Haiti Relief Effort Update


Thank you for your continued support and interest in Willow’s relief efforts in Haiti. Since our last update in February, we’ve taken significant steps forward in our planning and engagement as a church, and are excited to report back about what God is doing.

When leaders from Willow’s Compassion and Justice team traveled to Haiti last April, the mission was clear: to develop a relationship with Nehemiah Vision Ministries (NVM), an international organization focused on transforming the lives of all people through education, health and spiritual development. NVM has a network of churches, working together, to bring change to the country of Haiti.

People Living without Shelter

As we’ve seen in the news, the earthquake’s devastation left thousands of people and organizations without shelter of any kind. Homes, churches, schools and government buildings were destroyed, resulting in people without roofs over their heads and lives full of fear.

Yet since the earthquake, NVM has established a very strategic 40-acre community compound just outside of Port-au-Prince, in the town of Chambrun. The compound currently houses two large tents that serve as a Christian school by day for 370 students, and a church of 600 people on the weekends. A medical clinic can also be found onsite, which served over 20,000 people by the end of May, some of which walked 3-4 hours for help.
The long-term dream of NVM, however, is to continue to expand their services to include a hospital, a kitchen and dining hall, volunteer housing and a cooking trade school, which will provide training for locals to learn practical skills to get jobs.

Prior to any of these upcoming expansions, however, it is necessary to build a secured warehouse that can house construction materials as they arrive and the many supplies for the various projects onsite. As Willow Creek, we were excited to donate $75,000 towards this warehouse, as a foundational step to the development of NVM’s community compound.

Churches in Need of Tents

Another organization, GAIN (Global Aid Network), is in the process of identifying congregations in the Port-au-Prince area who completely lost their church buildings in the midst of the earthquake. Thousands of people have been left without a place to worship collectively.
Willow’s goal is to come alongside GAIN to provide large tents to these churches and smaller, family-sized tents for the many church families who are left without a shelter over their head. These tents will be distributed through GAIN.

Future Planning

We will continue to keep you updated on the progress of these projects and additional next steps. We are currently investigating sending specialized construction teams down to help with the building of the warehouse and other buildings on the NVM community compound. Thanks again for your prayers and support.

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.

Diggin’ in the Dirt


Sometimes a garden is more than a garden.  Sometimes it is a sweet perfume that gives glory to God.  That’s how the volunteers of Willow Creek’s Giving Garden feel. Hidden on the campus of Willow Creek South Barrington is a marvelous small farming plot that serves hungry people.  Near the west side of the Fast Trac parking lot, an ever-expanding area is devoted to supplementing fresh produce for the clients of the Care Center.  While the Giving Garden is dwarfed by the task of providing all the required vegetables, the ones supplied are grown as organically as possible.


Not Your Ordinary Garden


The garden is not your normal backyard garden providing a traditional 1 season crop.  Vegetables are harvested from April through December.  Cold weather plants such as spinach, lettuce and cabbage can tolerate frost and are planted both early in the season and late in the season.  In May, more traditional plantings of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and beans round out the offerings.


More than Produce


Giving Garden volunteers see their work provide for a physical need…abating the hunger of their brothers and sisters in Christ.  Some plants are donated by Goebbert’s nursery; some volunteers bring their own seeds.  Others bring their love of gardening, and still others use the garden to be alone in God’s glorious creation…which makes the Giving Garden an excellent place to harvest the spiritual joy of service to others.


To help expand the garden this year, 30 Axis volunteers helped with the heavy lifting of clearing the land when the garden expanded from 4300 square feet to 8000 square feet.  Digging2 The additional square footage added much needed potato patch.


Explore Your Inner Green Thumb


Most weekends will find the volunteers harvesting vegetables. They also help with weeding, fencing, controlling damage done by the deer population, irrigation and fertilization. 


If you have several hours that you can give on Saturday and enjoying gardening or even just helping those in need, the Giving Garden can use you.  Volunteers can commit to serving one weekend a year or long-term. To learn more or to volunteer, please access: http://www2.willowcreek.org/volunteer/details.asp?F=2&ID=140522&Page=1&RegID=None&C=590

Blitz Build 2010 Video


Thanks to all who volunteered for Blitz Build 2010!!!
It has been awesome to see God bring so many people together to build
relationships and help change lives. If you missed it, there are still
opportunities coming in the near future. Stay tuned for more details.

Returning Hearts Celebration


And he will turn the hearts of the Fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.  (Malachi 4:6) (NKJV)


My name is Kym, and I’m the Adult Prison Pen Pal Program coordinator. In November of 2006, I was blessed to visit Angola State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana.  Traveling with a group of Willow volunteers with a heart for the incarcerated, my life was profoundly changed. On April 30, 2010, I revisited with a group from Willow and Awana for the Returning Hearts Celebration. 

 Our First Day  

My group participated in the Returning Hearts Celebration, an annual event that unites inmates and their children. The programs enormously impact inmates and their children. I truly felt blessed to be a part of it.  

Our volunteer base was 430 people who traveled from all over the country. Every volunteer could request where we felt we’d have the highest impact on the almost 600 children and approximately 250 dads:  helping out with the inflatables, games, check-in or Family Assistance.  
Returning Hearts Celebration (RHC)
Volunteers sat in bleachers on one side of the field while the inmates sat on the other side. I watched with tears streaming down my face as a child or group of children waited to hear their loved one’s name. When an inmate’s name was called out, child and inmate ran towards one another from opposite sides, jumping into their arms, full of hugs and kisses. Some were meeting for the first time, while others since the last RHC and many for the first time in years.
The day was spent with loved ones playing games, sharing cotton candy, taking a family picture and eating together. The volunteers were blessed to witness God’s amazing presence as these men spoke words of love and faith to their loved ones.
Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when you know it may be the last time you’ll see your family for an entire year. Hugs and tears were abundant. To end the celebration, everyone was given a balloon to release into the sky. From where I was standing, it was an astonishing sight of gratitude towards God!
Be A Part
Next year Awana’s many volunteers will be returning on May 14, 2011…what about you? For more information, including a video of the event, you can go to Awana’s site, http://awana.org.


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.

Blitz Build Week Kicks off June 19-26; Willow Creek Partners with Habit for Humanity


“We have seen exotic birds and plants in Hawaii, castles in Spain and the crowned jewels in London, but nothing compares to doing God’s work in community with others,” said a volunteer. Blitz Build is a week of high intensity construction work to help the under-resourced. It begins by choosing a job, starting a conversation with the person next to you, and sharing moments of laughter and spiritual reflection. Carving out a week or even just a day or two, can make a big difference in the lives of others and in your own physical and spiritual development. It’s the meat of the gospel in action. A Blitz Build embodies Fellowship, Friendship and Fun.

Why Participate in a Blitz Build

· Help someone who is in need. Pick up a paint brush and make the world a prettier place for a young child who has experienced terrible abuse.

· Develop friendships. “I went all the way to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi to serve in a Blitz Build and became friends with people who live less than 10 miles from my home,” said a volunteer. “When we see one another at church or at other serves, there is an immediate connection because those who sweat together, connect together. Since we were made for community, this is like a Willow Creek Amish barn-building experience.”

· Learn a new skill. You’ll come home and see all kinds of things to do around your own house, but now you’ll have acquired some skills so you may be able to do it yourself.

· Teach others what you have learned. Just like the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, God has given each one of us talents He expects us to share with others. Here is a place to multiply your talents for the kingdom.

· Develop compassion and gratitude. The experience will help you understand the plight of the under-resourced. Remember what Willow has taught: God’s answer to poverty is us. Let the world see the body of Christ in action.

· Adventure. Change the daily wallpaper in your life and break up your routine.

Reflections by Sue Schuerr

For more information see, http://www.blitzbuild.org/ Registration is open

Contact Anne Rand at arand@willowcreek.org

Making a Difference in the Lives of Refugees


Ministry doesn’t get any better than this.  No, life doesn’t get any better than this.   Laurie Pederson

Scott and Laurie Pederson’s hearts were challenged after they hosted a refugee family for Thanksgiving dinner. Realizing the immediate needs of refugees new to the Chicago area, they decided to take their serving opportunity one step further by obeying God’s prompting and starting a compassionate and educational ministry for refugee children. ”We knew that some of our students had been exposed to horrific situations in the refugee camps and had some deep wounds; this program has offered them an opportunity to heal,” said Laurie. “We began a summer school to keep the kids busy, and out of trouble,” remarked Scott. “The children come from huge families and there was no funding for a summer program, so we decided to start one. We are praying that many of these children and their families, who are mostly Muslim, will understand more about the love of Jesus through the servant hearts of our volunteers.”

Problems facing the children

The refugee children come to the states not knowing the language, customs, and habits of their new country.  Old fears are replaced with new ones such as—-“How will I adjust to this new, strange land?” and “Who will help me?”  The children are overwhelmed as they enter their new neighborhoods and schools. Gathering many Willow volunteers to help, Scott and Laurie assist refugees transitioning into American culture through a new ministry called Sonlight located in Wheaton, IL.

Description of the school

On Saturday mornings during the school year, students gather with their volunteers to develop their academic, physical, and social skills. Currently, the classroom is decorated with posters from the 60s featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his cry for freedom and racial tranquility. For an assignment to write about their dreams, Minani said, “My dream is to make poor people feel welcome and give them love and freedom.” Additionally, Sonlight offers a summer school program where more than 30 students receive high-energy, high-caliber learning experiences complete with academic studies, soccer clinics, art classes, character development, and field trips.

Volunteers share their experiences

“I just love the kids,” said Randy Sparks. “I love bonding with them.”

“We all gave so much in time, treasures, energy, and emotion. We are tired. But it is a fatigue laced with deep satisfaction.” Laurie Pederson (after a summer school session)Sonlight Summer 2009 459

“I was getting close to retiring and was looking for a ministry where I could use my teaching skills, and I have always enjoyed cross-cultural ministries. When I learned about Sonlight, I fell in love with the kids and the program. One of our best students was once a wild, undisciplined child who used bad language, especially when frustrated.  I worked with him a lot when he was younger. Today he is one of the best behaved, intelligent, hard working students—an excellent writer and reader, and one of the most caring and insightful children in our program.” Jan Petrini 

If you would like to make a difference in the lives of refugee children, please contact Scott Pederson at spederson@willowcreek.org

Hunger Walk to Assist Willow Creek’s Care Center


The ties between the Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD) and Willow Creek’s Care Center run very deep. Willow Creek’s Care Center is the largest food pantry in Cook County and provides groceries to about 4000 families each month. About half of the Care Center’s food comes from the GCFD. Because of its association with the GCFD and other sponsoring companies, the care center can give an under resourced family approximately $140 in groceries at a cost of only $6!

Each year, the GCFD hosts a Hunger Walk to raise awareness and funds for their work. This year, the event is scheduled for June 26 starting at 9:30AM. The scenic three mile walk along Chicago’s beautiful lakeshore will start and end at Soldier Field. After the walk, a picnic lunch with plenty of time for socializing with some of the over 6000 participants will take place.

Willow’s goal is to have as many as 500 volunteers involved in the event. To make volunteering even easier, a Care Center sponsor is organizing free buses to transport participants from Willow Creek to Soldier Field. The event will be a cross-cultural experience as guests of the food pantry will be walking with our volunteers.

Registration is required. To learn more about Hunger Walk 2010 and to register, please visit Willow Creek’s Volunteer Website at: http://www2.willowcreek.org/volunteer/details.asp?F=1&Page=2&Interest=JUS

If you have specific questions concerning the 2010 Hunger Walk and Picnic, Willow’s Care Center or making a donation for the event, please email: carecenter@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


Category : Celebration of Hope, Current Events