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 COH2015.willowcreek.org

Orphan Sunday: November 18th


“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress….”

James 1:27                    

An estimated 17.8 million children globally have lost both parents, and many more live with their widowed mothers. In the US alone there are more than 500,000 children in the foster system, with nearly 130,000 waiting to be adopted. Local Christians in every nation are the primary answer to this global problem.

Each year thousands of churches around the globe commemorate Orphan Sunday. This year, November 18, 5—8 p.m. in Room B-100 (under the chapel), the Vulnerable Children’s Ministry hosts an evening with C.H. Dyer, an adoptive dad and president of Bright Hope, Diane Vogelsang, Zambia serving team leader, and Bart Francour, head of Royal Family Kids Camp, a camp for foster children, will share their experiences caring for orphans, both globally and locally.

The evening will give you a greater understanding of God’s heart for the orphan. Opportunities to serve will be highlighted both in the evening’s line-up and through a ministry expo. Learn how you can be part of the solution as a foster parent, an adoptive parent, a Safe Family host, providing orphans in other ways or by simply supporting foster and adoptive families. A light dinner will be provided.

For more information or to RSVP, email justice@willowcreek.org

Pursuing Peace Together: Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians


Learn about a growing group of American evangelicals who are partnering with Israelis and Palestinians committed to security, freedom, dignity, and peace for all the people of the Holy Land.

From 7-9 p.m. on September 21, Lynne Hybels will share her own journey into the realm of peacemaking, and interview Sami Awad, a Middle Eastern Christian who has been her mentor on this journey.

Sami is a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem who is committed to focusing on leadership development and principles of nonviolence, thus creating the foundation for a future of peaceful coexistence for all the people in the Holy Land.

You are invited to come early and walk through a moving photo display by Andrew Shadid. Andrew is a student at Wheaton College who attends Willow Creek and who has traveled and studied in Israel and the Palestinian Territory.

Register today!

Steven Curtis Chapman Visits With Vulnerable Children Ministry


This past weekend at Willow Creek, Steven Curtis Chapman blessed our church by leading us in worship at all three services.  In between services on Sunday, we were privileged to have him stop by and greet some of our adoptive, pre-adoptive, foster and Safe Families.  On behalf of the families represented in our ministry, I was able to thank him for his dedication to adoptive families and to orphans worldwide.  I also told him what an encouragement, inspiration and blessing he has been to so many.  Steven then spoke encouraging words to us and prayed for us and our ministry.  We closed with a quick picture of him with all the kids!

-Dina Ackerman


A Series of Firsts in El Salvador



Wood-Burning Stoves
In El Salvador, 18% of all deaths of children under the age of five result from respiratory infections.  The respiratory infections are caused by inhaling smoke from open, wood-burning stoves.  Wood is expensive to burn in El Salvador, costing up to 25% of people’s income.  It is also scarce, with only 2% of the tropical forest remaining in this deforested country.  In order to provide an alternative to wood-burning stoves, a Willow mission team traveled to a town called La Bendicion for the first time to build Eco-stoves for impoverished families.

From June 30 to July 7, the team carried bricks, sifted sand, and prepared an adobe mixture to install seven Eco-stoves.  Most important, the team drilled holes in the tin roofs of the homes so that a chimney could be placed to channel the smoke outside.

Team Leader Susy Turnbull recalls a moment during the trip when she walked up a hill to find smoke billowing out of a house with no windows.  With a background at the Red Cross, Susy was taken aback by this sight.  For the eight families receiving the Eco-Stove, however, cooking no longer means smoke in their homes.  For the first time, they save money on wood and prepare food without the risk of respiratory infections.

Team Member George
A changed that rivaled that of the Eco-Stoves was the transformation of one team member in particular, Susy says.  George Chu, an engineer from China, was the only male of the five-member team.  It was also his first mission trip with Willow.  Given his cultural heritage, George described himself to the team as “shy, quiet, reserved, in the box, and unable to take a risk.”  But by the end of the week, everything changed.

At one of the church services, George was strongly impacted by a Spanish song.  Even though he does not speak Spanish, George translated the song from Spanish to English and used the lyrics to lead the team in a morning devotion.  Noticing that George continued to sing the song throughout the week, the pastor insisted that George come up on stage and sing the song with a microphone at the farewell Church service.  And on the last day, when the team took a boat ride on a beautiful lake, George even jumped in with the others despite not being dressed for swimming.

Susy says that George’s barriers disappeared and he became truly self-expressed.  George went from being “proper and  conservative” to singing with a microphone on stage, saying “Hola” to anyone on the streets who would listen, and sharing God at the airport on the way home.  All for the first time.

George’s story embodies the beauty of serving teams. So often the team goes for the purpose of effecting life change on behalf of those they serve, but in the process God changes them as well. If you have never experienced the impact this type of trip can make, consider joining a short term serving team and see what God will do in and through you!

Care Center Groundbreaking …Willow Style


“What letter are you?”

“I’m an E.”

This was typical of many conversations held on Willow Creek’s South Barrington campus over the course of the June 8-10 weekend. Those who were there knew what was happening as Willow attenders of all ages headed to the F parking lot. It was the groundbreaking of the new Care Center facility. Symbolically, what began with a vision, surrounded by lots of prayer and sacrificial giving was now taking on physical form in South Barrington.

More than 9,000 participated in four celebration groups over the weekend: one Friday night for Care Center ministry volunteers followed by the Saturday night service and both Sunday morning services. “E” was one letter that made up the words JOY, HOPE and LIFE, all of which were spelled out in human form. An aerial photographer harnessed in a helicopter snapped pictures that will be enlarged, framed, and hung in the new Care Center.

According to Josie Guth, director of the Care Center, the words JOY, HOPE, and LIFE were chosen very deliberately. “JOY because we want the Care Center to be a joy-filled place for both guests and volunteers. HOPE because we believe ultimate hope is found in Christ, which is the very foundation our ministry is built upon. And LIFE because, as it says in John 10:10, Jesus came to give life and give it to the full.”

When the 62,000-square-foot, $10-million facility opens its doors in 2013, “it will be the first time all of the ministries of the Care Center operate under one roof,” says Josie. All told, there are nine ministry areas:

  • Food – a full-choice food pantry
  • Clothing – a full-choice children’s clothing store
  • Housing – construction ministries and the PADS overnight shelter
  • Transportation – the C.A.R.S. Ministry
  • Education – ESL and GED programs as well as mentoring for at-risk youth
  • Financial services – budget counseling and tax preparation services
  • Employment services – employment counseling and Willow’s Job Connection
  • Legal and justice – legal consultation, prison and jail support groups, and outreach ministries devoted to issues such as human trafficking and vulnerable children
  • Health services – including limited dental and vision services

Even though the groundbreaking events could easily be perceived as celebrating a building, it is important to remember that the Care Center is a ministry, not just a building; the building merely helps facilitate ministry. “The groundbreaking for the new Care Center space is the realization of a dream for which people in this ministry and congregation have prayed for many years: it’s a closer tie between the ministry and the church,” says Josie.

Next Steps

For more information on the any of the Care Center ministries, including serving opportunities, visit willowcreekcarecenter.org.

Hope For Her Continued


History of the Hope Bags

Celebration of Hope 2012 focused on Hope for Her.  And what better way to create Hope for Her than pay the women in the highlands of Guatemala a fair wage for their expert weaving.  This suggestion excited Willow member Deborah DaSilva, who is no stranger to the beautiful patterns indigenous to that Mayan region.  DaSilva formerly lived in Guatemala, working as a United Nations peace observer during the civil war. Several Compassion and Justice staff members and volunteers wondered if the ladies of the highlands could make the bags, as a sample Hope Bag made its way to Guatemala to find out. The result exceeded Willow’s expectations. Not only did the women weave beautiful, high-quality bags, they recreated bags nearly identical to the sample they were provided. Though the weave was not a local pattern, the women loved the challenge and found someone to teach them the foreign pattern so that they could reproduce it. The result was the colorful Hope Bags distributed during Celebration of Hope.

Hope for Her in Guatemala

DaSilva travels to Guatemala about three times a year. During her last trip, she visited a weaver who lives in a home made out of corn stalks. The woman, a widow, owns no land and must work in someone else’s field during the harvest season. Because of rain, the harvest season lasts only three months, and it can be hard to find work. Accustomed to being exploited for any goods she does sell, the woman was thankful to be paid a fair wage for the Hope Bags by Willow. Referring to her as a modern-day Ruth, DaSilva says that the woman grabbed her arm and asked if there would be more work for them.  “I hope so,” DaSilva replied, knowing she needed to do something.

From Hope Bags to Bracelets

As a manufacturer of hair products like bows and headbands, DaSilva knows accessories. And she knows about being a Christian business owner. Fronting the money, she placed an order with the weavers for 2,500 bracelets. DaSilva’s dream is to “empower young people” like students in Student Impact and Elevate to make change for the poorest of the poor by selling the bracelets, a marketing technique used by Girl Scouts when they sell cookies. DaSilva knows that “kids and teens want to be involved too; they don’t just want to watch their parents get involved.  The bracelets are something they can take viral, through friendships and social media.” Selling or sharing bracelets is well within their reach and can make a difference in the lives of women like Ruth,” DaSilva says.

Convinced that bracelets are only a “tiny piece of the puzzle,” DaSilva has already tapped into a large pool of talent at the North Shore campus to cast a vision for future products.  And it continues the hope for more than 100 Guatemalan women.

Bracelets are available for purchase ($3 each) at the Compassion & Justice Cart at the North Shore Campus, or by contacting Deborah at deborah.dasilva@gmail.com

Dr. Perkins Expounds on Justice


Ask for examples of justice in the Bible, and you’ll hear about Noah and the flood, Ananias and Sapphira lying to Peter, or even that famous passage, Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death”.  Ask Dr. Perkins about justice in the Bible, and he points to an entirely different story – the gospel! Dr. Perkins encourages us to seek a sense of justice that redeems rather than condemns.

Building a Bridge through the Gifts in Kind Program


“The Gift in Kind program is very helpful especially in the area of education and job creation.” Dominican Republic Field Director Rafael Hernandez

Imagine a school where the children have nothing to sit on but milk crates or a class that meets each day in the dirt, under a tree. Envision more than 120 homeless people looking for food and shelter. The Gifts in Kind ministry is a highly relational program that collects excess and unused supplies from sources here in the US and puts them in the hands of Willow’s international partners for their church growth and development.

What is “Gifts in Kind” (GIK)
“It’s about building a relationship with our partnerships on the ground first and foremost, then establishing communication and finally assisting them to utilize the material for the growth and development of ministry,” says Frank Davis, volunteer in the Gifts in Kind ministry. “It’s not a drop off point, but rather a highly prioritized list provided by our partner.” Some of the procured materials that would be tossed in a landfill are now being utilized to improve the educational, business, and homeless sectors at our partnering churches in Latin America.

The Developing Program
Within 12 months, five 40 ft. containers were sent to Latin America. “Our goal,” say Davis “is to consistently provide these materials. We are working hard to develop relationships, not only with our Latin American partners, but also with those who provide these highly valued resources. One example is stainless steel kitchen equipment from a deserted restaurant facility. With the assistance of a team from Willow, the partners in the Dominican Republic (DR) set up a meal center to feed up to 120 homeless each day. In addition, a bakery and a work-out gym have been created to supplement church income and help these ministries become more sustainable.

An example of God at work…
The DR Field Director’s wife, Ruth, is the head of The Abriendo Camino Christian School—an affiliate with a church in Santa Domingo. The school is pre-K through grade 2 and uses the Montessori teaching style. They hope to expand the program through 6th grade.

GIK procured 44 pallets of teaching materials through City of Miracles founder, Todd Gordon. The GIK Program recently sent 19 pallets to the DR. Ruth and her team have trained more than 20 teachers/principals from numerous church schools with these materials. “The goal is to see between 60 and 70 local schools transformed through this educational program,” says Davis. “I always remember that it could be me in line waiting for these supplies,” says Gordon.

The Ever-Evolving Care Center


Until now, the primary focus of Willow Creek Care Center has been to meet the immediate needs of guests. When individuals and families visit the Care Center for the first time to get groceries, they don’t always share the circumstances that brought them. But when one visit to the Care Center turns into a second, third, and fourth visit, it signals ongoing needs. And addressing these ongoing needs is the new objective of the Care Center. Thelma Talamantes has taken on the challenge of overseeing this objective.

Meet Thelma Talamantes
Born in Guatemala, Thelma moved to the United States more than 30 years ago. Since living here, she has obtained degrees in Human Services and Organizational Leadership and has worked as a social worker for the past 26 years. With a heart and passion for serving and seeing people transformed, Thelma prayed intently for God to use her in the right position. And after eight years of attending Willow, and almost two years serving on the benevolence team, Thelma accepted the job of Long-term Solution Assessment Program Manager. “With the relocation of the Care Center, it is wonderful timing,” she says.

Building a New Assessment Team
“In order to better understand the needs of the Care Center’s guests, it is necessary to take the time to hear their stories,” she says. “We need to understand what’s going on in their lives.” Thelma’s new role includes building an assessment team that is trained to ask the right questions, educating guests on available services at the Care Center, and implementing a database to track progress. Many guests in need of long-term solutions are not even aware of all of the services the Care Center provides. The three-tiered approach will address their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. With this new holistic program, guests can see they have the potential to “grow, improve their situation, and develop a closer relationship to Christ.” Then, after meeting a guest’s most urgent needs,” says Thelma, “we move to empowerment.”

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