustainable income for the gardeners. This could not have been accomplished without the efforts of people coming together at Willow and heeding the promptings of God.

Celebration of Hope 2011 is right around the corner. Once again, we are excited about the opportunities and challenges that will be placed in front of the Willow family. Our prayer is that our hearts—together as a church—will grow in the things that are close to the heart of God: compassion and justice.

COH 2011 offers unique serving opportunities that require a little extra time and effort from those who are passionate about this cause. Please look over the following opportunities, dates, and times. Then as a next step, register. Thanks in advance. We are excited to see what God has planned!

Promiseland Children Advance Celebration of Hope’s Cause


Helping the under-resourced during Willow’s Celebration of Hope didn’t just excite the adults. No, helping children their own age was enthusiastically embraced by Promiseland (Willow Creek’s children’s ministry for infants through Grade 5) children; many of them thinking up creative ways to supply school children with critical supplies.

The Hernandez and Engelmann elementary-school aged children manned a lemonade stand. Living on a busy road made the job easier, but they also Facebooked many adults to stop by. Mike, a high school student, brought his guitar and made up songs about water…how the lack of clean drinking water negatively impacts the health of millions of people globally. The lemonade stand made $74 which the four children used to pick items from the Celebration of Hope catalog.

Another family decided to eat the rice and bean diet for a month instead of the week suggested by Willow. The children, determined to test their family’s fortitude, suggested any “diet cheats” make a payment to a fund to be donated to Celebration of Hope.

Shoe shopping was on the agenda for two Promiseland girlfriends. However, they kept think of children with no shoes. They asked to forgo new shoes, if they could donate the money to purchase medical supplies for children their own age.

Several children visited with neighbors explaining Celebration of Hope and soliciting contributions. Others asked school friends to donate to African children who needed supplies.

One Promiseland girl already knew her birthday present – a new computer. Deeply moved by stories of children unable to attend school because they had to carry water, she asked her parents to donate the money towards a well.

Through lemonade stands, garage sales or another creative ways, the children of Promiseland loved being able to serve and be a part of the “big church” activity.

A Tiny Tap Changes a Community


Success started with a tap on the window and a request for a drink of water.  It ended with under-resourced individuals in the Dominican Republic gaining a more effective clean water distribution system.

The Journey Begins

In March, a Student Impact team traveled to the Dominican Republic assisting Willow’s Church Partner, Nueva Vida.  The trip coincided with Clean Water Week and since clean water is a precious commodity in the DR, a plan was formulated to hand out water to the area’s under-resourced.  While working at the water filtration plant, one Willow Creek student spied a teenager about his age rifling through the garbage can outside. Finally finding a dirty Gatorade bottle, the Dominican tapped on the window and asked the students inside for a drink of water.

The team happily satisfied this request because they were already filling, labeling and praying over 300 jugs of water. During distribution, the streets filled with thirsty people; so rapidly the jugs had to be distributed under uniformed guard providing crowd control.  The stark truth was that Student Impact could have easily hand out over 1000 jugs of water. Afterward, students sat in stunned silence…emotionally drained that something readily available in their world could cause such fervor for our Latin neighbor.

A Big Boost

Changed by the experience, the student who helped the young Dominican tapping on the window wanted to do more. During preparations for Celebration of Hope, he had a heart-to-heart chat with his father, who was so moved by his son’s story that he purchased two I-Pads to help with the cause.

Student Impact leaders focused on the inefficient water distribution system and discovered through Willow’s Compassion and Justice Department that a truck could be purchased for $5,600.  They agreed to use the I-Pads to help raise this amount. But God had other plans…

Compassionate Serve

Doc Henley, the founder of Wine to Water, spoke at the Student Impact gathering and kicked off the fundraising. One winner would be picked from students giving a $10 donation; the other would be given to a Student Impact Hero…the person with the most inspiring donation story. Students also used a Facebook video, other social networking sites and house group leaders to raise awareness. On Tuesday of the week, an anonymous donor agreed to match funds raised with no limit, immensely motivating the students.

The student who eventually won the Hero award used PVC pipe to hang water on his shoulders – eventually carrying 100 pounds of water around school each day. The more water he carried, the more questions and donations flooded in.

Mission Accomplished

In one week, Student Impact blew by their goal of $5,600 and raised over $12,500, which was matched for a total of $25,000. The money will be used for the water-distribution truck and a motorcycle, with the rest held for other water-related projects throughout the year.

Student Impact mission trips are planned to the Dominican Republic every March.  Contact Pat Kulezka-Willow at pkulesza@willowcreek.org.

Why Commit to the Five-Day Food & Water Challenge?


Willow Creek member Michelle Hunter and her husband participated in Willow’s Five Day Food and Water Challenge. Below are Michelle’s thoughts on completing the challenge.

After my husband, Rick and I got the courage to commit to the five-day food and water challenge, we were both surprised at others’ reactions. The same people who had applauded our seed-packing – a very noble cause – were unenthusiastic if not downright discouraging about us participating in this five-day fast. “Why would you do that?” one friend asked, “when you can just write out a check.” “I hope you don’t get sick,” my mother-in-law cautioned, as Rick relayed the regimen. Yet another co-worker remarked that restricting one’s diet to only tap water and meager meals had no tangible benefit or impact on the poor. (On day three of the challenge, there is a strong temptation to want to believe these rationales). But hearing this feedback does beg the question…why commit to the five-day food and water challenge? The plain answer is that you can’t know until you do it.

The Benefits

One clear benefit of the food and water challenge is awareness. Fulfilling everyday responsibilities while being hungry or thirsty provides an automatic connection with others in similar circumstances. Rather than being a far-away, remote problem, the challenges of food and clean drinking water are on your doorstep. Another benefit to the challenge is saving money, which can then be passed on to those whose lives do not return to normal after five days. Admittedly, these were benefits that Rick and I expected to take away from the experience. Beyond these benefits, however, was an interesting revelation.  The nature of this challenge is that it affects people differently.  Rick, for example, learned the power of his sugar cravings.  Because he does not drink coffee or soda, and actually likes rice and beans, this part of the challenge barely affected him. Denying himself sweets, on the hand, was very difficult; it was his sweet tooth that suffered. But for me, it was something entirely different.

A Revelation

I love creature comforts such as coffee, tea, and wine. Condiments are another weakness of mine, and I love coating whatever dish I’m eating in scandalous amounts of dressing. While all the time I thought that these little creature comforts were serving me, I soon realized that I was serving them. Until I was deprived, I did not realize how much I lived for my coffee in the morning, my condiment-driven sandwich or salad for lunch, and my wine-inspired dinner at night. I truly had no idea how much I was a slave to these “highlights” throughout the day. Then, as the days passed, something strange happened. I became more present. Freed for only five days, I stopped living for the next little pick-me-up. I started living in the moment. Whereas a part of me yearned for the status quo, a part of me awakened. And although it was just a glimpse of a new kind of peace, it is something I know I need to explore. Thanks to the five-day food and water challenge, I will


Celebration of Hope Seed Packing Exceeds Goal


“The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul.” Proverbs13:19

What an awesome three weeks as Willow Creekers packed seeds for Zimbabwe. We had such joy knowing that we more than exceeded our goal of sending 500,000 family packs. Volunteers responded to God’s promptings by packing 514,500 family packs. “Now my prayer is that those seeds will fall on fertile soil and blossom to feed both body and soul of the African people,” said volunteer Roberta Kasperson.

Description of a Seed Packing Event

“It was exciting and challenging to be the Site Directors at Westgate School in Arlington Heights. It was a challenge leading the last weekend of COH. We set a lively atmosphere with high powered music to motivate us to work harder and faster. We would be the hands and feet of Jesus to accomplish the goal,” said Larry and Sue Schuerr. Frank Ley and Mike Calacci, area pastors, greeted everyone with warmth and a genuine appreciation for their presence and reminded us that our efforts would impact the lives of thousands of people. “With the help of 1680 volunteers over the weekend,” said Frank Ley, “we were able to pack 200 boxes with 300 family packs in each box totaling 60,000 family packs.”

Volunteers from Four to Eighty-four Serve Together

An older woman entered Westgate School with her elderly mother who was noticeably uncomfortable sitting in her metal folding chair. A man on our team had a cushioned leather chair with him. He gave up his comfortable seating so the elderly mother could have comfort, which made her smile from ear to ear as she packed her seeds. Parents volunteered with their children teaching them to have servant hearts. Student impact groups came with their leaders and sang joyfully as they worked. Brownie and Girl Scout troops joined in the festivities by picking up seeds and running to the packing stations—it was a competitive relay race. When a box was packed, the room was filled with cheers. Smiles radiated from one to another as generations labored together to accomplish the set goal. We were working like the body of Christ—-all needing one another. George Meyer glowed with enthusiasm as he walked over to the boxing station. It had been his fourth serve and he knew exactly what to do. George was instrumental in motivating his divorce recovery group to team together and serve. “I’m just responding to God’s grace in my life, said George who was made even more aware of the plight of the under-privileged by participating in the 5 day food and water challenge.

Green Shirt Volunteers Rise to the Challenge

The team members wore green COH shirts and many worked from Friday evening until Sunday evening. Willow Creek’s leadership team planned and orchestrated a well thought out plan. “It was an awesome weekend and a joy to be part of it,” remarked Roberta—-“What great leadership and team work all around and what a fun group to be with.”  Many of us were strangers to one another at the beginning of the serve, but the experience molded us into a family.

“Whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”2 Corinthians 9: 6

“He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;

his righteousness & justice endures forever.”

2 Corinthians 9:9

A Slave Free Easter


Americans love their chocolate. In the week leading up to Easter, consumers will spend nearly $500 million on candy—70% of that will be chocolate. But could the decadent goodies in Easter baskets contribute to slavery? Kate Lovaglia, a mother of two and long-time Willow Creeker, is taking no chances. This year, she hosted a “slave-free” Easter.

“When I sent Fair Trade Christmas cards to friends and family, they accused me of being an abolitionist—laughingly, of course,” says Kate.  But the term got her thinking about her initial introduction to Fair Trade products during the 2008 Celebration of Hope. “Since then I’ve learned a lot about Fair Trade, and that little black and white logo continues to remind me that no purchase is a neutral choice,” she says.

In this year’s Easter baskets (from a micro-enterprise in Rwanda), Kate’s kids found Fair Trade chocolate bunnies from Ghana and a few small gifts for her children that do not compromise the childhood of others in far away places. “We had a family feast cooked with Fair Trade sugar, rice, and oil followed by an evening of grace-filled  conversation over a cup of hope cleverly disguised as coffee.

Kate's celebration of Easter moves her to pray for families she will never meet. The flowers on her table provided someone with medicine.  The cloth napkins sent a child to school this year.  Even Kate’s earrings made sure a mother gave birth safely.  “All the things I would purchase anyway now take on a significance that allowed my family to truly engage in the hope and freedom of Easter morning.

Abolitionist?  Kate thinks that’s a pretty fancy term for a suburban mom.

Celebration of Hope: Water Update


Since Willow’s May Celebration of Hope (COH) focus on Food and Water much has transpired. The deep conviction and generous outpouring of the Willow Creek congregation shows hearts transformed by the tender concern for all people modeled by Jesus. Matthew 25 was taken seriously and the result is action.


People water2 Global Connections partners with local churches and church networks in Latin America and Africa. These partnerships have developed into friendships with a together mind set and are vital to our compassion and justice efforts. It is not us and them, but rather we. Working in concert, pastor and leadership training was provided, ongoing short-term teams were sent, and of course, nutrition, food, water, and other desperately needed life-enhancing resources were supplied.


Water is Flowing


After COH, several ministries with an expertise in water, including Water Missions International and Healing Waters International, were contacted.  The most pressing water needs are boreholes, wells, catchment devices, repair of existing equipment and water filtration systems. With the assistance of these ministries and others, we identified the most desperate areas and are installing systems in the following locations.


Total: 28 water filtration systems

Kenya       1 system

Honduras        2 systems

Zimbabwe 7 systems

Dominical Republic 5 systems

Guatemala     3 systems

Malawi   4 systems

Zambia   6 systems


The following boreholes were also provided:


Total: 99 boreholes & wells:

Zimbabwe 6

South Africa    26

Zambia   65

Malawi   2


Because of your amazing generosity, over 200,000 people will have access to clean water for the first time!


Renewed by the Body of Christ


A small team just returned from Zimbabwe where they visited a community hospital identified as having the greatest water need. This hospital typically is without water for three weeks each month. When the hospital is dry, surgeries can not be performed and babies are delivered without water. Through COH, funding rehabilitated a near-by borehole.  A pump and on-site distribution systems, including a Water Missions chlorinator, insure the ready availability of clean water.

 Hospital water

Additionally the team visited three remote villages where boreholes were recently drilled.  The close proximity of clean water provided by these boreholes means that young girls no longer need to walk miles to collect dirty polluted water.


Providing easily accessible water ensures real life change for villagers, but also for those who gave to make this possible. This is the beauty of the body of Christ.

Celebration of Hope ’09


are places in our world where morsels of food and sips of water are a
matter of life or death. Every day, hunger claims the lives of 16,000
children. Another 5,000 children die from water-related illness—every
with these sobering facts, Willow Creek embarked on its fourth annual
Celebration of Hope campaign this spring, with a heart to make a
difference for those in our world who hunger and thirst.


Five-Day Food and Water Challenge
began Celebration of Hope with a food challenge to people at Willow to
let them get a firsthand glimpse of how over half the people in the
world eat each day,” says Heather Larson, director of Willow Creek’s
compassion and justice ministry. “For five days people ate small
portions of rice and beans and drank nothing but tap water.”


Packing Meals for Children in Zimbabwe
over the course of three weeks, more than 17,000 people volunteered
their time to pack 4.2 million meals for Feed My Starving Children, a
non-profit Christian organization committed to feeding God’s starving
children in body and spirit. The meals packed during Celebration of
Hope will feed over 40,000 children in Zimbabwe.

prayed we would raise enough to pay for the meals and have enough left
for water solutions,” says Larson. Over two million has been
donated—so far.


Fair Trade
with Trade As One, Willow Creek sought to educate people about Fair
Trade—bringing justice and dignity to the impoverished around the
world. For three weekends, Willow Creek lobbies at the main campus as
well as four regional sites offered a variety of high quality products
made by innovative, socially responsible microenterprise entrepreneurs
in the developing world. “Our hope is people will consider purchasing
Fair Trade items throughout the year,” says Larson.


Clean Water Solutions
of Hope donations provided funds that will purchase 21 solar powered
water systems at a cost of $25k each.  Each system will provide water
for an entire village for over a decade. Other funding will cover the
expenses of clean water solutions like wells and filtration systems.


water solutions make a life-changing difference, especially for women,”
says Stella Kasirye, the Africa field director for Willow Creek  Now,
instead of spending hours hauling water each day, women can take care
of other chores, attend church, and spend time with their children—a
previous luxury. Young girls can attend school. Properly capped wells
also guard against contaminants, mosquitoes and other hazards, and if
located close enough to residents, can be used for vegetable gardens.
That offers the potential for three growing seasons instead of one.


 “For I Was Hungry”
of Hope is an example of what the Church can do when people catch the
vision Christ set before us in Matthew 25:35,” says Heather Larson,
director of Willow Creek’s Compassion and Justice ministry.  “Feeding
children, offering sustainable wages, and providing water for those who
are thirsty—that is hope.” 
And hope is something to celebrate.

COH Food and Water Challenge – Day 5


Dear Enews Friends,

This is a very special day for thousands of Creekers who are completing a 5 day food and water challenge.  It will be a huge relief to be able to have a normal dinner tonight, won't it?  For me the toughest part was only drinking tap water.  I am neither a caffeine addict nor a wine aficionado but the boredom of tap water started to get to me.  And then I realized that my drinking water was crystal clear, absolutely safe and unlimited.  It poured instantaneously out of any faucet in my house.  If it had been polluted, or if I had to walk 2 miles to get it…well, I can barely imagine.

Others of you mentioned that the beans and rice diet just about put you over the edge.  Imagine eating that restrictively for a lifetime.

I am so proud of all of you who let God work in your life in a new way this week.  And when I heard that over 17,500 of you are doing the 2 hour food packing effort for the children in Zimbabwe . . ., well you know what 2 words are coming next.  Only God.

This weekend will be unforgettable at all of our campuses. Not only do we have a musical surprise for you, but the leaders of Willow huddled this week to make an incredible resource available to those of you who come this weekend.  That is the only hint I am allowed to give. I have the privilege of preaching through one of Jesus' parables at all of our services, and I will be interviewing the President of World Vision, Richard Stearns.  You will be challenged and inspired.

Thanks again, Willow, for not just playing church.  Thanks for seeking first the Kingdom of God, and for stretching to serve the poor.  I am humbled to be numbered among you.



COH Food and Water Challenge – Day 4


"Lord, to those who hunger, give bread. And to those who have bread, give the hunger for justice." Latin American Prayer


 As you start a new day on a hungry stomach, what is the hunger that God is stirring in your soul?


What are you really hungry for as you near the end of this challenge?


We only have 5 meals left until we cross the finish line. I wonder what will be different as we go back to our routines. I wonder what God is up to. I know He is working in each of us individually, in our families, and in our church. I love the promise God gives us in Matthew 5:6, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."  I hope you will create some space, even a moment, in your schedule today to connect with God and pay attention to the hunger stirring in you.


In Gratitude and Solidarity,



P.S. If you have a story or example of what God is doing in you or in someone you know through this challenge, please pass it along! We would love to hear about it!  You can post stories on our blog at http://wccc.blogs.com/compassion_and_justice/.



Category : Celebration of Hope