Celebration of Hope 2013



At Willow Creek, we believe the most powerful force for fighting global poverty isn’t just government, aid or charity—it is the local church. Because they know best what the needs in their own community are, Willow Creek partners with local churches in Africa and Latin America as they provide sustainable solutions for fighting poverty and injustice. And that partnership is transforming thousands of lives.

During Celebration of Hope 2013, we will highlight our global church partners that are working to provide clean water, nutrition, and education for children, and churches that are administrating micro-enterprise efforts, and providing home-based health care and HIV testing. Our partner churches work together courageously to fight poverty in their communities through these and other ministry programs.

You have an opportunity to serve churches in Africa and Latin America in three ways:

  1. Take part in the 5K Run for Shoes:  Register to run or walk the 5K Run for Shoes on April 20 and provide churches with shoes they can distribute to children in their communities that open doors to education and better health.  Register.
  2. Help fill 3/4 million seed packs:  Help families in Latin America and Africa grow home vegetable gardens to feed themselves and earn additional income with seeds that are distributed through their local church. Register to pack seeds or  learn more about being a Seed Packing Event Host.
  3. Experience the Lobby:  More than 40 solutions to poverty will be on display in the Main Lobby at the South Barrington campus during the three weeks of Celebration of Hope 2013. Take the time to speak with Willow’s staff, volunteers, and ministry representatives to learn how your contribution can provide tangible solutions that truly change lives.

There’s no greater agent of change in a community than the local church in action. Celebration of Hope 2013 focuses on our global strategy of empowering the local churches in Africa and Latin America by providing encouragement and support for the work God has called them to do. To learn more, check out the Celebration of Hope website.

Royal Family KIDS Camp


Royal Family Kids Camp

While walking along a camp trail at Royal Family KIDS Camp, Riley looked up and told his counselor, “This must be what heaven is like!”

Bart and Karen Francour raised four children of their own and fostered sixteen, so they know a thing or two about steering children in the right direction. After a conversation in 2005 with Tim Vanden Bos, director of Willow Creek’s Camp Paradise, they transitioned into a new way to impact the lives of children.

“What we really need is a camp for children who have no fathers,” said Tim. Inspired by Tim’s words, a seasoned team of volunteers joined the Francours and helped give birth to Royal Family KIDS Camp (RFKC) in Lake Geneva.

“Our mission,” said Bart,“is to provide a week filled with fun, hope, and positive memories for 7-11 year-olds living in the foster care system in Lake, Cook, and McHenry counties. Our goal is to introduce them to the God who loves them, and to guide them toward productive lives.”

Gearing up for the Season
RFKC, entering its seventh season, takes place the week of June 9-14 in Lake Geneva, WI. And it’s all about making the kids feel like royalty. Activity centers, games, sports, hiking, swimming, boating, and a great Bible-based curriculum are all part of the excellent program. “We even have an event called “Everyone’s Birthday Party” since many have never had their birthday’s celebrated,” said Karen. At the end of the week, they leave with a memory bag that includes a Bible, a MP4 player with camp songs, a treasured letter from their counselor, and a personalized photo album.

How You Can Help
“If you hear God’s whisper to reach out and impact the life and touch the heart of a beautiful, yet hurting child,” said Bart, “we’d ask that you prayerfully consider serving with us.” There is a crucial need to fill both female and male counselor openings before our first training on April 20 at Willow’s South Barrington campus. More than 50 counselors are needed to serve at the June camp alone. Also, camper scholarships and corporate donors are needed to finance the week.

For information about RFKC, please email Camp Director Bart Francour, at rfkc_lakecook.il@sbcglobal.net or call (847) 382-0884.

“We are God’s plan to reach children of abuse, neglect, and abandonment.” Wayne Tesch, Founder of Royal Family KIDS – Camps, Clubs & Mentoring

Playing a Crucial Part



“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”—Henry Ford

Without the hundreds of tiny parts that make up a single car transmission, interconnecting and working together, the modern car would be rendered completely useless. Every part is crucial to the overall performance of a car—imagine the outcome if one of those parts were missing.

Willow Creek’s Gifts-in-Kind volunteer ministry— a program designed to provide Willow’s global partners with high-valued items and materials—has grown immensely in the last few years because of the overwhelming support of various donors and volunteers from all six Willow campuses. The program has been operating for many years, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the program became more defined, a “partner-oriented initiative,” said Frank Davis, volunteer at Gifts-in-Kind.

Since 2009, the ministry has focused on understanding the needs of the global partners, whether it is for the educational development, business development, or church development of the partner country.

“Relations have been built and nurtured,” said Frank. “There is communication and follow-through—when that is in place, the success of the program can grow.”

The process begins when the country managers, Willow staff people in the ground in each partner country, address the needs in their community and compile a list that is then sent to GIK. Generous donors provide these materials—desks, computers, refrigerators—and GIK volunteers are responsible for picking up and packing the materials. Each freight container is 40 feet, weighing anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 pounds.

“What we have been highly blessed with is a good amount of material that fits all parameters,” said Frank. “The ultimate source of its success is God.”

These particular materials are either not available in the country of the global partner, or the expense of the materials is far too great for the country manager. More importantly, all of the materials that are packaged are completely operational. Any materials collected that cannot be packaged are recycled, and those funds are used to pay for shipping costs. “It’s a cool double edge,” said Frank. It’s a green initiative that began in 2012 in order to avoid any material being thrown into local landfills.

And once the freight container arrives overseas, the country manager is responsible for unloading and distributing the materials. Materials are usually allocated to partnering churches within Willow network, but often, the materials would be better utilized in other areas of the community.

“If the partner finds other needs within the community where material could benefit, it’s up to them—they are in charge,” said Frank. “We go out and get it, pack it, and send it. They are in the drivers seat—they are the heroes.”

Ultimately, this means that another child will not be forced to sit on a cardboard box or another church member will no longer have to sit on a lawn chair. This is the vision shared by both the local GIK donors, volunteers and the global partners.

Last year, seven containers were packed and sent overseas, including a 40-foot container that was sent to Costa Rica. Materials sent to Costa Rica included 150 student desks and chairs from Stevenson High School; seventy computer desks from Corrigan Moving Systems; sixty computer monitors from the Computer Connection ministry at the Care Center; four pallets of Educational Montessori materials; and a playground from Bright Hope International that will be installed by volunteers from Willow’s North Shore Campus.

And in the last four years, GIK volunteers have packed 15 containers, three having been sent to Costa Rica. This is only possible with the continued dedication of donors, GIK volunteers, and global partners all working together. Like those transmission parts, they each make up a part that allows the entire ministry to keep going.

If Cars Could Talk … An Inside Look at Why People Donate Cars


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If cars could talk …

SO: What are you in for?

CV: Oh, I’m getting a physical. They’ll look under the hood, check my fluids, check my mechanical systems and generally ensure that I’m in good working order. How about you?

SO: Same thing. The volunteers and staff here at the C.A.R.S. Ministry already looked at me and they were thorough. By the way, I’m Subaru Outback.

CV: Glad to meet you. They call me Chevy Venture. So what brings you here?

SO: Well, after many good years together, my family decided it was time for me to go on a missions trip of sorts. They had multiple cars and wanted to help a single mom or a family in need of reliable transportation. As members of Willow Creek Community Church, they had heard stories over the years about how families just like ours donated their vehicles to the C.A.R.S. Ministry and how that had a profound impact on the families that received them.

CV: Wow, my family felt the same way. Mom said that her dad died when she was eight and her mom had a tough time financially. As an adult, she said that when she and dad were ready to get a new vehicle, it just felt like the right thing to do to donate me and help someone facing similar hardships. I am the second car they have donated. This ministry is one my family believes in.

SO: Helping and giving are priorities in my family too. As my dad shared, “Our daughter and her husband donated a car two years ago. This motivated us. Volunteering and giving are priorities of ours. It’s our responsibility to help others.”

While the talking cars part of this story may be fictitious, the information contained in the above scenario comes from actual families who have donated vehicles to the C.A.R.S. Ministry. The ministry accepts vehicles of all shapes and sizes, all model years and in any condition. Note that even cars that don’t run can be donated. Vehicles appropriate to meeting the needs of families in need, particularly single moms, are serviced and given away. Others are sold to fund repairs and support the ongoing operations of the C.A.R.S. Ministry. All donations are tax deductible.

Next Steps

For more information on donating a car to the C.A.R.S. Ministry, please contact Dan Hybels or call (224) 512-1116. Also check out the Online Donation Form. For more information on serving in the C.A.R.S. Ministry, please contact John Gingerich, call (224) 512-2074 or sign up online.

Dental Care in Guatemala


El Palmar, Guatemala is a small municipality best known for its coffee trade. Dental care is a rarity for many living in El Palmar, and residents have gone years or even a lifetime without ever visiting a dentist. All this changed recently, when a Willow mission team traveled to El Palmar to provide dental care.

Dental Team Drills Down
What do two dentists, two nurses, one Northwest Community Hospital program director, and one Willow staff member equal?  A make-shift dental clinic serving 235 patients in three days.  The team turned several rooms in a local Presbyterian Church into their work space. Willow’s local Church partner, Saq Be, spread word of the team’s arrival by networking with the local Health Center and Red Cross. Before the doors were ready to open at 10 a.m. on Monday, a long line of patients had already formed. Despite waiting for hours to be seen, patients, ages five to sixty, were grateful to receive dental care.

Each patient was greeted by a Saq Be volunteer, who took a medical history and administered a blood pressure test. Volunteers also handed out a printed guide describing the basics of good oral care, which was explained to the patient while they waited for service. Overall, 15 Saq Be volunteers helped interpret, check in and counsel patients, dispense medicine, and review follow-up instructions. Afterwards, the patients received a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Getting to the Root of the Problem
The team performed primarily tooth extractions, extracting 342 teeth in all. Because only one side of a patient’s mouth could be anesthetized at a time, several patients who came on Monday returned on Wednesday to have the other side treated.

Brushing Up on the Basics
One of the nurses on Willow’s team also gave a demonstration to approximately 60 children and adults on maintaining good health habits. The demonstration emphasized the importance of good hygiene in preventing the spread of germs. Posters from the nurse’s demonstration, which contained easy-to-understand graphics, were left behind for future teaching.

The team also left $3,000 worth of dental instruments that Saq Be will utilize for outreach events. Saq Be plans to host events like these at least five times per year, and the donated dental instruments will allow more dentists to volunteer.

Maybe this explains some of the bright smiles in El Palmar.

For updates on each trip and news from our global partners follow the Short Term Teams Facebook page.

Health care professionals looking to volunteer their skills should email healthservices@willowcreek.org for more information regarding the dental and eye care clinic coming with the new Care Center facility and the many volunteer opportunities available.

Employed for Life Workshop and Job Fair


“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13

In an effort to combat poverty and restore hope, the Employment Service at the Care Center has launched two new programs—The Employed for Life Workshop and the Job Fair that collectively work to provide Chicagoland and suburban residents the opportunity to network and build the skills necessary to obtain employment.

While the recorded unemployment rate for Illinois decreased from 10.5% in 2010 to 9.8% in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in reality, these rates are significantly higher. The current numbers do not reflect part-time workers, individuals who didn’t apply for unemployment benefits and individuals who haven’t actively searched for a job in the last month. Finding a job has become a job in itself, causing not only an economic crunch, but leading to depression and anxiety, according to the Pew Research Center. In response, Willow’s Care Center created an employment services department.

The Care Center’s Employment Services started about a year ago and served 488 guests; it has grown about 25 percent in the last year. The department offers counseling and mentoring to those who are currently seeking a job and counselors provide assistance in writing cover letters and resumes. In an effort to expand its services, the team developed Employed for Life Workshops that are designed to encourage and instruct job seekers about God’s vision of work. The workshops take place quarterly and provide people with the opportunity to learn ways in which they can better navigate the job market and acquire new skill sets.

“While it is vitally important to help people find a job, it is just as important to keep them encouraged while they are in transition,” says Anne Rand, Justice and Employment Services program manager.

The first workshop (October 24, 2012) brought in 120 people and the second was scheduled for January 23, 2013. As a means of further ensuring that employment needs are met, the Care Center’s Employment Service also hosts a job fair on January 29, six days after the workshop. With employers receiving hundreds of standard resumes and cover letters, it is often difficult for employers to call back prospective employees for a call-back interview. The job fair enables employers and employees to meet one-on-one, allowing for first time interviews that might not have been possible without the fair. This one-on-one meeting allows employers to learn more about the interviewee’s work ethic and relational skills, often increasing the likelihood of a second interview.

“As much as it is our responsibility to prepare ourselves for job searching and job readiness, ultimately we turn to the Lord to throw open the doors of opportunity,” says Anne. “This is when our prayers come to fruition—giving you the words to say when interviewing, touching the heart of the interviewer to offer you a position, and preparing you for successful employment.”

Along with these two programs, the Employment Services team also has a website where community residents can post employment opportunities. It has grown to serve over 13,000 members. With the growing demand of services, the team hopes to be able to expand its hours and services once the new Care Center is built: new services would include entrepreneurship training, bi-lingual tutoring, and support groups.

For more information, email the employment services team at employmentservices@willowcreek.org

The Bible – Access to God’s Spoken “Word”


Easy access to Bibles is something most Americans take for granted. In the United States, 92% of households have an average of three Bibles on their shelves. But the converse is true in many areas of South Africa, where Bibles are hard to come by. Entire communities and churches in South Africa may have access to only one Bible, and in some cases they may be forced to go without. For this reason, Bibles are one of the most requested items from Willow’s church partners in South Africa.

Unfortunately, the solution is more complicated than simply delivering a stack of Bibles. First, it is necessary to locate Bibles translated into the local South African language. Second, many churchgoers in the rural communities have never had the opportunity to learn to read. Finally, a significant number of people do not see well enough to read or are not well enough to read. Despite all of these obstacles, Willow has found a solution – the Audio Bible.

Audio Bibles
Willow has partnered with Faith Comes by Hearing, an organization that has translated the Bible via sound into more than 600 hundred languages. Costing about $100 each, these unique audio Bibles allow individuals to listen to God’s Word recorded in perfectly clear voices. Calculated pauses, music, and sounds provide hearing “cues” that set the stage as the speakers make their way through each book of the Bible. The audio Bibles are powered by three different methods – electricity, solar power, and manual wind-up, making them conducive to any environment.

The Impact of a Recent Delivery
Willow recently delivered four audio Bibles to a holistic church partner in Port Shepstone, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. Called the Genesis Care Center, it features two wards with forty beds for stroke survivors, HIV/AIDS patients, and individuals with TB and cancer. Patients at the Center receive medical, physical, spiritual, and emotional care 24 hours per day. Using the audio Bibles, the nursing staff encourages patients to sit outside in the early winter sunshine and listen to the “Word” spoken in their own language, IsiZulu. Because many of the patients lack the ability to read, hearing the Bible offers much needed inspiration and healing. The audio Bible gives new meaning to the power of the “spoken Word.” Due to the great work of the Genesis clinic, the percentage of patients who get well enough to return to their families has increased from 20% to 48%, and that number continues to grow.

Willow Hosts a D.A.C.A Workshops


In an recent change of immigration policy,  the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (D.A.C.A.) was signed on June 15, 2012. The reform would allow undocumented children who arrived in the US before the age of 16 to stay in this country legally and work here for a period of two years. With valid employment authorization (work permit), undocumented immigrants, who meet the criteria, will be able to obtain a valid Social Security number and driver’s license.

As a response to the new reform, organizations around the US have set up D.A.C.A. workshops that include information sessions and legal services. On November 10, the Willow Creek Care Center’s Legal Aid Ministry in partnership with World Relief and Casa De Luz, hosted a Deferred Action Workshop. “By offering the D.A.C.A. Workshop, we have the opportunity to help people really think about their status and options and then talk with a qualified immigration attorney about their case,” said Anne Rand, the Care Center’s Legal Services Program Manager. “This collaborative effort with World Relief, immigration attorneys, generalist attorneys, and volunteers will eventually serve hundreds within our community.”

More than 40 volunteers, ranging from generalist roles to legal service roles, contributed their time and expertise to the workshop. Forty-three participants had their applications compiled, scrutinized, verified, and mailed off to the federal government. A team of Casa de Luz volunteers offered tearful prayers, hope, and encouragement before the envelopes were sealed. And now the waiting process begins. World Relief estimates a two-month waiting period prior to approval.

While D.A.C.A. does not provide a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship, it does offer undocumented immigrants a beacon of hope for the future. “Many of the young people who applied are stellar students and participants in our church and in civic arenas throughout our community,” said Anne.  “Seeing hope in young people’s eyes was such a highlight. Many of them live with the hidden burden of being ‘undocumented’ and very much want to do the right thing. The thought that they don’t need to live in constant fear of deportation, that they could pursue a job with the assistance of a work permit, obtain a legitimate Social Security card and driver’s license—all things so necessary to be a functioning contributor to our society—brings a feeling of joy to all of our hearts.”

The event went so well that the Care Center’s Legal Aid Ministry, Casa de Luz, and World Relief will collaborate once again to host another workshop on February 9, 2013. To find out if you or someone you know is eligible, visit the Department of Homeland Security’s USCIS page for official details, or stop by the Care Center on any Tuesday morning between 10 a.m. and noon or in the evening between 6:30 and 8 p.m. to meet with a Legal Aid attorney. World Relief also hosts workshops in the coming weeks at their Wheaton office. Simply call (630) 462-7566 to register. To volunteer at the next D.A.C.A. workshop at Willow, register now.

The Power of One…Small Group


“Anyone who is thirsty may come to me—-For the Scripture declares, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  John 7:18

Everyone has heard about the Power of One; but what about the Power of One Small Group of Women? They were searching for a service project, when one of them heard about making mittens out of boiled recycled wool sweaters.  Mary presented the idea to her group, and Paws for Pure Water was born. Their purpose would be to make mittens throughout the year to sell mainly during the Christmas season. The results have been mind-boggling. Last week, they presented a check, for over $20,000, to Scott Pederson, global connection specialist for Willow’s efforts in Africa. The money will be used to drill two boreholes in a village in Malawi, Africa. Now 1356 residents will have access to pure water. “Our small group of nine women had no idea that within a year’s time we would learn so much and be so successful,” said Sue. “Only God could do this.”

The Story Unfolds
The fleeced lined mittens are artistically made. Every pair is original and reflects the artistry and skill of the individuals. The group functions much like the body of Christ. Each member does their part, and in so doing contributes to the whole.  Some cut out the mittens, some stitch, while others work on the business end. “Once people hear our story, they buy mittens and then ask how they can help,” said Dana.  “These mittens are just beautiful,” said Michele who bought four pairs.  She had tears in her eyes knowing that her gift would help someone half a world away.

More about the Village
“The drilling has already started in Mwambenje, Malawi,” said Scott. “There is no single source of clean and safe water in the village and as a result mothers get up early in the morning to go to a borehole which is 5 kilometers away.”  The well, maintained by the local church, will be a life-saver for the 269 families living in the community, a community where fifty percent of the children do not make it to age five.

How You Can Participate
Paws for Pure Water is in need of fleece, buttons, thread and wool sweaters 60% or greater. Check their website to learn of future opportunities to participate in this ministry.

Orphan Sunday: A Night to Remember


“And let us consider how to spur one another on towards love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)

What do Moses, Esther, Babe Ruth and Steve Jobs have in common? They were all adopted, and they all changed their world.  Orphan Sunday is celebrated in every state in the US and also in twenty-two countries. Currently 143 million children are orphaned. A large gathering of men, women and children attended Willow’s Orphan Sunday event on November 18th for various reasons. Some wanted more information about adoption and fostering, while others were interested in lending a helping hand or being a Safe Family, like Denise who was inspired by a recent weekend message. “What am I doing with my five-bedroom home in Inverness that could make a difference?” she thought.  Her husband and two sons supported her decision to take the plunge and sign up to be a Safe Family. Her first assignment was taking in 1 ½ year old twin boys for three weeks. “The twins were great,” said Denise, “and I look forward to future assignments.” Many others shared their thoughts.

Evening Feedback
Eric and Kate, who have two adopted boys from China, recently moved to the northwest suburbs. They were looking for a church family.  After their visit to Willow, they were encouraged to join a Wiser Together group. They were warmly welcomed, and their group leader just happened to mention the Vulnerable Children’s Ministry and the upcoming Orphan Sunday event.  “We are so excited to be here tonight and to connect with other adoptive parents,” said Eric.

Roy, a special education teacher, came with his wife, Julie, and their three girls. They were eager to check out the various organizations represented. They want to adopt a special needs child to complete their family.  Reece’s Rainbow, an organization matching Down’s Syndrome children with adoptive parents, was one that caught their attention. “The kids are so excited about having another child in the family,” said Julie.

Kyle Donnelly came to Orphan Sunday looking for a place to serve.  “I have felt God’s heart for the plight of children. I have a heart for those so vulnerable. So I am here to see where God would have me serve now that my own children are grown and I have more time,” she said.

Closing Thoughts
“Our leadership team was really pleased with the event,” said Dina Ackermann, ministry director. “We had a record number of people attend and 14 booths set up with representatives from various organizations/agencies whose focus is on adoption, foster care, vulnerable children, etc. They all expressed that they were happy with the conversations at their booths. Each one of the speakers did a fabulous job, and really added something to the conversation. We had many people fill out “next step” forms to volunteer for various ministries.  By all accounts, it was a very fruitful evening.”

For those considering fostering  children and adoption, Willow will host DCF classes starting Tuesday, January 22ndled by Joyce Mofit.  If you desire more information about the Vulnerable Children’s Ministry or if you wish to obtain a foster parent license, contact Dina Ackermann at justiceservices@willowcreek.org.