The East Africa starvation crisis may have gone largely unmentioned in the news, but it has spurred a tremendous outpouring of concern, love and support from Foursquare churches around the globe.

Ryan and Johanna Oddo

One of these churches is The Bridge (Rancho Santa Margarita South Foursquare Church) in Southern California. There, Pastors Ryan and Johanna Oddo are passionate about empowering their congregation to make a difference for the Foursquare family worldwide.

To do that, they are partnering with Foursquare Disaster Relief (FDR). This summer, FDR debuted Project Nourish, an initiative that invites U.S. churches to raise funds and awareness for the 20 million people facing an ongoing starvation crisis across East African nations, resulting from drought, famine and even displacement from civil war. The funds raised buy locally sourced food that is distributed in partnership with local Foursquare pastors, who can build long-term relationship with those they serve in refugee camps and beyond.

How did you find out about Project Nourish?

Ryan: We saw Project Nourish highlighted at Connection 2017, and in one of our Foursquare Missions International (FMI) meetings. One of our area missionaries shared about a pastor in Burundi who had said, “I’ve lost so many people from my church; they’ve all starved to death.” Hearing that personal story and the fact that 50,000 of our own Foursquare family are living in one particular refugee camp—it really hit me hard.

Johanna: Following convention, we received an email with the Project Nourish Action Kit. The flyers, videos and lesson plans were all there. It was so user friendly, and that sealed the deal for me. My job merely became to represent the heart of Project Nourish and make it available to our church. Everything else was done for me.

How are you using Project Nourish in your church and VBS program?

See Project Nourish in action at their VBS.

Johanna: Missions and relief are a huge part of our DNA, so to have a crisis focus in our VBS (Vacation Bible School) programs is very normal. We love teaching the kids not just to give offerings, but to partner with a specific story and person behind the cause they’re supporting.

They are actually saving the lives of kids just like themselves in another part of the world where they don’t have food and water. This is part of our missional living, taking Jesus outside the church walls.

Ryan: To engage the rest of the church, we sent out an email to our whole active database about this particular opportunity. We used the video in the kit and a blurb to announce that we would be talking about Project Nourish in services during the next few months. Last Sunday, we showed the video in service.

This Sunday, I’ll be specifically addressing it as part of our prep for VBS.  The little “how to give” cards will be in our bulletin, and our church app and website will have easy step-by-step instructions for monthly or one-time giving options. We want people to confidently know how they can take part themselves.

If people ask if FMI and FDR are safe places to donate their money, how do you respond?

Johanna: We know firsthand from partnering through the years with them that your money absolutely goes to the field. I have personally deployed on disaster relief teams, and I’ve seen firsthand the money go from the donors directly to the local pastor in the field. I have seen it used on specific building projects, evangelistic outreaches or actually handed directly to pastors working there. I love that!

What would you tell other pastors who want to get involved but feel overwhelmed?

Ryan: The opportunity here is that you can be a small church and make an enormous impact. We’re looking at numbers like $19 a month to feed an adult for a month. Rally together to raise a few hundred dollars, and now you’re feeding whole families.

This is the kind of relief effort where, no matter what size your church is, you can make a huge difference in people’s lives directly with the most basic needs: food and water.

We have unique opportunities being in the U.S., with the ridiculous amounts of blessings in our lives. To those whom much is given, much will be expected—I want that to cut my heart constantly, and I think that may be on many pastors’ minds. May we always remember, we are preparing ourselves and our churches to hear Jesus say, “Well done.”

Ryan Oddo is lead pastor of The Bridge (Rancho Santa Margarita South Foursquare Church) in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. His wife, Johanna, serves as women’s ministry director. This article was written with Rachel Chimits.

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