Jerry Stevens says he was born into the life of faith.
“When my parents came to faith in Christ their lives changed dramatically,” he said. His father, Robert Stevens, a history professor at the University of Arizona, became a pastor. His mother, Shirley, returned to school to get a degree so she could start a counseling center. His older brother, Doug, a pastor, was another inspiring example after which Jerry would model his own ministry.
Early on, Stevens’ approach – practice rather than theory – sometimes brought flack from his church. “A lot of times the church can become like a club or fortress,” he said. “It should be more like a medic unit, going out to those without hope.”
The opposition only spurred him on – and caused him to change his vocation. With his wife, Debi, and 2-year-old son, Andrew; he became part of Youth for Christ, an inter-denominational Christian ministry to youth.
Four years later, daughter Ashley added to the crew, they took on a new challenge with YFC. But it involved a move from El Dorado, Calif., to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. His assignment: to infuse new life into the area’s Campus Life program.
“I never thought Debi would want to move eight hours away from her folks,” he said, especially since she was pregnant with their third child. She agreed and off they went. “I tend to put down roots wherever I go,” Debi said. “But I have had my faith strengthened, stretched and grown by learning to be flexible and rolling with whatever God has Jerry doing.”
About six months later, daughter Haley was born – and Stevens and his associates were poised to launch their new program with more than 20 youth pastors ready to go. But all of that was put on hold when Stevens got a heart-stopping call from home. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome ripped their -month-old daughter from their arms.
“I don’t think you figure out what’s really important in life until a crisis,” he said. “We tend to get stuck in a modern mentality – ‘Read the Bible, pray and everything will be OK’ – rather than a biblical model. … But there isn’t a formula; God works in strange ways. It’s not a clean or antiseptic process.”
Despite its emotional toll, the experience added to the Stevenses mission. “God used it to help us build a bridge between people of faith and people of goodwill,” he said.
After about a year-and-a-half, someone at their church asked the couple to talk to a neighbor whose child had died of whopping cough. Then Stevens was asked to conduct a funeral. The snowball, formed out of their crisis, was rolling, growing as it went.
“All these situations started popping up because of what we’d walked through,” he said. You never know what’s ahead when you’re following the Holy Spirit, he said.
A few years later it was time for the young family to move to Oregon to establish a church. Debi willingly gave up their home, loving church family – and the place they’d buried their daughter six years before.
“I ended up seeing God do amazing things, again expanding and strengthening my faith,” said Debi.
Stevens said the three-year venture, undertaken with another couple, was “as hard or harder” than the years dealing with the loss of their daughter. But hanging in there had its reward. “It turned out to be the beginning of my ‘Outreach Ed(ucation),’” he said. “Despite many difficulties, we saw many lives changed.”
Three years later, in 2002, he and Debi moved on to start another church – this time in Silverton – envisioning an even greater emphasis on practical, spiritual community outreach.
Jon and Crystal Le Boeuf joined their cause early on. Establishing a physical church was a secondary consideration and wouldn’t happen for another two years. Nine months before their actual move, they were holding free barbecues at the city park. Stevens offered to pre-pay all 400 seats if Stu Rasmussen would bring the new film The Passion of the Christ to the Palace Theatre; Rasmussen countered with about half that. Stevens gave away all the tickets as he connected with the community in yet another unique way.
The one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy came shortly after the Stevenses arrived in Silverton. They rented a building and distributed 500 fliers for a memorial gathering. Only one person showed up. Stevens remained steadfast. “In church planting, you’ve got to be all in,” he said. “You’ve got to realize spiritual forces are hard at work against you.”
Stevens often linked with Silverton Together. The leadership team organized a couple of small groups that eventually became part of the core 30 people who launched Creekside Community Church. In late 2004 they began meeting on Sundays in the gym of Robert Frost Elementary School.
It was an exhilarating time. Stevens was preparing sermons and Debi, without any experience, took on the role of worship (music) leader. “It was the hardest thing she’d ever done!” Stevens said.
“Our tagline was ‘A church for people who don’t go to church,’” he said. Thanks to the Le Boeufs, they had a strong children’s program, contributing to the consistent growth. Yet as the church expanded, the realities of being a head pastor began sinking in, besetting Stevens’ original purpose.
“Mistakes were made; people started leaving; there was grumbling,” said Stevens, admitting such conditions weren’t helped by his tendency to “keep moving forward, not using my rearview mirror very much.”
“Ultra-conservatives left because we were way too liberal; liberals left because we were too conservative,” he said. “There came a day when our team realized our church was clinically dying and had strayed from our mission, but we were still meeting,” he said.
Yet as that door was closing, a window opened wide in the form of a new project: creating a dream wedding for a disadvantaged couple from California. Many church and community members contributed to the ceremony at Silver Falls. As a result, the bride turned her heart to God – and Project Hope Now, a small nonprofit organization, was born. The way to get back on task became clear. His mission for the ministry is to “perform random acts of hope” and provide help to underserved nonprofit groups.
Partially subsidized by a family and friends, Jerry and Debi have taken on a hodgepodge of part-time jobs to keep food on the table. Between them, Stevens started ProFund Northwest, affiliated with profundllc.com, the nation’s No. 1 golf fund-raising program. Both ventures fit with his talents and passion for helping empower people to impact lives.
Stevens keeps his antennae alert to opportunities to give practical help where it’s needed. Right now he is helping five organizations raise funds as well as working with Hope Station (a separate nonprofit group) serving the working poor in South Salem.
“My part is helping build bridges with business, church and community partners who’ll take part in bringing help and hope to many working families,” Stevens said. “It’s such a joy to see love, compassion, generosity and sacrificial service happening in real and tangible ways on earth – as it already is in heaven!”