(Photo: Willow Creek/Todd Elliot)
Willow Creek Community Church is hosting a 5k run/walk on Saturday, April 21 to raise funds to buy shoes for children in developing countries. The megachurch will be using the run to kick off its annual "Celebration of Hope" campaign, a part of the ministry's initiative to encourage Christians to live a "lifestyle of compassion."
Willow Creek is a community church with six regional campuses where thousands in the Illinois-area come every weekend to worship.
Saturday's 5k run will take place at three of the church's six campuses and has generated a lot of excitement in the church community, with 2,600 runners having registered at the church's South Barrington, Ill., main campus alone.
The proceeds from the registration fees will go specifically to buy shoes for children. This year's campaign theme, "Hope for Her," will be centered around the plight of women and girls in developing countries.
"Run or walk 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in solidarity with global young women and girls who must carry water long distances each day from a distant well to the family home," a statement encouraging members to participate in the run reads.
The Christian Post spoke with Susan DeLay, Managing Editor at Willow Creek, about the 5k run and the church's annual "Celebration of Hope" campaign, which runs from April 21-May 6.
"This year, our focus is on empowering girls and women because there are so many statistics that show that girls, particularly in Africa, are the ones whose chores or jobs are to fetch water, so often they are not able to go to school because if families have to choose between having water and sending their daughter to school they will opt with water because it's a necessity," DeLay told CP.
"So if we are able to arrange, supply, and help organizations and churches have clean water then that gives girls the opportunity to go to school and have an education, and anytime you can empower women and girls in a family that can change a legacy," she said.
Willow Creek has a self-proclaimed "heart for global issues" and has used that interest to combat global poverty through hosting dozens of "Celebration of Hope" events over the past seven years.
Previous campaign themes have been focused on different issues relevant to global poverty including HIV/AIDS, clean water initiatives, feeding and housing, as well as sustainable income projects such as sending seed packs to developing countries to enable people to not only to grow their own produce, but to profit from it.
Despite its interest in global issues, Willow Creek works to ensure that local churches, organizations, and leaders are not only part of, but instrumental, to their relief efforts.
"We have a philosophy that the local church is the hope of the world and because of that we don't just go into areas and bring the hope ourselves, we work through local churches and organizations, so we are always making connections with people who are on the ground, who know the area, know the culture, and know the people," DeLay told CP.
Beyond hosting a 5k run, Willow Creek will be also holding several other events to raise awareness about poverty and its distinct impact on women and girls in the developing world.
The church has gathered 15,000 volunteers to help assemble seed packs over the next few weeks that will be sent to Zimbabwe, and have also encouraged members to get their friends involved.
"People can invite friends. I've invited friends to go who don't even go to church but they see the value in making a contribution like this," DeLay said.
This year, Willow Creek will also be hosting a "Lobby Experience" in which various ministry organizations and ministry partners come to the church and set up booths to inform worshippers about different global initiatives, such as income generating projects, clean water initiatives, and empowering women.
"There is going to be a tilapia pond set up where the organizers will be talking about fishing and the different sources of income from fishing," DeLay shared. "Opportunity International, who works to provides microfinance loans to women around the world to start their own businesses, will also have a presence in the lobby."
Willow Creek will tailor its weekend messages around compassion and use its "Celebration of Hope" as a way to encourage the entire church "to be engaged in increasing our compassion and living a lifestyle of compassion."
"There's so many opportunities – there's the heart to make a tangible change, and then the heart to help people create a sustainable way of life by what they are receiving," DeLay shared.
"For us, though, it's creating awareness around what those issues really are and it's getting us to change our hearts."