When Kevin Palau and his dad, internationally known evangelist Luis Palau, and a few evangelical pastors walked into a meeting with the newly elected gay mayor of Portland in 2008, no one knew what to expect—especially Sam Adams. Past experience and mass media portrayals of hypercritical evangelicals made Mayor Adams leery. Yet these Christian leaders came to humbly admit being known more for what they were against than for anything positive. And, they wanted that perspective to change. Partially motivated by a debilitating economic recession, Mayor Adams accepted their offer to serve the city.
CityServe demonstrates Christ’s heart
According to Kevin Palau, president of the Luis Palau Association, they simply asked “how can we make Portland a better place?” The Church loves Portland in the same way as believers in small towns and big towns, or wherever, love their hometowns.
“We love our neighbor. We love the community. We often just don’t know how to engage. So all we did was try to engage a little more collectively,” said Palau.
Cultivating unity between churches and partnering with nonprofits, businesses, and city government, LPA’s CityServe birthed a sustainable community effort that’s influencing cities across America. Palau’s book, Unlikely: Setting Aside Our Differences to Live Out The Gospel (scheduled for release June 2, 2015), offers some powerful examples of Portland CityServe’s increasing momentum.
Education. Portland’s SouthLake Church initially brought 1,200 volunteers to Roosevelt High School for a one-day makeover. Their effort revitalized the school and turned into an ongoing relationship that involved mentoring, coaching athletic teams, and feeding and caring for the needs of the students. The impressive results motivated openly gay school superintendent, Carol Smith, to request a church partner for every school in her district. Other school districts followed suit. Now, said Palau, “we have 253 (and counting) public school partnerships.”
Foster Care. When Imago Dei Community Church wanted to spearhead an effort to impact Portland’s foster care, CityServe leaders went to all nine Department of Health Services and asked, “How can we serve?” A female employee burst into tears because nobody had ever asked that before. Others wept. Hope had arrived.
Churches began partnering together distributing thousands of welcome kits to children who had been uprooted from their homes. Trained Christians started offering foster parents an occasional night off. Over the next five years, this collaborative effort is seeking 800 more foster families. Palau expressed his enthusiasm saying, “There’s no better way to model and share the love of Jesus with these most vulnerable kids.”
And, so much more. According to Palau, the Portland story continues with no one really owning it. Hundreds of leaders keep the focus on the gospel while they continue sharing the vision for creative ways to express God’s love. Endless ideas for community partnerships have been making Christ’s followers known for working together in selfless service.
Now serving New York
When Palau and his team started talking with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other community leaders a couple of years ago, Adams—though still progressive in his views—joined the discussion. He said that CityServe didn’t just change Portland, but also his attitude toward Christians. Persuaded to partner with the LPA and numerous multi-cultural churches, Mayor de Blasio calls the faith community “a source of moral leadership, spiritual guidance, and selfless service,” and says that “New York CityServe can play a transformative role in . . . and expand opportunities for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.”
Palau’s joy is infectious as he explains how already about eighty church/school partnerships have formed in New York City. Though Palau easily admits there’s no quick fix, such selfless serving provides a great opportunity to celebrate.
City Fest in Times Square and Central Park
People who have seen the Gospel demonstrated, still need to hear the Good News, said Palau. This spring ushered in numerous outreaches in the tri-state area—“from the UN to West Point to CEOs in mid-town Manhattan to Spanish-speaking events.”
And, on July 10th in Times Square and July 11th in Central Park, hundreds of local churches and nonprofits working closely with the LPA will proclaim the life-changing message of Jesus to the entire New York City Metro area.
“The Great Lawn of Central Park will be packed with families who have seen the difference CityServe has made in their boroughs,” said Palau. “They’ll rejoice with those who have made a difference—coming together in ethnic, denominational, and generational unity—playing games, listening to music, and hearing Luis Palau preach the Gospel.”
In Portland, New York, and other cities across America—CityServe and City Fest are bringing together two key components of the gospel—word and deed. Every believer can join in by watching the live stream (see CityFest.org) and praying that the gospel will penetrate the hearts of those who hear and transform their lives. Or Christians might simply go and ask their mayor or local school principal or some other city official, “How can we help?”
— by Patti Townley-Covert
Townley-Covert is a freelance writer. Visit www.ptcovert.com.