(Portland, Oregon, USA) – Evangelist Luis Palau's Season of Service (SOS) is singled out in the July issue of Reader's Digest as the "Best Group Service Project" in America. In a cover story entitled "Best of America," the monthly magazine celebrates 75 reasons Americans should love their country.
The article praises SOS for mobilizing throughout the greater Portland/Vancouver area some 550 churches, 68 nonprofit organizations and local businesses, and 27,000 volunteers to tackle 300 community service projects in 2008. The second SOS in Greater Portland is now in full swing, running May 1 through October 31.
The Season of Service aims to equip churches to mobilize thousands of volunteers to serve their communities, and is designed to be sustained in each city long after a Palau festival concludes. Communities that have since benefited from the far-reaching SOS include Oaxaca and Huatulco, Mexico; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Kigali, Rwanda; and Little Rock, Arkansas.
"It's a practical way to expand the reach of the Gospel," explains son Kevin Palau, the Luis Palau Association's executive vice president and one of the architects of SOS. "At the festival, Dad clearly proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ. And in the months leading up to the festival, Christians unite to tangibly demonstrate the love of Christ."
These projects are an unprecedented collaborative effort among churches, nonprofit organizations, government, and businesses.
Each festival city determines its own most pressing social needs. Church, corporate and civic leaders then mobilize volunteers to come together and serve in those areas as never before. In Portland, projects included public school grounds clean-up efforts, mentoring school dropouts, helping the homeless, solving environmental needs, and providing food for the hungry.
"The question we ask civic leadership in each festival city is, 'How can we serve you?' And then we respond by partnering with absolutely anyone who wants to serve their community, and we serve," says Kevin Palau. "All involved recognize that we are walking a fine line between separation of church and state, but it's a line that must be walked because of the monumental social and economic challenges facing our communities."
Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish said SOS has provided Portland with a new understanding, mutual respect and spirit of cooperation between the evangelical faith community and government.
"We had been doing service in the city for a long time," said Pastor Rick McKinley of Portland's Imago Dei Community. "While we had made an impact, the beautiful thing about joining with the Season of Service is that you multiply the impact from one church to potentially 200 churches. The synergy comes together and the impact is phenomenal."
The idea for SOS grew from conversations Kevin Palau had with Randy Thomas, former Portland School District Maintenance Director. Budget cuts had winnowed Thomas' staff from 26 to two, resulting in enormous maintenance needs for the area's public schools. The Luis Palau Association jumped in and launched a massive mobilization effort that was enthusiastically embraced by local churches.
For more than 40 years LPA has been a powerful force for bringing hope and instigating change in communities, cultures and nations around the world. It has presented a clear case for Christianity to more than 1 billion people through television, radio, print and live events.