Christmas in July: Hearing the Heart Behind Hope Tree

Phil Assink is Lead Pastor at Faith Community Church in Edmonds, Washington. We recently sat down with him to hear his thoughts about the church’s relationship with Food for the Hungry and their kingdom-minded approach to global missions following their sponsorship event, Hope Tree.

FH: Why did your church decide to host a child sponsorship event (Hunger Sunday or Hope Tree)?

PA: Our first contact with Food for the Hungry was through Gary Edmonds. I knew Gary before he started at FH, and I knew it would be a quality organization to partner with. Upon working with Heidi to explore the Church to Community Partnership opportunities, we chose a village in the Philippines. Once we were committed to the idea and the community, we simply looked at what would make the most sense on the calendar for promoting our village.

FH: Why do you feel you were called to partner with Food for the Hungry specifically?

PA: We are very much in support of FH process of working with a local church and community leaders to generate a development plan that will ‘put FH out of a job’ in 10 years. This model helps to avoid misguided attempts to help a village and a long-term dependence. We like the idea of a sustainable solution.

We also were looking for a mission partner that would allow a younger age child to participate in a mission trip. Food for the Hungry allows children to participate at 9 years old with their parents. This supports our desire to build more multi-generational discipleship opportunities.

FH: How did Food for the Hungry help your event to be successful?

PA: FH provided all the material we needed for people to consider sponsoring a child. We had packets that did a good job of ‘introducing’ children to potential sponsors.

FH: Did you feel fully supported by our staff?

PA: Heidi was always available and eager to provide additional information when requested. Working with her feels very much like a partnership where she is interested in the success of the sponsorship for our church as well as for the village.

We are seeking to build a cohort of smaller churches to sponsor children in the same village. This will allow shared mission trips and create a greater impact than any one of our churches can accomplish alone. Heidi has been very helpful in considering ways to invite other churches to join us.

FH: How did your congregation respond to the event?

PA: I always have very high expectations, but in this case, I did not know what ‘normal’ was. We did not sponsor all the available children in our village, which felt a little bit bad. However, in speaking with Heidi and other international ministry people, our 20% sponsorship rate as a congregation was about twice the average.

One of the most interesting things to observe was sponsorship selection. The top three criteria seemed to be (in not specific order) 1) Is his/her birthday the same as or close to mine? 2) Is he or she close to the same age as I am (or our children or grandchildren)? and 3) Is he/she the same gender as a child in the sponsoring family?

Besides the initial interest, I continue to hear stories of people exchanging communication with their children.

FH: Do you feel that the experience of child sponsorship has been mutually transformational for your church? How?

PA: We are less than 6 months into our partnership. However, people are already talking about a group trip to the village. We have had one Philippine native return home for a visit and she was able to make contact with the child and the child’s family she is sponsoring.

One of my favorite illustrations is that after we began our partnership, there was an earthquake in the Philippines. The first question didn’t seem to be was there damage from the earthquake, but did the earthquake impact ‘our village.’ I hear a delightful sense of ownership in such a comment.

FH: Has the event inspired your church to think differently about their global missions? If so, how?

PA: To enhance our understanding of the importance and value of our partnership, we have engaged Richard Stearns book, The Hole in Our Gospel. One of our primary goals is to gain a better understanding of how our partnership with FH helps us to fulfill our calling as a church to help meet the needs of the poorest in our world. The two combined have helped us to see the immense resources we have and the enormous need there is in the world.

FH: Can you share a story from a church member/family who was particularly affected by the event or sponsorship?

PA: One of our families with two children chose to sponsor two children in our village. The father said his children were nearly indifferent to the idea of sponsorship until they received their first letter from the children they are sponsoring. Suddenly, the relationship gave the idea a personal and tangible opportunity to connect.

FH: Amidst a busy Christmas season, why is a Hope Tree event worth the time for churches?

PA: The church needs an opportunity like Hope Tree to give our people a chance to both say ‘no’ to the avalanche of consumption our culture experiences during the Christmas season and an opportunity to say ‘yes’ to meeting the needs of children in extreme poverty. Hope Tree takes more time than some Christmas opportunities, but it seeks to build a deeper relationship between the village and the church. Hope Tree serves to give a ministry opportunity to those who have a heart for helping the poor through promoting and advocating for the opportunity. It also gives everyone a chance to seriously consider how God might be calling them to be more generous. Hope Tree provides a great ‘statement’ to visitors at Christmas about how our church does not talk about helping the poor, but actually has an action plan. This is one of the best things our churches can invite our community to join with us. Sponsors do not have to be members. Community folks can give a one time gift to help support the village partnership.

FH: What would you say to church leaders who are considering hosting an event?

PA: Why not?  For less than $500 a year, a family has access to a ministry that can develop a greater sense of compassion for the poor and ingrain an attitude encouraging mercy in their children. What a great opportunity to teach our children about being generous. Plan early. Promote widely. Celebrate enthusiastically.

The Hope Tree event is hosted at your church beginning the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas. The event promotes and encourages your congregation to connect with children all over the world by offering them the life-changing gift of child sponsorship. We’re here to walk you through every step of the way! From training videos and designed graphics to preacher talking points and volunteer resources, we’ve made it easy to host a successful event.

Just click here to learn more about Hope Tree and register today.

Have more questions?

Visit our website or connect with our Church Engagement staff at C2C@fh.org or 480.998.3100.