Friday, July 15, 2016

Reflections on volunteering with Compassion at Hillsong Conference 2016

Disclaimer: You are about to read a bunch of amazing stories relating to Compassion International. I am a sponsor and a volunteer advocate. I am not a paid employee or staff member. This is my perspective on the week and all views, opinions and insights expressed here are my own. I am not writing these stories, nor do I sponsor, travel or promote Compassion in order to get noticed, earn bonuses or brownie points. There is no ulterior motive, apart from:
- Seeing children released from poverty in Jesus’ name 
- Challenging, encouraging and inspiring people who have been given much to help those who don’t, through my own personal example.

I have just returned from one of the most amazing, impacting weeks of my life.

As well as being a sponsor, I have been an Advocate for Compassion International since 2007. Advocates undergo extra training in terms of the way Compassion works in order to better inform and engage people about the work Compassion does. They can also help at events and sign up new sponsors.

Apart from speaking at a few Compassion Sundays, I had never worked at an event. I didn’t really consider it ‘my thing.’ My main platform is the classrooms I have found myself in over the last few years as a primary school teacher. Sharing about my Compassion kids with students, parents and other teachers has been a joy and produced much fruit.

Earlier this year I began a relationship with a beautiful woman. We are currently doing the ‘long distance thing,’ as I am in Melbourne and she is in Sydney, having just finished up at the Hillsong Leadership College. Hillsong Church have a great relationship with Compassion and we have a strong presence at the Hillsong Conference which happens in Sydney every July.

As a way of seeing Sharon, who was working in the kids program at the conference, I came up with an ingenious plan: I would volunteer to help out at the Compassion Marquee for the week and get to spend some time with her. Everybody wins!

The conference started on Tuesday night and I drove up from Melbourne on the Monday, a nice 10-hour trek. Based on previous years, the target number was for 700 kids to be sponsored. Little did we know what was in store.

Honestly, during this week I was way out of my comfort zone. Engaging with strangers is not one of my favourite things to do. I was also surrounded by Compassion staff and employees from HQ, so from my end there was an element of trying to impress and making sure I was doing everything right. Even as a ten-year sponsor and experienced Compassion traveller, I was swamped by thoughts of “You’re just an advocate,” “Do I really belong here?” and “Do I have what it takes?” This was not caused by anything the staff members and employees said or did, but just from my own insecurities.

I want to share some stories from this amazing week:

The Impact of Sponsorship Causes Tears
I was scheduled on the main marquee on the opening afternoon, and I nervously and excitedly awaited the crowds. The first person I encountered was a young woman and she uttered those sweet words that every advocate loves to hear: “I want to sponsor a child.” No prompting, encouraging or persuading needed, as God had already done that in her heart.

She said it was something she had wanted to do for a while and perused the two big walls of children who were waiting for a sponsor. Some people have a definite preference in terms of country, gender or age of the child but this woman didn’t. She ended up picking a teenage girl from Brazil and then something amazing happened. When she was holding the child sponsor form in her hand, something unseen clicked in her mind and heart, and the sheer impact of what she was about to do caused her to cry. Through sponsorship, she had become a symbol of Life and Hope to this girl in Brazil. I was able to share a couple of my experiences in Brazil to let her know just what a positive impact she would be making.

There is so much need in the world, and when we decide to trust God and realise that we can make a difference to that ONE, but also that the love we show through sponsorship often has a flow-on effect to their families and communities, it is often too much for our hearts to bear.

The Ugandan Pastor
During the conference sessions there were far fewer people walking around outside, so things were quiet in the Compassion marquee. On the Tuesday night an African man was hanging around out the front with his hands in his pockets, looking in tentatively. I was the only one around, so I approached him and started a conversation. He started asking questions about how Compassion worked and I answered them to the best of my ability. After his curiosity was satisfied he started telling me about himself.

He was a Pastor from Uganda visiting for the conference, and his church ran a ministry for 185 children similar to what Compassion does, without the sponsorship element. I asked if he had considered contacting Compassion about partnering with them. He said he had, but Compassion has a policy of only having a certain number of Projects in a given land area, and there were already other Projects in his community. He also commented that his neighbour was the former country director of Compassion Uganda and that he did not trust World Vision but Compassion was doing some amazing things in his country.

He left after about 20 minutes and we wished each other all the best. I realised this was another example of stepping outside my comfort zone and it’s amazing the things you find out about people if you just have a chat.

Wednesday – Here Comes The Flood
Compassion has been blessed by their partnership with Hillsong Church, and every year at conference we get to feature on the main stage in what we call our “Hands Up Moment.” A video was put together, showing the real life story of a little boy called Collins and his grandmother. Collins was left as an orphan when his mother died, and his grandmother took care of him. Only problem was, she had no permanent place to live, so they spent years drifting from place to place. Collins became registered with Compassion and through the Critical Needs program we were able to build them a house of their own. A place of safety, stability and security. True life change and transformation.

The video was shown on the first morning of conference and then child sponsorship forms were given to those whose hearts were moved to take the step of sponsorship. In the afternoon it was pretty quiet and myself and another staff member were joking every time a couple of people trickled to toward the marquee, “Here comes the flood.”

Then the afternoon session finished and our joking ceased, as there was a literal flood of people. I was engaging with someone, then all of a sudden I turned around and the place was packed! We had all hands on deck and all staff members and advocates were fully engaged with new and potential sponsors. It was incredible! By the end of the first full day we had close to 300 kids sponsored. I don’t know exactly how long the deluge lasted, but when the crowds dispersed for the evening session it took me a long time to recover and get my energy back.

Pray Big, Dream Big, Let God be Big.
One thing I love about Hillsong Conference is the teaching. It’s even better when we see a principle that is taught during conference played out in real life, in other areas. Pastor Erwin McManus from Mosaic Church in California was one of the speakers, and he talked about not limiting God and letting Him do his thing. When we pray small we limit what He can do and we will only receive small. One line that stood out was “God will often give us more than we deserve, but He will NEVER give us more than we ask for.”

With this in mind, the next morning at the Compassion marquee when we gathered to pray, a number of us had this concept on our hearts. We were convicted about revising our target figure (700) and although nothing was mentioned officially, I believe that a four-figure result was on the hearts of many of us.

A Dream Turns to Reality
At one point I was away from the marquee and on the smaller Compassion stand in the Expo, an undercover area full of little stalls from many different organizations. A friendly Samoan-Australian guy came up to me and introduced himself as Moses. He said he and his wife had one of the child forms from the Wednesday but it was in his wife’s bag and they would bring it in later. We then got chatting and he told me a bit about God’s faithfulness in his life. This led to a dream he had and the country Bolivia was mentioned. He found this strange and didn’t even know where Bolivia was. During the “Hands Up” moment on Wednesday he put his hand up to receive a child form, and the boy he received was from Bolivia. He took this as a sign from God and an opportunity to repay God’s faithfulness so, despite having four kids of his own and struggling financially, he and his wife took the leap of faith and decided to invest in this young lads life through sponsorship. Once again, a random conversation with a stranger turns into an amazing story.   

Sponsors Come in All Shapes and Sizes – The Bikies
On Thursday, a guy called Mike came into the marquee and said he was there on behalf of an Australian Christian Motorcycle group. They were wanting to sponsor an older child as a group but didn’t have any preference, so I picked out a lad from Africa who was one of our priority children (been waiting for a sponsor longer than 300 days). I can’t wait to see the look on the kids face when he gets the first photo and realises that his sponsors are a group of 34 big tough bikies! Any bullies had better watch out. Awesome! Mike also wanted to know how his group could partner with Compassion and do more in terms of advocacy, so I referred him to a staff member and they connected. Exciting times ahead. 

Little Angel – Alone No More
One thing I LOVED seeing was the number of families with children coming into the Compassion marquee and choosing a child similar in age to their own children. Each family had a variety of reasons and motivations for this but I love that having a brother or sister to write to, pray for and care for will plant the seed of generosity in that child, and there will be a flow-on effect as they get older.

On Friday, one of the first groups to enter the marquee was a mum and her three young girls. After looking around for a while they chose four-year-old Angel from the Philippines. Looking at her personal details I realised and pointed out to the family that Angel was an only child, but thanks to their decision to sponsor, she now had three sisters! That sure got the morning off to an amazing start.

God’s Timing Is Perfect – His Eye Is On The Sparrow
When you believe in God, sometimes with the way things work out it’s just too good to be coincidence. There’s a gospel hymn that says “His eye is on the sparrow,” meaning that even the things or people who are considered littlest or seemingly least important are not beyond the eyes of God.

On the Friday evening, a man approached me with a child sponsor form. He had taken it on the Wednesday, prayed about it but could not commit to sponsoring. That’s fine, it happens. So I held in my hands the picture of a four-year-old girl from Indonesia who was looking for a sponsor. Not even five minutes later, a young woman walked in on a mission. She was going to sponsor a child but had no idea where to start. She spent a couple of minutes looking at the pictures and then I had a brainwave and did a mental facepalm. I showed the lady the picture I was holding in my hand and asked “What about her?” I explained that I had received her back five minutes before and she was looking for a sponsor. The lady was visibly moved and signed up to change the little girl’s life through sponsorship. His eye is indeed on the sparrow.

“You’re a Great Salesman”
When someone signs up to sponsor, part of my job as an advocate is to talk them through the different sponsorship options. We were encouraged to talk about Compassion’s relatively new program, Critical Needs, which is an extra amount which covers emergencies and other things not covered by basic sponsorship. We were told to ‘read’ each individual in terms of whether they would be open to it. It was always an option, never a hard sell. As I was going through it with one couple they said “You make a great salesman,” and there may have been a mention of ‘upselling’ in a not-so-complimentary tone. They still sponsored the child and the remarks stung for a while, as it was never my intention to come across that way. I had a chat to a couple of staff members about the wording and language they use, and it wasn’t an issue after that. However, reflecting on it afterward I figure that if I’m going to be labelled a great salesman, doing it in the name of Compassion child sponsorship is not a bad cross to bear.

Undercover Boss (‘s Wife) Moment
A bit of humour to finish off. Compassion Australia’s CEO was often seen at the marquee during the conference, and I was introduced to his wife on the first night. A couple of nights later I saw a woman browsing the children’s pictures on the wall and I approached and asked her if I could help her or answer any questions. She looked at me, chuckled and said she was fine. A few minutes later, as I saw them walking out together, I realised that I had approached the CEO’s wife. I was just a bit embarrassed, but at least I was doing my job.

In the end, 970 children sponsored at Hillsong Conference 2016 was the official figure given. That doesn’t include the ones that trickle in through the post in the couple of weeks after the conference, so we could well reach 1000. That is 970 real stories changed, real lives transformed and real hope injected into previously hopeless futures. Plus the flow-on effect to the families and communities. It is incredible to be a part of, and I wouldn’t be doing anything else with my life.

Compassion does not use guilt, persuasion or coercion as tactics to convince people to sponsor. We connect and engage with people, present a real need and invite them to use what God has given them to respond, partner with local churches around the world and meet that need. When talking about the impact of a sponsor or the impact that letters have on the life and heart of a child, there is no melodrama or hyperbole used. I’ve been there and I’ve seen it. It is true, real and genuine.

Compassion International is God’s business and it works.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, so many fun little vignettes to look back on! What a great week!