“We have uncertainty as a church, but that doesn’t mean we waver in what God has called us to do.” – Katy Griffin, Highlands Missions Pastor
Back in January of this year, before any of us knew what an N-95 mask was, the pastoral staff at Highlands Church in Paso Robles got together to discuss how to best shepherd their people through the season of Lent. In years past, they had focused on encouraging the members of the congregation to make not only little gifts to brighten someone’s day, but to make a significant sacrifice that would change lives, like Christ’s. They usually partnered with organizations around the globe to raise funds to relieve poverty, prevent sex trafficking, or feed the hungry. Hence, Lent became termed the time of “Significant Sacrifice.”
2020, they thought, would be no different. In fact, why not set bigger goals and impact more lives? In 2019 they had partnered with Zozu Project and raised funds for housing for teachers. This year, what if they could raise up monthly sponsors for all 50 of the preschool students and build a preschool playground? Through prayer and discussion, they decided to do it. They would devote a portion of each service throughout the season of Lent to advocate to their congregation on behalf of the children in Uganda. Needless to say, here at Zozu Project, we were thrilled!
Then, COVID hit. Amidst the filling hospitals and the emptying savings accounts, predictably, giving took a sharp dive. Many churches sent out notifications to their members reminding them of staff salaries and office rent, expenses that don’t go away even if the church isn’t meeting in person. Highlands was no exception: they saw a decline in giving too. Sure, they weren’t going to have people meet in the building, but they still wanted to stream services, which takes equipment, and, most importantly, pay their staff. The “well” so to speak, looked a little drier than it ever had in years past.
But come the first week of Lent, did they discuss changing the plan for Significant Sacrifice? No. Not once. The only question on the table was “How do we still do this, and do it well?”
They rallied the team to turn what were going to be in-person messages into recorded videos. They doubled up their efforts to collect photos of the school and children in Uganda to show to their congregation. They made promotional videos highlighting people who already sponsored or donated in their congregation. Without debate, Highlands leaders decided to not retreat focus on promoting their needs. Rather, they still pressed forward, perhaps more than ever, to help the needy, the hungry, and the forgotten.
As Easter approached, much to their surprise, their online attendance numbers started growing. They saw people tuning in from not just the Central Coast, but all across the country. Friends confined at home, family members from other states, and even people with no previous connection to Highlands were all watching the services. And every week they continued to show people the poverty and need in Uganda and confidently call them to give if they felt led. Were they “sacrificing” funds that would otherwise have gone to their own church? If so, so be it. That was the point, after all: to make a Significant Sacrifice in order to change lives.
As this is being written, we are still in the middle of it! The campaign will officially wrap up and a final total will be published next week. It is most encouraging to see the people at Highlands taking a stance of bold optimism. As the children are quarantined at home, this church is raising funds for their school– what hope! What confidence in the power of God to bring an end to the crisis! What willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others!
We will update this blog as the total comes in, but no matter the numeric outcome, the testimony of faith is remarkable. To give in a time of scarcity is the most generous gift of all. On behalf of the children who will be blessed, thank you Highlands, for your love!