by Jeff Boyd
Adventist Today, Viewpoints Interview Series, #8
Welcome to Viewpoints: Adventist Perspectives on Peace, Justice and Righteousness, an interview series presented by Adventist Today in partnership with Adventist Activism.
In this eighth installment, we speak with Pastor David Kennedy, the lead pastor of the Newday Adventist Church in Parker, Colorado. Dave planted Newday in 2005 out of the Franktown SDA Church. After 5 years of operating as a multi-site church, the two congregations multiplied in 2010, and Dave has been leading Newday ever since. Dave and Kim (his wife of 21 years) have two sons. Luke, a freshman at Walla Walla University, is 19. Logan is 14. Dave enjoys travel, skiing, distance running and leading teams on short-term mission trips.
Jeff: Your congregation celebrates Christmas in a unique way. Tell me about what you do.
David: We believe, as many churches do, that Christmas can and should still change the world. It changed the world radically 2,000 years ago when Christ was born, and the celebration of Christmas today should still radically change the world, not with consumerism or materialism or buying more stuff for one another that we don't need, but by giving the things that Jesus cares about. So every year we take up a Christmas offering as part of Advent Conspiracy,[i] a nation-wide movement of churches that basically says, “Let's buy less stuff for one another, and let's give the money we save to Jesus. Let’s give it as an offering.” Usually it's around $20,000, but this year we really saw a jump—up to almost $38,000.
Jeff: What does your congregation do with the money?
David: Every year we try to target things that are aligned with the values of Jesus and why He said He came. So we're targeting hunger, poverty, injustice, injuries from war. So together with the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association[ii]), we built a hospital in a community in Rwanda. We have given through ADRA[iii] to dig wells in Afghanistan for widows and vulnerable children affected by the war. We have given to our local food bank on numerous occasions. We are giving to help eliminate sex trafficking through International Justice Mission.[iv] We are also partners with World Vision.[v]
Jesus said that He came to be a “light in the darkness,” so this year we're bringing 700 solar lights to kids in Rwanda so they can do their homework at night in areas where they have no electricity. And we partner with an Adventist organization here in Denver called Global Health Initiatives[vi]. GHI takes teams of nurses and doctors to various developing countries to perform surgeries at no cost. One place they go is Rwanda, where club foot disease is a huge issue for kids. So last year we partnered with them and paid for four life changing surgeries for four kids, and we did the same thing again this year for four more kids.
So we're basically working through partnerships, trying to be aware of what's happening in the world. We support three to four projects per year, try to have a variety because different people have different issues that motivate them to give—“Oh that's the program I want to be giving to. I want to be involved in something like that.”
At the end of November or beginning of December, I start talking about the projects, kind of lay all three of four of them out, and then each week leading up to Christmas we dig a little deeper into each one. We spend five or ten minutes in the service each week talking about the issue, maybe watch a video on the organization, and then say, “Christmas can still change the world, so we're asking you to spend less and give more this Christmas, and your offering is going to go to this particular need.”
Jeff: I know you've had an on-going relationship with World Vision. How did that start?
David: In 2003 I really had my heart broken over what was happening with HIV/AIDS in Africa. God basically spoke to me and said, “Go to Africa and do something.” We realized that one church couldn't do anything to make a difference with HIV/AIDS or chronic malnutrition on the huge continent of Africa. We couldn't even make a difference in a small country like Rwanda. But we did realize that if we partnered as a church, combined all our resources, and targeted one community in Africa, we could probably make a difference.
We had heard about a project that World Vision was just starting in 2003; we were right on the front end of it, a program called C-2-C, basically linking a church with a community in Africa. So we went on our first World Vision trip in 2003, and we were introduced to the community of Nyamagabe, Rwanda. It's a community of about 32,000, and we went and saw the effects of HIV/AIDS, and how it devastates a community, wiping out a generation. It really tears apart the social fabric; it takes out all the workers, all the parents. It basically devastated the entire community, which led to chronic malnutrition. Something like 63% of the community was suffering from chronic malnutrition. The kids were just trying to survive, so they couldn't go to school. They weren't getting an education. It's the cycle of poverty.
World Vision invited us to partner with them, and the primary way we did that was through child sponsorship. Our plan was, “Everyone in our church is going to sponsor kids in this community in Nyamagabe.” We started other projects as well, like education projects, building a hospital, and different things like building homes for orphan-led households. But through the years, we found that child sponsorship was the number one way to funnel resources into the community. We've sponsored 200-250 kids at $35 a month, basically funneling thousands of dollars into the community on a monthly basis. And over the years, over half a million dollars has been channeled into this community, and World Vision has been a great steward of those resources in bringing holistic change to the community through education, getting people involved with different programs, vocational training, food assistance, agricultural education, clean water, health care. They do it all.
Eight years ago we were just trying to keep people alive, but now we're going over there—we just took our fifth trip last year—and we're seeing completely different issues. People are now thriving, and now we're dealing with issues of educational excellence and these kinds of things. We're actually developing an exit plan right now, and in 2016 World Vision should be out of this community because they should be completely self-sustaining.
My first sponsored child has been a microcosm of what has happened in the community. I've been able to watch Eugenie grow up from eight years old. At the time, she was malnourished and barely surviving. She's now seventeen, healthy, vibrant, looking forward to going to college.
Jeff: When the exit plan is completed in 2016, do you plan to partner with another community elsewhere?
David: Yes, for sure. This has become part of the fabric of who we are, our DNA. We love World Vision. We love partnering with under-resourced communities. It will definitely be part of who we are always.
Jeff: How has this work affected your local congregation? As the pastor, what positive impact have you seen at home?
David: It's multi-faceted. It gives our people a sense of pride in their church because they see that their church is really making a difference globally. We talk about glocal impact—combination of global and local. We want to be serving and making an impact locally, but also globally. They know that their $35 a month is making a difference; they have a relationship with the child in another country. They're corresponding with that child. It gives them a sense of empowerment: “I can't make a difference in the world, but I can make a difference in this one child's life.”
But more than anything, it's the mission trips that we take that really impact the church. We also have a relationship with a community in Peru. We travel there regularly. It's a different relationship; we actually hire a full-time pastor there raising up Adventist churches along the Amazon. We partner with him and take groups there for medical missions, building houses, and doing Vacation Bible Schools. So it's more evangelistic there.
But it's taking people on these trips where they get into a developing country. We do very intentional devotionals while we're there. They come back with more of a global mindset that with great blessing comes great responsibility—to use the wealth God has given us to show the love of Christ around the world negating poverty and suffering. That's the biggest impact: the people who come back from the trips. They come back totally changed.
One of the neat things we do as a church as well is that we offer scholarships for all of our mission trips to make them very affordable. For the Peru mission trip we offer a scholarship of between $1,000-$1,500 for their expenses. And for Rwanda we pay $2,000 of their expenses. And when they come back, they have a spiritual contract that they have to fulfill, spiritual growth things they do to earn this scholarship like inviting people to hear them talk about their trip, time in the Bible, etc. We're seeing a lot of spiritual growth because of the contracts people have after the trip.
Jeff: You mentioned glocal. In addition to this international work, I'm curious what your church does locally.
David: Basically three things. We partner with local nonprofits and send them volunteers. We send them finances. And we do our own projects in the community as well.
We're always looking for needs through our local partners that maybe they're not meeting, and then we try to meet those needs through community outreach events. So we'll do servant evangelism projects, no-strings-attached acts of kindness. We'll also do some service projects in the community that meet a particular need like a Christmas store.
So we send volunteers. We send money to local partners. And then we have our own community outreach events. I'm held accountable to make sure we have a certain number of outreach events every year. This year I'm accountable to have six all-church community outreach events. And at least three of them have to be tied to needs that we discover through our community partners.
Jeff: Who holds you accountable?
David: Our Accountability Board.
Jeff: Some people believe these kinds of congregation-based service efforts are a distraction from what the church should be doing. How do you respond to this critique?
David: You're talking about evangelism versus social justice? First of all, if you look at everything Jesus talked about, you're going to find much more about social justice than you are about evangelism. Look at what Jesus said in his very first sermon in Luke 4, he basically said, “I've come to not only proclaim good news, but I have come to proclaim freedom for the captive and recovery of sight for the blind.” Jesus was about serving the poor.
And I think one the greatest passages is Matthew 25. We often disconnect Matthew 24 from 25. In Matthew 24 we read the great discourse on the second coming—signs of the second coming and what to look for. And the very next thing Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 is how to be ready for the second coming. He shares three parables: the parable of the 10 virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats. And the sheep and the goats basically tells us that to be ready for the second coming we need to be about serving the poor, visiting the lonely, clothing the naked. So I would say that we can't separate evangelism from social justice. They're two wings of the same bird; they both need to be implemented otherwise we're not doing what Jesus asked us to do.
Jeff: If pastors or lay leaders in other congregations want to participate in this type of ministry, what guidance would you give them?
David: I'd say start small. Start with things that are most important to your heart as a leader, the things that break your heart. And you basically just cast vision for what you can do to make a difference on this particular issue. And then be consistent. Keep doing something. And give people a tangible way to be involved, whether it's through child sponsorship on a consistent basis or telling them, “We're going to spend less on Christmas gifts this year and give more in the Christmas offering.”
And then you have to give a report and celebrate what has been done. Throughout the year we're coming back to celebrating Christmas. I've already got things scheduled all the way through June, having people come in from different organizations so we can say thank-you, give reports on how the money was spent. We can't just do and forget, but celebrate so people have a sense of accomplishment and joy in knowing what's been done.