By TIM HIRSCH, for CNNW
PORTLAND — Approximately 70 committed Forward Edge International volunteers took a leap of faith — literally — during Over the Edge, an Aug. 21 rappelling event in downtown Portland designed as a reward for those who raised $1,000 or more for the Christ-centered relief ministry based in Vancouver, Wash.
During the event, rappellers traversed down the top 10 floors of the side of the Portland Astoria apartment complex, a new high-rise building just steps from the Willamette River waterfront.
Forward Edge, which was founded in 1983, sought to raise $200,000 to help fund its core programs, which consist of short-term missions to both U.S. and foreign mission fields, holistic care for vulnerable children (in Cuba, Haiti, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Uganda) and disaster relief.
As of the day of the rappelling event, which was a first of its kind for Forward Edge, funds raised were at the $150,000 mark. To help Forward Edge reach the goal amount, the public can donate by visiting forwardedge.org.
Forward Edge founder and president Joseph Anfuso told CNNW the rappelling reward was a good fit for the organization’s desire to challenge people to try something new. “We’re all about getting people out of the comfort zone,” he said. “That’s really what we’ve been doing — getting church-going people out of their church buildings and going places they’ve never been (and) doing things that they’ve never done before. We love this idea. This kind of fits our DNA.”
In addition to providing an incentive to those seeking a chance for a little adrenaline-fueled excitement, the event is reportedly opening new doors for Forward Edge. “It’s a brand-new event, and it’s still in process, but we were super happy to see that we have 70-some rappellers,” said Rick Vogt, church partnership liaison for Forward Edge. “The best thing about this event I see so far is there are people that didn’t know about us that are finding out about us. We get a lot of traction through child sponsorship and (short-term mission) teams, but, (when) you do some crazy weird event like rappel down the building, there’s a whole different crowd that are curious about it. They won’t be ready to sponsor a child, but they’ll sponsor their friend to be crazy and rappel down a building. It’s created a relationship with this apartment complex; it’s created a relationship with some realtors in the area.”
Among those 70 rappellers were the husband-wife team of Steve and Melissa Reeves. Steve, a 14-year veteran of the mission organization, just came back from serving in a Forward Edge fire relief effort in southern Oregon. “It’s really pretty great to be able do these things together and support the mission and vision of Forward Edge together and just be part of it,” he said.
Another family connection was the father-daughter rappelling team of Joel and Kendall Rohrs. Joel, who came down from Seattle as part of the Andersen Construction contingent, told CNNW that, even as first-time rappelers, they had a great time. “We’re always looking for opportunities to give back and be a part of a great organization,” he said.
Andersen Construction was one of several companies sponsoring the fundraiser. Top business sponsor, though, was Portland realtor Nick Shivers, of Keller Williams Realty, who contributed $40,000. It’s not the first time Shivers has made a difference for Forward Edge. Together with North Dakota realtor Erik Hatch, he also is credited with starting a nationwide program called Sell a Home, Save a Child which has contributed more than $2 million to Forward Edge over the last five years. For more information about that effort, visit sellahomesaveachild.org.
Though Forward Edge started out 15 years ago as a short-term mission organization, it has expanded to serve disaster relief needs as well as to serve vulnerable children throughout the world.
“We have very holistic programs for vulnerable children,” Anfuso said. “We’re addressing the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of children and their families. We’re not just giving a nutritious meal or just giving them access to safe drinking water or even just giving them an education.”
And sharing the gospel is key, too.
“We’re doing all those things as well as spiritual care and mentorship,” he added. “They hear about God’s love for them. They hear about Jesus and the sacrifice he made on their behalf. We provide opportunities for people to discover their true worth and pursue God’s extraordinary purpose for their lives.”
He added that another key piece was the local involvement in their mission efforts. “All the programs are led by trustworthy, local leaders, which is very important because they know the language, they know the culture, they’re relatable to the kids, and they’re like living role models,” Anfuso said. “They are just awesome people. They’re the ones that are on the front line of everything we’re doing.”
Responding to natural disasters is also an important part of the nonprofit’s efforts. “Over the years, we’ve sent over 3,000 volunteers to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and over 1,000 to Haiti (2010-12) after the earthquake,” Anfuso said. “(Our mission is a combination of these long-term ongoing programs for children and the short-term teams we still send and (our) occasional disaster recovery (efforts). We have a long history of doing those things, and God’s really blessed us.
“One of the things I love about this event is it’s just kind of an example of the reality that most Americans — certainly Christians — don’t want to just tear things down, they want to contribute to the common good and to the betterment of their fellow man,” he added. “That’s what we’ve been providing opportunities for people to do for almost 40 years.”