loren Eric Swanson: November 2006

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

kingdom Assignments and Crawford Lorrits

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Newspaper

Church members hold cash in hands, charity in hearts
Elders split $30,000 among members, challenge them to do good

Published on: 11/24/06

During a Sunday service last month, Jessica Gilbert opened a sky-blue envelope emblazoned with the words "Kingdom Assignment." Inside was a $10 bill.

Gilbert and about 1,450 worshippers at the Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell received money that October morning; every person 10 or older randomly received $10, $20, $50 or $100. Some tore into the envelopes on the way home, but the church's pastor, Crawford Loritts, watched several open them in the pews in stunned silence.

Marilyn Stafford of Roswell used her $20 to buy enough material to knit about 60 hats and make several blankets for preemies. She got enough donations to make many more.

The congregation received $30,000 with instructions to use the money for good.

At first, Gilbert, a 28-year-old Woodstock mom, considered spending the cash on a care package for a soldier. But the $10 would only cover one gift box and that wasn't enough, she decided.

So Gilbert tapped into one of her talents making jam. With canning jars already in her pantry, Gilbert bought ingredients for cranberry spice jam and pumpkin butter.

She whipped up several batches of jam, and sold them for $4 a jar (or three for $10). The $10 seed was now $140 enough for a dozen packages teeming with goodies requested by soldiers homesick for American treats Ramen noodles, Skittles, Sports Illustrated and lavender soap.

Loritts said Gilbert's experience like that of so many others reflects how much can be accomplished with a generous heart and a little ingenuity.

"We give money to causes all the time. But we do it in a corporate way," Loritts said. "But to put it in the hands of the people is an incredible opportunity to meet the needs of people that we may not know anything about."

Before elders of the church, an independent Christian fellowship, distributed the blue envelopes last month, Loritts recited Christ's parable of a wealthy man who gave three servants money and asked them to take care of it while he was gone. Two of the servants doubled their fortune. But the third one merely hid the money in the ground.

According to the New International Version of the Bible, the master replied to the third servant, "You wicked, lazy servant ... you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it with interest."

Gilbert said the story inspired her to dedicate sweat equity into the project.

"If I just bought the one package I felt like I would be like the servant that buried the money instead of helping it grow," said Gilbert.

Idea spreading

The Kingdom Assignment movement was popularized about six years ago by Denny and Leesa Bellesi, founders of Coast Hills Community Church in California. After plans to use $10,000 for a charity fell through, the Bellesis handed $100 bills to 100 church volunteers. The couple had just seen the movie, "Pay it Forward," which is about a boy who does good deeds for strangers and starts a chain reaction.

The original $10,000 reportedly turned into more than $1 million as volunteers held shoe drives for needy families in Mexico and helped build a battered women's shelter.

The Bellesis' book "Kingdom Assignment" serves as a template and inspiration for other churches. The North Point Community Church in Alpharetta did a similar project before the "Kingdom Assignment" in which the church gave its congregation $35,000 in a program called "Stewards R' Us."

In late October, Oprah Winfrey gave audience members $1,000 each with a similar assignment.

Fellowship Bible Church members were told they had until January to spend the money. But during a Nov. 19 service, when Loritts asked the parishioners how many had completed their Kingdom Assignment, about half the church members seated in padded burgundy chairs raised their hands.

Marilyn Stafford of Roswell who discovered a $20 bill inside her blue envelope back in October immediately went to work.

The 63-year-old grandmother, who recently underwent knee surgery, decided to knit hats and sew blankets for babies and kids at a children's hospital. With donations from yarn stores, and her fellow quilting buddies, Stafford has enough supplies to make 80 hats and 50 blankets.

Her original $20 will cover the "Fellowship Bible" labels.

Her goal is to knit one hat blue, pink or yellow every day. She's also sewing fleece blankets, which take more time to finish, while watching sports.

"I have always liked the personal approach," said Stafford. "I knew it was a time commitment and it would be easier to write a check, but that's not what I felt compelled to do."

Her husband, James, a skilled woodworker, is planning on using his $20 to craft either wooden Christmas ornaments or fountain pens. He plans to sell his creations and then use the money to send a child to summer camp for a week.

Alecia Owens got her kids 7-year-old Calvin and 5-year-old Gigi involved. The family assembled Christmas packages for needy kids overseas. The couple received $20, and they matched that to buy 10 baby dolls. The helping hands of others plumped up the care packages.

"I asked my dentist if he would be willing to donate some toothpaste, and he didn't hesitate. He just grabbed a case and gave it to me," she said.

Her kids also made Christmas cards, and they kissed every doll before placing them into the shoeboxes.

Gift for client's problem

For Don DeLoach, an attorney who lives in Roswell, the Kingdom Assignment served him a surprise lesson in humanity.

Just a few weeks ago, DeLoach was asked to write a demand letter for a client whose tenant's rent check bounced. A few days later, his client, who had visited the tenant, told him the woman who bounced the check was a single mom struggling to make it.

It made him feel "lousy." And then, on the very next Sunday, he received $20 in an envelope. His wife also received a $20 bill.

They both had the same thought send the money to the single mom. They bought a $40 Kroger gift card and wrote the woman an anonymous letter wishing her well, and hoping the money could help make a nice Thanksgiving dinner.

"People say God has a sense of humor," said DeLoach. "But he also has a sense of irony. I had just sent this woman a letter saying 'Pay up or terrible things will happen to you' and then here I am sending this woman a Kroger gift card."

Generosity carried on

Charity went full circle. The church also received a surprise.

A couple of days after the church's cash giveaway, church administrators opened up a white envelope. Inside was a $30,000 check signed by an unfamiliar name without a note of explanation.

Loritts and other church officials declined to name the donor, but said the person is not a church member. They believe the donor heard about the project and decided to reimburse the church.

Loritts said the check has been cashed, and church staffers plan to use the money to start a ministry to help people in poor neighborhoods find jobs in the Roswell area.

DeLoach, the lawyer who reached out to the single mother, believes the lesson will stay with him long after the last drumstick and slice of pumpkin pie is gobbled up.

"I have a job to do and sometimes it requires being firm," said DeLoach. "But it helps to remember the person on the other side is a human being with their own struggles and wounds."

Christ Community Church in Greeley

I'm passing on a couple of updates from friends of mine at Christ Community Church in Greeley Colorado. CCC is a great model of an externally focused church. When Alan Kraft graduated seminary he wanted to be a senior pastor in a college town. Only one church was willing to give him a chance--a landbound church in Greeley with a mere 75 aging people. From the beginning Alan and his people began serving the community around them--shoveling snow and raking leaves...not for any reason other than to let neighbors know that they too were good neighbors and God loves them. They sent scores of people every week to help tutor kids at the elementary school. They started a hot lunch program, run by the youth pastor on Thursdays for the high school with 200 kids coming into the church each week. As the church grew to over a thousand, they had to decide to relocate to the suburbs or buy up old houses to have the land to build. The neighbors intervened at the city council meetings. "Don't let this church leave!" The city waved the parking spots / attendees rule and now CCC sits a few blocks from the University of Northern Colorado and is thriving. Recently this church of 1,500 raised $4m--half of which will go to projects outside the church through their ammended PEACE plan. I'm just amazed at what God does through ordinary people.

Here are a couple of notes I've gotten from them:

Thanks for the update. One of our experiments coming up this holiday season is what we’re calling YuleFest Parties. For the past two years, we’ve had “YuleFest” at our church, which has just been a huge Christmas party for “us”: a talent (that’s probably being generous, considering some of the acts!) show, food and eggnog, gigantic jumpy-things for the kids to play on, an art show, music, and a card decorating/cookie exchange center where a person could design a card and put a plate of cookies together to give to neighbors around the church on the way home. It’s been cool and a lot of fun, but pretty much just about us. And we felt God leading us to do something different.

So this year, instead of having a centralized party for us, we’re hoping to launch 200 decentralized Christmas parties designed to mobilize our people to build intentional relationships with people in our community. In order to do that, we’re putting together “YuleFest Kits” full of everything someone might need to host a great party: booklet that includes recipes, service project suggestions (coat drive, canned food drive, gift boxes for military, etc.), childcare suggestions, conversation tips, icebreakers, activities, etc.; kid games; CD of holiday music; 20 copies of Christmas carols; a candle with holder (to light in order to remind the host that they are the “light of the world”); and a disposable camera.

All someone has to do is sign up, host a party, invite neighbors, co-workers, family, whoever to the party, then return the camera and a story about the party so we have tales of what went on in our community. The cool thing is that the parties are so non-directive and decentralized that everything the church provides in the kit is nothing more than suggestions. They can use the material or scrap everything in order to conform that party to the context of the people invited. We’re pumped, excited, and can’t wait to see what God is going to do through this simple tool! It’s really helping our people move out into our community, instead of staying huddle in a fruitcake-like mass!

Stacey Campbell
Executive Pastor
Christ Community Church

Lots of cool things are going on. It’d be fun to do lunch with you and perhaps Steve Oeffling on our staff. He was just telling me about some of the missional things happening here. Two groups have now started meeting at a Hoopa bar in Ft. Collins, plus more kids are coming to a skate/snowboard park missional community thing…so it’s fun. We did a 5 dollar Starbuck gift card distribution to about 1100 teachers two weeks ago and continue to receive thank you notes. I was going to email you a letter to the editor written by the Central High School principal, Mary Lauer, last week. The whole thing was about how Christ Community Church is making a difference in the lives of their kids. It about brought me to tears, and I thought about your comment about “would the neighborhood notice if the church wasn’t there.”

Alan Kraft
Senior Pastor

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Catching a Wave that Changes the World

Lately I've been finding myself saying to others, "As difficult as it is to surf, it is far easier to catch a wave than to cause a wave." My point is that we need to be aware of the big things God is doing in the world and get in on them.

God has a plan. Recently I was talking with Reggie McNeal (The Present Future). Reggie made this metaphoric observation. "I doubt that God went to bed last night thinking about how many people you had in your church. Most likely he went to bed last night thinking about the two billion people that live on less than a dollar a day or the 30,000 people who died because they didn't have clean water or about human traficking or the genocide in Africa." When God wants to act, if the church is not paying attention, he will raise up whom he will...who have his full attention to bring forth his agenda in the world. Sometimes it is a Cyrus or an Artexerses or Nebuchadnezzar. Sometimes it is a Bono, a Bill Gates, or Warren Buffet.

Last week I had breakfast with my friends Dave Runyon and Kelly McFadden. Kelly recently returned from a year in England where her husband was getting an MBA from Oxford. Kelly comes from Mariners Church in Irvine California and is a leader in their externally focused ministry, leading Miracles in Motion (motel) ministry. While in England Kelly took a job with the Skoll Foundation. Let's look at their Website (www.skollfoundation.org):

About the Skoll Foundation
The Skoll Foundation was created by Jeff Skoll in 1999 to pursue his vision of a world where all people, regardless of geography, background or economic status, enjoy and employ the full range of their talents and abilities. Skoll, who was the first employee and first President of eBay, believes that strategic investments in the right people can lead to lasting social change.
The Skoll Foundation’s mission is to advance systemic change to benefit communities around the world by investing in, connecting and celebrating social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs are proven leaders whose approaches and solutions to social problems are helping to better the lives and circumstances of countless underserved or disadvantaged individuals. By identifying the people and programs already bringing positive changes to communities throughout the world, the Skoll Foundation empowers them to extend their reach, deepen their impact and fundamentally improve society.

"Many of the problems of our modern world, ranging from disease to drugs to crime to terrorism, derive from the inequalities between the rich and the poor … be they rich nation versus poor nation or rich community versus poor community. It is in the best interests of the well-off to help empower those who are not as well-off to improve their lives.” —Jeff Skoll

Social entrepreneurs see opportunities where others see problems and crises. They apply innovative solutions to social and environmental issues, empowering people and communities to envision and create positive change. They work in many kinds of organizations: nonprofits, social purpose ventures such as community development banks, and hybrid organizations that mix elements of nonprofit and for-profit organizations. The Skoll Foundation believes that social entrepreneurs represent a powerful force for systemic social change. Their work has the potential to reduce economic disparities, increase opportunities for the disadvantaged, promote healthy communities and increase the interpersonal and intercultural understanding that is the foundation for world peace.

Kelly said her time was amazing. But there was a conspicuous absense of leaders from the faith community. Here were some very innovative and intelligent people working on some of the big problems of the world--people with big heads and hearts but where were we?

When I was at Rock Harbor Church last month, a number of staff were wearing (RED) gear--T-shirts and the like. Mike Kenyon explained to me that (RED) (www.joinred.com) was part of the ONE campaign started by Bono and a few others where (RED) products are produced by GAP, Apple, Converse, etc. and half the profits are donated to aleviating poverty and purchasing AIDS medicine in Africa. (RED) is part of Bono's ONE campaign (the campaign to make poverty history) which has enlisted over 2,400,000 adherants including celebraties as varied as Ashley Judd, Warren Buffett, Lance Armstrong and Pat Robertson. From the Website (www.one.org): Part of ONE is another Bono brainchild DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade in Africa). From the Website (www.data.org) aims to raise awareness about, and spark response to the crises swamping Africa: unpayable Debts, uncontrolled spread of AIDS, and unfair Trade rules which keep Africans poor.
DATA is part of a rising tide of action by people like you to beat back these crises.
The organization was founded in 2002 by Bono, the lead singer of U2, along with Bobby Shriver and activists from the Jubilee 2000 Drop the Debt campaign. At the core of DATA's mission is a view that these issues are not about charity, but about equality and justice.

If this is a wave God is causing, is this a wave we should be riding? In the Novemeber 13, 2006 Newsweek, Michael Gerson writes "I've asked young evangelicals on campuses from Wheaton to Harvard, who they view as their model of Christian activism. Their answer is nearly unanimous: Bono." (p. 40) A couple weeks ago I was with a bunch of Campus Crusade leaders who were working on establishing spiritual movements on every campus in the northeast region of the country (1/5 of all US college students). Perhaps the wave that God is causing is what we should pay attention to. Instead of thinking how we can get Crusade staff to bring their students to a certain beach project we should be thinking how to mobilize all the student groups on one campus to go to Africa and sink 20 water wells. It's not so much about wringing our hands, consuming ourselves about growing our campus groups from 60 to 80 (remember Reggie's words) but how can catelize the students on campus to change the world. Last spring Crusade mobilized 15,000 students (believers and non-believers) to work on the gulf coast. These shoulder to shoulder relationships spawned a hundred thousand unlikely conversations about Jesus. This was our "proof of concept." If Bono is universally admired by believers and unbelievers alike, why not show up on campus sporting (RED) gear, idendifying like-minded people and planting (RED) groups or ONE groups or Bono groups or U2 groups on campus and mobilize students for a global agenda sponsored by local businesses? Leaders can keep the spiritual agenda on the front burner and invite students to meet God through service to others (Matthew 25--"When you did it to the least you were doing it to me.") It is then the job of believers to help their friends interpret what they are experiencing as they give themselves to people on the margin. There is a groundswell of students that want their lives to count for something. We can be a catalyst (like we did around Katrina) and give leadership to fulfill that desire for purpose. It is always better to be in the business of satisfying demand rather than trying to create demand. Students don't want to be on the sidelines. They want a piece of the action.

Now, can you imagine movements everywhere on every campus where students are making a global, spiritual and material difference? Who wouldn't want to be part of that?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

When Liz and I were in China Liz picked up a couple of outfits for Gentry and Brody (Wilcox) Gray. How cute are these boys?

A Second Thanksgiving

Boulder County Safehouse is a great organization in our community that shelters battered women and helps them relocate and start over. It is one of the great human service organizations in our community. Yesterday, as part of Flatiron Community Church's Men at Work (externally focused) ministry, Don Wilcox and his friend Peter, helped organize a workforce to move a woman and her three children from her apartment to a "safehouse"--one of several undisclosed locations in Boulder. (My own church, Calvary Bible EFC, also has a partnership with the shelter.) Donny fixed breakfast for the men in the morning and then eight of us showed up to move. John Lamb made the observation on the way over that men fall into two categories--those who protect women and those who bully women.

A few years ago I met with Anne Tapp, the director of the Safehouse and she said that by the time a woman is put in touch with the shelter, she has been beaten a dozen time or more. Before entering into the apartment, we met Bilo, from the Safehouse, who has coordinated scores of such moves. All of us had to sign a form stating that we would keep the location of the safehouse a secret.

The move had a few challenges (if you've ever moved a sofabed, you'd understand) but took only a couple of hours. After the beds were set up and all of the furniture was in place, Donny asked if we could pray a prayer of blessing on this young women and her family. There is power in blessing to convey hope and as we circled around the livingroom, and held hands and prayed we did so with the expectation that God would continue to bring good people into this family and this would be a time of new beginnings. After the prayer, one of the daughters gave us her note of thanksgiving to us. She was grateful that eight strong men chose to bless instead of bully. Amazing, isn't it, how many forms thanksgiving takes. She was doing the thanking but it is we who were truly blessed.

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving for us started on Wednesday afternoon when my friend, Don Wilcox, and I made 22 pounds of Swedish Potato Sausage using my dad's recipe that he used when he was the propriotor of Swanson's Grocery in Gladstone Michigan. Because the recipe is a family treasure I was going to have Donny help me wearing a blindfold, but he forgot to go to Walgreens for his memory medication so it all worked out.

On Thanksgiving Day friends and family arrived with their appetites in tact...and were not disappointed. Liz's brother, Rick from California, was there. Daughter Kacey and her husband Erik, our friend from Moab, Harold Wong drove in. Swens and Libby, Rick Murphy and his two beautiful children--Laurel and Justin, along with a number of others. The food was great (special kudos for Liz's gravy, Rich Loterhos' smoked pork tenderloin and Libby's Pecan Pie) and the conversation stimulating.

After dessert, Brenda Loterhos broke out her fiddle and Irish stepdancing. Does it get better than this? In our family we have so much to be thankful for--Jeff, who returned from a year and Iraq, two wonderful daughter-in-laws, a great son-in-law, a precious grandson with a granddaughter on the way (Andy and Natalie are in the states to have a baby in the next week or so), the opportunity to be closely involved in what God is doing in the world. We are thankful to God for his blessings.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Movements Everywhere

Attached is a note from Craig Johring. For the past several years Craig has done a great job opening new campus ministries in the state of Kansas. This year he moved to Mexico City, and working with a talented team, and partnering with local churches, is seeking to start spiritual movments everywhere. God bless Craig Johring!

I've got cool news...
Yesterday we had our day of training---our first one here in Mexico City. For four hours we trained students to launch movements on their campuses. Our next day of training next month will be better based on the feedback we received, but this one rocked. The response was fantastic----students made commitments to pull together students on their campuses on Tuesday (after the holiday on Monday) to launch a movement on their campuses to reach other students. We trained students on how to share the Four Spiritual Laws, and covered the material on launching and leading a movement that we've been writing during the past
2 months.
There were 4 pastors from large churches in Mexico City at our training, and one asked us to come to his church to train 50 university students this coming month. Jorge Dorcus, the Jesus Film Director here in Mexico City made plans yesterday with these pastors to put on two meetings with groups of pastors in different parts of the city to share our vision and plans with pastors, and line up training times in their churches---or to send students to our monthly training times.
We had 60 people at our training---counting our 13 Enfoque Mexico (Mexico Focus) staff and pastors who where there. The Doble AA's (My friends from Oaxaca who were student leaders I worked with 6 years ago during my Stint in Oaxaca) brought their two brothers and two others current student leaders up for the weekend----and gave the training (in perfect Spanish).
We now have two movements going on university campuses in Mexico City, and hope to see at least 10-20 or more launched during the next week as we visit students on their campuses who came to the training to coach them, and help reach out to students on their campuses.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

To Transform a City

I just finished a (rather lengthy) paper called To Transform a City--a primer on city-reaching concepts as well as a construct for thinking about cities. If you enjoy these opening paragraphs and would like a copy of the paper, drop me an emai at eric@tangogroup.com and I'll send you the entire document...complete with diagrams. Bon Apetit! [UPDATE FOR EARLY UPLOADERS: ERROR ON PAGE 14 "UGANDAN PRESIDENT" SHOULD BE REPLACED WITH RWANDAN PRESIDENT"
To Transform a City
By Eric Swanson

Cities occupy a large space in the heart and plans of God. Today there are over 400 cities with populations over one million and over half the world’s population now are urban dwellers. “By 2015 three will be more than 225 cities in Africa, 903 in Asia and 225 in Latin America…[that] will have more than 1 million people in each.”[1] City living has a transforming effect on people. In his book, The City: A Global History, Joel Kotkin observes,
Cities compress and unleash the creative urges of humanity. From the earliest beginnings, when only a tiny fraction of humans lived in cities they have been the places that generated most of mankind’s art, religion, culture, commerce, and technology. This evolution occurred most portentously in a handful of cities whose influence then spread to other centers through conquest, commerce, religion, and, more recently, mass telecommunications.[2]

Cities form the creative center through which social influence flows. There is far more connectivity, financial transactions, knowledge transference, media production and seedbed for social change in the city than in the country…and it seems that it’s always been that way. Socrates once said, “The country places and the trees don’t teach me anything, and the people in the city do.”[3] The story in the Bible may begin in a garden but it ends in a city.

Unequal influence
Not all cities are equal in their influence. New York and Los Angeles collectively will shape the expressions and content of traditional media more than all other cities combined (with the possible exception of Bombay[4]). Produced in Los Angeles, the television show Baywatch (not that you’ve ever seen this show of course), for example, has been shown in 140 countries and watched by billions of people.[5] How’s that for reach? The financial cities of the world like London, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Frankfurt, though not the largest in size, have the greatest influence on the world economy. In the 1940’s the journalist A. H. Raskin remarked that “in a single afternoon in a single Manhattan skyscraper, decisions would be made that would determine what movies would be played in South Africa, whether or not children in a New Mexican mining town would have a school, or how much Brazilian coffee growers would receive for their crop.”[6] In the last sixty years the importance of cities has only increased…not decreased. We cannot entertain the idea of transforming communities without thinking about transforming the cities of the world.
Tim Keller, Senior Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City writes, “Cities are growing in the ‘Third World’ at an enormous rate and are regenerating in the U.S. and Europe. In the U.S. even smaller cities have seen a renaissance of their downtown cores, as professionals, immigrants, international business leaders, empty-nest baby-boomers, artists, and the ‘young and hip’ move back in. The coming world ‘order' will be a global, multi-cultural, and urban order.”[7] How will the Church respond to this urban phenomenon? Can the cities and communities of the world be transformed?
[1] Praalad, C.K. The fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. Wharton School Publishing, Upper Saddle River, NJ (2006) p. 12
[2] Kotkin, Joel. The City: A Global History. Modern Library, New York (2005) p.xx
[3] Kotkin, Joel. The City: A Global History. Modern Library, New York (2005) p. 21
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bollywood. The Indian film industry produces more films and sells more tickets than any other country but most of its influence remains in the Hindi-speaking part of the world.
[5] http://www.uktv.co.uk/?uktv=standarditem.index&aID=537675
[6] Kotkin, Joel. The City: A Global History. Modern Library, New York (2005) p. 95
[7] Keller, Tim, Ministry in the New Global Culture of Major City-Centers (2005)