Can you imagine growing up as the son of the “Billy Graham of Latin America?” Kevin Palau can and he loved it. As a family, he lived the transformation of outreach as they went from a stadium crusade approach for evangelism to a family friendly music festival event to serve the community with their family’s ministry Luis Palau Association.
He grew up with the knowledge that “In any particular city or community, whatever the label on the church, Believers are one in Jesus Christ. And we can be more effective when we love and serve and share the Gospel if we do it together.”
An Unlikely Ministry
They wanted to unite a very diverse Christian community, so they asked where they could serve. Education arose as a top need in their city. Since then, local churches have done amazing work in the Portland, Oregon education system all because a church fell in love with Roosevelt High. Don’t miss the story in our podcast interview!
“Because we genuinely went in humbly, we were not coming in wielding some kind of authority… we’re coming in saying ‘We’re embarrassed that we’re not known more for loving and serving the community. We’re not experts on what the need is. Would you help us?’”
They are now on their way to having each school in the city matched with a church sponsor, which was a request from an influential leader in the LGBT community in Portland. They currently have 300 schools and churches matched.
His new book, Unlikely, came to be as he was telling others stories of “God at work in a very progressive place, unchurched place to see tons of church planting going on, to see churches begin to thrive and grow because the environment changed. Because the openly gay mayor and the openly gay school superintendent went from being arms length, maybe even viewing us as an enemy to being warm friends, the media turned around. It gave a confidence to the gospel.”
Seeking the Shalom of the City Together
Sam Adams, the openly gay former Portland mayor, would open meetings with evangelical leaders and LGBT leaders by saying, “Once there’s a friendship, you can disagree respectfully and actually make some progress, at least in understanding each other. And, then you can allow that to not keep you from activating on areas where you do agree.”
They may have disagreed on some big issues, but they also had much in common. “Kevin and I agree on way more than we thought,” said Adams. They both wanted the peace and prosperity for the city. They were seeking the shalom of the city (Jeremiah 29:7).
Palau and Adams have travelled and spoken together to cast vision, lead trainings and show others how to engage the culture well. This started a movement in New York City where more than 1,500 churches will be serving the community with mayor Bill de Blasio.
Relationships Earn You the Right to be Heard
“Most of us instinctively know the best way to share the good news is relationally,” shared Palau.
“And I think relationships with people who may feel the farthest from us, say the gay and lesbian community, and I’m not saying that exclusively. I do think the onus is on us to take the first steps, even if it means being rebuffed and misunderstood. I think it’s on us. I think if we’re gonna wait for it to happen another way, we’ll be waiting for a long time because of the serious pain and hurt they feel from the Christian community.”
We can earn the right to be heard through serving and humbly asking questions and finding common ground.
A group of church leaders met with some officials in the foster care system and simply said, “We love you. Thank you for serving on the frontlines. You’re serving our most vulnerable kids. We honor you for that. What can we do to make your life easier? We’re not experts. We’re not here to tell you what to do, (cause sometimes we can come across like we have all the answers.) We purposefully went in humbly because it was the truth. We didn’t have a clue what we could actually do to help.”
The woman who was the head of the office burst into tears because no one had ever asked her that question before.
This little act of churches coming to community leaders and asking “How can we serve?” has now turned into Embrace Oregon.
It’s possible for churches to replicate the relational collaborative model of serving communities. Palau said, “It’s the opposite of a programatic approach. It’s really about emphasizing these biblical values.”
Catch the full episode to learn more!