Amid COVID-19, Christian humanitarian organization Compassion International is partnering with pro athletes for the Fill the Stadium initiative to fund tens of thousands of impoverished children whose sponsorships have been affected by the pandemic.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Fill the Stadium spokesperson Ken McKinney revealed that the coronavirus pandemic impacted or delayed the sponsorships of an estimated 70,000 children across 25 countries.
“With COVID and all the shutdowns, we had over 1,200 fundraising events canceled between sporting events, churches and conference tours,” he said. “So, we ended up with 70,000 children, newly entered into our programs, who we didn't have any access to help raise funds to support.”
“There’s a huge hunger crisis out there: people suffering from extreme poverty, children dying from hunger because of the economic impact of the pandemic,” he added. “It occurred to us that 70,000 is the capacity of the average pro-football stadium. We realized that we had a stadium-sized problem with kids in poverty and that we really needed to find a way to stand in the gap."
Compassion International decided to pivot its ministry strategy in new and innovative ways by partnering with a team of professional athletes and ministries.
Seeking to “fill a stadium of support” for impoverished children, the initiative provides essential food, medical care and support for children and their families during the pandemic.
“We’re encouraging fans who normally would have spent money on a professional sports game this year to instead support underprivileged kids and their families,” McKinney said, adding that a $500 donation provides a year’s worth of food, nutritional supplements, hygiene products and medical screenings to children and their families in crisis.
As of April 2021, more than 49,000 seats have been filled, bringing Compassion International well over halfway to its goal.
The initiative is backed by athletes including Dakota Dozier of the Minnesota Vikings, Nick Foles of the Chicago Bears, Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles, former Seattle Seahawk Brock Huard and others.
Huard, who hosts the Compassion International-sponsored podcast Above and Beyond – The Intersection of Faith and Sports, told CP that lending his support to the initiative was a “no-brainer.”
A devout Christian, Huard said his faith is “at the center” of his philanthropic endeavors.
“I don’t think there's any doubt in any of our hearts that the Lord's opened this door and we want to do His work and be His hands and feet, and in this case, a mouthpiece for serving ‘the least of these,’” he said.
A father-of-three, Huard told CP his family has sponsored Compassion International children for decades. His children have participated in life-changing humanitarian trips with the organization.
“A couple of years ago, we traveled to Guatemala, and it was almost [like] the Holy Spirit just spoke to us, revealing that the hardships we experience in our country of abundance are nothing like what these third-world countries experience,” he said.
“So many people have fallen below the poverty line, and the numbers are staggering,” he continued. “It’s gotten so much worse amid COVID. It’s catastrophic. The starvation is real, and the brokenness is real. I believe the Lord put me on those trips over the last few years before COVID hit so I could be aware of the catastrophic damage that it was going to do to them.”
Stressing that the full effects of COVID are “yet to be seen,” Huard urged those living comfortable lives in wealthier countries to donate to the cause to provide life-saving resources for children.
“Our country is so singularly focused in an insular way on our own hurts,” he said. “Once you open your eyes to the hurt and the pain and the poverty and the starvation and brokenness around the globe, you realize that COVID is creating another wave of hurt and suffering. Getting 70,000 kids sponsored is the first step in combating that.”
Compassion International’s efforts are long-lasting, Huard stated, pointing out that one of their missions is to empower the local church.
“It’s not like they say, ‘Here’s the American blueprint we’re going to lay out across the globe,’” the former Washington Husky said. “No, they go into local communities, ask, ‘Where is the Church alive in the Holy Spirit, and how can we come right alongside and love and empower them to further that mission?’”
McKinney stated that those living in impoverished countries are turning to churches for assistance. And many of them are hearing the Gospel for the first time as a result.
“We give resources to churches to provide literal life-saving food distributions as well as the bread of life,” he said. “Christ calls us to care for the orphan and the widow, to support those in need and to be stewards of what He's given us. It takes a kingdom mentality for us to make sure we are using the resources that God's entrusted us with to bless others.”
“I think that's our biblical challenge: To use our resources to benefit those in need,” McKinney declared.
Learn more about Fill the Stadium here.