Charting a New Course for Portland
About the Guest
There are some good things taking place in Portland, Oregon! Luis Palau Association President, Kevin Palau, tells how Christians are teaming up with Portland's mayor in order to find new ways to serve the city in areas of hunger, homelessness, healthcare and the environment.
There are some good things taking place in Portland, Oregon!
Charting a New Course for Portland
Bob: How can you make a difference for Christ in your community? Kevin Palau says you can start by looking at your neighborhood public school.
Kevin: Churches are looking for ways—I think all of us that love Christ—are looking for ways to engage in the community. How do we make a difference? It’s not enough anymore to simply invite people to church, which we should be doing. I hope all of us care enough, and love our friends and neighbors, and are sharing the Gospel, and inviting them to places where they can hear the Good News.
But that’s not quite enough anymore. We’ve got to get out of the pews and into the community to really live on mission with Jesus Christ. Partnering with public schools is a great way to do it.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 3rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Kevin Palau joins us today to talk about how churches can both proclaim the Gospel and demonstrate the Gospel in your local community. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Dennis?
Dennis: Bob, you know, all these years you and I have worked together, I don’t know if I can answer this question for you. Did you ever go fishing, as a boy?
Bob: I did go fishing, as a boy, as a Cub Scout.
Bob: I went fishing.
Dennis: What did you go after?
Bob: Oh, I have no idea. I went after fish that were in the pond, with a hook, and something on the end of it.
Dennis: So, if I was to ask you what the best stringer of fish—what it weighed, in terms of pounds—
Bob: I would say—
Dennis: “I have no idea,” is what you’d say.
Bob: —I’d say, “What’s a stringer?” [Laughter]
Dennis: You don’t remember whether it was catfish, bass, perch, or trout?
Bob: I think it was perch.
Dennis: It wasn’t trout in a pond.
Bob: No, I think it was perch.
Dennis: Well, our guest on our broadcast today knows what kind of fish that I caught because—
Bob: He was there as an eyewitness; right?
Dennis: Well, he wasn’t an eyewitness; but I had lunch with him, not long after I got back from being out in a boat. But I love to ask fishermen—
Bob: Out on a boat, where?
Dennis: I’m not telling you. That’s part of the riddle.
Dennis: I give fishermen this riddle. I say, “I went fishing in the lower 48.”
Bob: You and a friend; right?
Dennis: And a friend. We caught five fish, and those five fish weighed over 800 pounds.
Bob: Oh my goodness.
Dennis: And I ask a fisherman buddy, “What kind of fish did I catch?” The standard answer is—
Bob: Whale! [Laughter] That’s what I would think.
Dennis: [Laughing] Bob, whales do not go in fresh water.
Bob: Oh, I didn’t realize that. Okay. Salt—
Dennis: There may be some; but first of all, you wouldn’t have a stringer-full anyway.
Bob: Baby whales; I don’t know.
Dennis: That’d sink your boat. We turned all these back anyway. I ask people—they never know what I caught, but our guest on the broadcast today—
Bob: He will know.
Dennis: He will know and likely some of our fishing buddies across the country will also know when I tell them he’s from Portland. What did I catch, Kevin?
Kevin: You had to have caught sturgeon.
Dennis: White sturgeon.
Kevin: White sturgeon.
Dennis: Caught the biggest fish I’ve ever caught in my life. It weighed over 350 pounds. It was eight-feet long. My wife saw a picture of it. She said it looked like a baby submarine. [Laughter]
Kevin: They’re bottom feeders for sure.
Dennis: Turned it back—the fish jumped three times. I’ve never caught anything that big in my life, and I’ve fished a lot.
Bob: You’ve not done that thing with your arm in the catfish’s mouth yet; have you?
Bob: Yes. I want to get you doing that.
Dennis: Oh, that’s insanity. Noodling is insanity. They did that where I grew up. Well, enough of the fishing foolishness here.
Kevin Palau joins us on FamilyLife Today. Kevin, welcome back to the broadcast.
Kevin: Thank you, Dennis and Bob.
Dennis: Kevin and his wife Michelle have been married for 26 years. They have three children, and Kevin is the President of Luis Palau Association. I wanted you to come on the broadcast today because I get so tired—and the phrase is “sick and tired” of bad news. There is some good news of some things that are taking place in Portland, Oregon, one of the least-churched areas of the country. Take us back to 2008 and a group of Christian leaders that got together because they cared about their city.
Kevin: Yes, it is a great story. Even though we’re living it today, I never mind going back. We have lived in Portland for more than 50 years. Mom and Dad met at Multnomah School of the Bible, way back in, I think, 1960. We’ve always lived there, but we’d never really done any direct ministry there. We would always travel around the world and do these big evangelistic festivals, but had never done one in Portland.
To cut a long story short, we gathered a number of the pastors and said, “What would it look like—how could we make a significant difference? How could we soften hearts for the Gospel in this very progressive—” Portland is a very proudly-progressive place, which is a nice way of saying liberal. They would say progressive—in every way, shape, and form.
We knew that doing things just the same old, same old way might not work—doing a traditional kind of an evangelistic crusade. We began thinking about, “How can we show the Gospel in word and deed?” We’ve always been an organization that’s done big outdoor evangelistic festivals. We had done some—
Dennis: You’re speaking now of the Luis Palau Association.
Kevin: The Luis Palau Association; that’s right.
Dennis: You’ve done these festivals, where there has literally been hundreds of thousands—
Kevin: Hundreds of thousands of people, at times, in Latin America and other places will come to—you mobilize a church. You get an invitation from hundreds of churches, across all the denominations. Like a Billy Graham Crusade, people would—many would be familiar with that. That’s what we grew up in.
But Portland was a little bit of a different nut to crack. We thought, “Well, maybe instead of going to an arena or a stadium, what if we did a music festival, where there are no fixed seats, where people can kind of come and go as they please? What if they could bring their kids, make it a real family activity?”
In the old crusade, you’re not going to bring your preschooler or your rambunctious first- or second-grader to sit in a seat and watch a service; but if you had an outdoor music festival, with a family fun zone, and a food court, and corporate sponsors, and pro skaters, and BMX, and great music, maybe that would be a community event that would draw people. We tried that festival event and, then, also added in a component called a season of service.
We thought, “What would it look like to serve the community, with no strings attached? Could we mobilize thousands of believers to love and serve the city, and would that help break down some stereotypes?”
Dennis: That group of leaders ended up meeting with the mayor. You went to the mayor’s office to share with him what your dreams were for the city.
Kevin: That’s right.
Dennis: What was unique about this meeting?
Kevin: Well, you know, it was really interesting. We realized that, as a group of churches, as the evangelical community in Portland, we had never done, what seems kind of obvious now—is to actually go humbly to the mayor and say, “We’re not here to complain about anything. We’re not here to ask for anything or try to gain something from you. We just literally want to come and say, ‘How can we serve?’”
In fact, we took the tone of, “We’re a little embarrassed that, here we are, part of the community”—there are actually about 100,000 of us, if you added up all the evangelical community, all the various members—about 100,000 out of two million people in the Portland area that would in some way, shape, or form be part of the evangelical community.
“We’ve never really done anything to love and serve. Help us do that. How could we serve? We’re coming with a blank slate. If we had 15,000 volunteers,”—we took a wild guess—“What could we do to serve the city?”
At first, there was a little bit of a silence; and you know—not sure what to do with it—but over the course of the meeting, the mayor came up with five particular areas that he said, “Well, if you can mobilize some good folks to come and serve—then, hunger and homelessness, health care, partnering with public schools, the environment—these would be some areas where we could use some help.”
Dennis: This mayor that you met with—he was newly-elected; right?
Kevin: Exactly. We’d gotten to know him when he was a city commissioner. One thing that people would need to know about Portland, or just kind of sets the context of it is, Portland—this mayor, Sam Adams, who has become a very good personal friend, was the first openly-gay mayor of a top-40 city in the country. That partly just gives you a sense of, “That’s Portland—our mayor, openly gay; our school superintendent, openly lesbian.” In a place like Portland, that’s viewed as very commonplace and a thing that kind of shows what Portland is like.
Bob: Normal; nobody should—
Kevin: “Normal. Why would anybody question that? We’re a tolerant place. We’re a progressive place.” That was a little bit of the context of like, “How will this work in developing this relationship? Can we go and build a relationship around working for the common good and serving the community?” He responded in a very, very gracious way. Over time—because we’re now talking about almost a five-year period of time—we’ve genuinely built a friendship around loving and serving the community together.
Bob: Now wait. He knows what you believe about his lifestyle; right?
Kevin: It’s exactly right. It’s been—the thing that’s probably been the most surprising to outside observers is, “How can that work? I thought that the evangelical community was mostly about, ‘What we’re against,’”—and again, that may not be fair; but that’s what many people in Portland, who don’t know Christ, would say.
“I thought,” when you talk about an evangelical, “I know who you guys are. You hate this group. You’re against this. You’re against that. I don’t know anything that you’re for.” What we really prayed about was, “What would it look like to let the city know what we’re for, rather than simply what we’re against?”
Again, we did not, in any way, compromise or go and say, “Hey, by the way, we’ve changed all our views. We agree with you on everything. We were very clear, ‘Look, an evangelical is someone that loves Jesus Christ, takes the Bible as our authoritative rule for how we live our lives and what we teach. Naturally, we have some areas of disagreement; but we love you, we love every part of the Portland area, and we want to serve, with no strings attached.’”
To his credit, he treated us at face value, as well. He didn’t come to us with a bunch of stereotypes and say, “I refuse to work with you because I’ve heard that you hate me.” It was nothing like that.
Dennis: You shared this story with me over lunch, after I shared the story of my “stringer of fish” with you. I have to say, I kind of stood there and I kind of smiled. I said, “You know what? This is what followers of Christ need to be known for—good deeds, good works, the love of Christ, the love of all people—an invitation to get to know one another and making a difference in the community.”
Bob: But hang on. There are a lot of people who are going to write you off. This mayor didn’t. But there are a lot of people who, as soon as they go, “Well, you don’t support gay marriage,” or, “You don’t support this,”—they’re done with you. They don’t want anything to do with you.
Kevin: The difference, I think, was—and, in fact, the mayor and other leaders said after the fact—they said, “We didn’t think you guys would follow through. Trust me—we have people coming all the time, spouting off promises—never happens.” The fact was, probably a year later, I was interviewing the mayor. We had several large gatherings of pastors, and Mayor Adams would come.
As he got to know us better, he would kind of jokingly say, “Trust me. When you guys first came in, I didn’t believe you would follow through, at all. Now, the fact is—you said 15,000 volunteers would serve. Not only was it 15,000—”—27,000 followers of Christ, in the summer of 2008, served the city of Portland in hundreds of different projects. His attitude now would be, “Not only did you,”—I’m not talking about the Palau Association; I’m talking about the body of Christ—“way under-promised and over-delivered.”
“Everything you said you were going to do, you did, with no strings attached. You loved, you served. You have consistently done it. It wasn’t a one-time event—to say you love the city, and serve, and then we never saw you again.” This is now an annual activity.
Every May 1 to October 31—so, six months of the year is an officially mayor-declared season of service. These hundreds—about 400 churches—we serve the city, actually throughout the year; but it’s a special emphasis May through October. It’s, now, kind of a part of the fabric of the city.
Dennis: And you mentioned several areas that he invited you to help in: public education, homelessness, hunger, medical services. Go back to the public education. What did you do there, and what’s in place today?—because I think this is really cool.
Kevin: This was really something that, I think, has kind of risen to the fore. I’ll give you one great example because, sometimes, I think that’s the best thing to do. There was a large suburban church, about 20 miles outside of the heart of Portland, in a suburb called West Linn—a pretty wealthy suburb—a church that was doing great—2,000 people—blowing out the doors.
Their big decision was, “When are we going to build a big $20-million building on these 50 acres we have?” That was what they were gearing up for; but because they were part of this festival and season of service, they came to us and said, “Help us find our project. We’re not that engaged with the city or the community. Help us find something we can do.”
The school superintendent, Carole Smith, had said to us, “Roosevelt High School in North Portland is the toughest, most challenged school in the district. It was built for 1,600 students, decades ago. There are only 450 students left because anybody that could get their kid out of Roosevelt High School had long ago done it. The kids you have left are the most challenged.” The idea was, “Could you come in and just do a makeover of the school?” It started with a one-day clean-up project.
Bob: You’re talking about paint and—
Kevin: Painting, outdoor landscaping. Kind of the typical things you would do; but this church had enough bandwidth to say, “We’re going to do it right.” So, 1,500 of their people, in very well-organized fashion—
Kevin: —descended on the school, on a Saturday in June, and did an incredible job inside and out. If it would have stopped there, the superintendent, and the principal, and others would have said, “Wow! Thank you; thank you; thank you.” But that was just the tip of the iceberg because, what ended up happening was, the people, there from Southlake Church, started just falling in love with the kids at Roosevelt High School.
They started showing up and volunteering, day, by day, by day. Christine, this woman on staff of the church, who was the outreach director, was at the school, almost every day. The principal finally said, “You’re here every day. Why don’t you office here?” Now, fast-forward four years. The church has two full-time paid staff of the church that office at Roosevelt High School—
Kevin: —who run a clothing closet, food pantry. They run the Head Start program for students, who have kids of their own, so that they can actually attend classes. They have Nike executives from that church who rebuilt the football field. They had no football team because they had no place to play because the grandstands had been condemned. Nike built them a brand-new grandstands football field.
Former NFL quarterback Neil Lomax, who is a member of the church, is now the volunteer offensive coordinator for the football team. It has been a remarkable transformation of this high school, and it’s been done under the watching eyes of the entire community. It’s on the front page of the paper over, and over, and over again because people can see the difference that’s being made at Roosevelt.
Bob: You said homelessness was one of the things the mayor brought to the table. What did a church do, or what did churches do to try to help with the homeless situation?
Kevin: One of the areas—in our suburb of Beaverton, Oregon—we found out, to our dismay, that there are more than 1,200 students in our 80,000-student county that are designated homeless by the Federal definition. It doesn’t mean that they’re all living on the street; but it means they are in substandard housing—or, in most cases, doubling and tripling up with other people because they don’t have a house or an apartment.
Dennis: Beaverton is really a nice place to live.
Kevin: It is. You would never see that if you were driving around Beaverton.
Dennis: But you guys addressed the needs of 1,200?
Kevin: We’ve begun by doing things like—we provide all the school supplies—the churches do—for them. We do a medical/dental clinic for the homeless students. Then, the newest program is a pilot program to do kind of a host home—like a foreign exchange student situation. We did a pilot program last year, where ten believers opened up their homes. Ten high school students, that were homeless, are now living with these families.
There’s a lot of background to it. It’s not just a random thing. There are background checks, both ways—an application process. It’s obviously more complicated than just simply randomly opening up homes. Though, you’re beginning to see that kind of real life-on-life long-term engagement that it takes. Doing school clean-ups are wonderful. It’s a place to start; but if we stop there, we’re not really beginning to get down to more of the root causes.
Dennis: Over that lunch, when you shared a good bit of what you’ve shared here, I just thought, “Here are 400 churches that are unified. They’ve locked arms around addressing the needs of their community. You’ve got another couple of hundred organizations that have pitched in—tens of thousands of volunteers. You’ve engaged the community of faith, families, moms and dads, single people, boys and girls, kids—getting involved.”
I think our young people today need a sense of mission. They need to see they can make a difference. They need to get their hands dirty with some of these efforts. What was so kindred-spirit, Kevin, was because FamilyLife, about three or four years ago, we decided we wanted to partner with people where they live, in their communities, and wanted to make a difference in building marriages and families.
What you’ve done is you’re partnering with churches, you’re partnering with those same families, in wanting to make a difference in your community. I think what the enemy wants to do with those of us who are followers of Christ is convince us, “You can’t make a difference. You could never change anything.”
Dennis: But, together, we can.
Kevin: It’s so true; and especially, in a place like Portland, where the history had been—“There’s no relationship with our mayor. We’re a fairly unchurched place. We have a lot of divisions. How could that ever work?” But you’re right—the unity of the body in loving each other, and the willingness to serve, with no strings attached. I think there was a lot of waiting to see whether or not we just genuinely wanted to love and serve people.
We never hid the fact, however, that, as evangelicals, we love Jesus Christ. We are looking for chances to share the Gospel, but we’ll do it in appropriate times and places. We’re not going to go into the public schools, during school hours, and try to preach. We understand that there is a time to serve and simply love people. There are other times, as relationships are built, where we absolutely need to, if we’re going to love people, open our mouths and share the Gospel.
Dennis: So, Kevin, you’ve been at this now five years. What do you think this is going to look like five years from today?
Kevin: I think that as we look forward in Portland, down the road, I think we are going to continue to see great love and fellowship among the churches. I think we’re going to continue to see expressions of Jesus Christ, just popping up all over town. I think we will see most of the churches in the Portland area having a school partnership.
We’ve been asked now, formally, because of this Roosevelt High School experience—Superintendent Smith and the other suburban superintendents have said, “Go find us a church partner for every school in Portland public schools.” People scratch their heads and say, “Are you kidding me?”
Dennis: That’s cool. That’s cool.
Kevin: But they’ve seen the love of Christ. They wouldn’t necessarily call it the love of Christ. They’ve seen love in action. Then, they’ve said, “Come and help us.” The needs are there. I think it’s a tremendous open door for us to see people come to Christ.
Dennis: Well, I do, too. I’m grateful for you, Kevin, and your dad, and your family, and the faithful ministry of Luis Palau Association in proclaiming the Gospel. I’m glad you’re tying this—the good works and good deeds—to the Good News because it’s not just a matter of fixing up a school. It is about caring for those young people, who go to that school, who may not have a daddy, a mom—who may be homeless, even.
I just appreciate your faith, your model; and I think you’re charting a new territory. I pray God’s favor upon you and encourage our listeners to pray for Kevin and all the churches in the Northwest—that this would spread across the country.
Bob: Well, it’s starting to. If you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, there’s a link there to the Palau Evangelistic Association and information about where these city-wide festivals are being held. Again, it’s all across the country and in some locations, around the world, as well. You can find out more about what’s going on, and find out about how you could bring one of these events to your city, how you could put a team together and host an event like this and really make an impact in your community for the Gospel. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the link you find there for the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association.
While you’re on our website, look at some of the tools that FamilyLife is making available that you can use in your church, in your community—tools related to marriage and parenting. For example, The Art of Marriage® is an event that has been hosted in more than 2,000 churches around the country now and been viewed by more than 200,000 people.
This is an event that you could host in your church or in your community. All the details about how to do it can be found, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Once again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call for more information: 1-800 - F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”. When you get in touch with us, we’ll answer any questions you have about The Art of Marriage or the other tools that we have, here at FamilyLife, to help you have an impact for the Gospel in your community.
Now, we always like to take just a minute and say, “Thanks,” to those of you who have made today’s radio program possible. Like most of the programs you hear on this station, FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. It’s the folks who listen and the folks who have benefitted from what we’re doing—some of you have gotten in touch with us and said, “We want to help support your work and make sure it continues.”
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And we want to encourage you to be back with us, again tomorrow, when we’re going to introduce you to a couple from Minnesota—a couple who have gotten involved in their community to make a difference—using some of the resources that FamilyLife has. You’ll hear their story and hear about how that’s been working for them, on tomorrow’s program. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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