On December 30, a large crowd of students in fluorescent yellow hats flocked to the Lloyd Center MAX station. Many had come from other states – Utah, Nevada, Alaska, Nevada, and Washington – and had never ridden a MAX train before. "Do we need to turn in these tickets somewhere?" one asked.
A mere hour earlier, most of these students had no idea they’d be spending the day in Rockwood, a community of 40,000 people at the eastern edge of the Portland metro area. In the midst of a four-day conference, Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) mobilized the students to help complete a seven-question survey in partnership with the Rockwood Community Development Corporation (CDC), a budding non-profit organization dedicated to helping the neighborhood overcome poverty.
The project, Rockwood Knocks, had two objectives: gather data the Rockwood CDC needs and spark spiritual conversations between Cru students and Rockwood community members. "The niche of Cru is distinctive: help students take a leap of faith and engage someone," said Matt McComas, operations director for Cru Portland. "One of the last questions on the survey is if they’d attended a religious service in the last week. Students will be challenged to ask about spiritual background."
Before beginning the outreach, the students listened to Brad Ketch, president and CEO of the Rockwood CDC, describe the neighborhood they’d be serving. "Rockwood isn’t very far away. It’s just four or five miles," he explained. "But it’s a world away because it’s Oregon’s poorest, least evangelized, most violent community. There’s an amazing international presence in Rockwood, a presence that doesn’t know Jesus. So the world has come to us, and it’s just a MAX ride away."
Cru volunteers spread out over four MAX stops, with 120 people at each stop. They knocked on doors of houses and apartment complexes in teams of two and three people. In addition to a yellow ball cap with "Rockwood Knocks" stamped across the front, each student was given bags of resources to hand out to Rockwood residents. These bags contained an eclectic but purposeful mix of materials, including a Gospel of John, a list of local dentists, voter registration, and tax preparation services.
"I was pretty nervous," University of Portland student Christine Chen said about discovering she’d be knocking on strangers doors. However, Chen, along with many other students, expressed a confident understanding of the event’s importance. "It’s kind of like bringing God’s presence, sharing His love with people in the community. God is present here on earth…with us all the time. We need to live that out and be telling other people."
Catherine Hooper, project manager for Rockwood Knocks, found herself involved after visiting Ketch’s office hoping to find resources for a friend facing eviction. She and Ketch agree that her arrival was providential. A resident of Rockwood, Hooper began walking her street regularly with a neighbor. The two would pray over a nearby apartment complex and introduce themselves to the people they encountered. "There’s gang members, prostitution, drug deals…we were calling the police once a week. My neighbor and I felt that God wanted us to walk, pray for our neighborhood and pick up garbage. That began to be a conversation starter."
Around the same time, Cru contacted CityServe to find a service project for the 500 students who would be attending the conference. Kevin Palau, president of the Luis Palau Association, connected Cru’s Portland Metro team to Ketch, who suggested the survey. Ketch then asked Hooper to oversee the project.
211Info, Solve, 7 Eleven, Trimet, and volunteers from Multnomah County joined the fold, and Rockwood Knocks took shape. "[The survey] fits into a work we’re doing to develop a collaborative impact for Rockwood," said Ketch. "The questions filled in some gaps with info we would have otherwise been unable to get."
As a result of the survey, 130 people from Rockwood signed up to volunteer to help the community. Ketch sees this as one of the day's best surprises. "We’re seeking the emergence of Rockwood-based leaders," said Ketch. "Rockwood has the resources it needs to heal itself. Cru can do evangelism anywhere. What they really loved is that there’s a long-term engagement strategy. That’s way more in line with their goals." The Rockwood CDC has invited each of these potential volunteers to attend Rockwood Speaks, another project to discern how to improve the neighborhood.
Cru’s statistics from the event include 428 spiritual conversations. Nina Weaver and Erik Pringle, both students in Portland, excitedly shared about a conversation they had with a man in his early 20s. "We got to talk about the Gospel with him for about 20 minutes," Weaver said. "I shared some of my story. The whole time, he was really listening, and he was really considering it. He took a Gospel of John and asked for someone to follow up with him. We’d probably never meet these people unless we were like shoved out here to do this. God puts us in these same places at the same time, and things like this happen."