City Serve: Mobilizing the Church to Transform Communities - Part 1 (Transcript)

Dr. James Dobson: You're listening to Family Talk, the radio broadcasting division of the James Dobson Family Institute. I am that James Dobson, and I'm so pleased that you've joined us today.

Roger Marsh: Greetings everyone and welcome to Family Talk, I'm Roger Marsh. You know, theologian A.W. Tozer once wrote, "A scared world needs a fearless church." Well, in February of 2022, when Russia attacked Ukraine, it was safe to say that fear was rampant. 5 million refugees escaped into nearby countries, another 7 million Ukrainians were displaced from their homes. On today's edition of Family Talk, we're going to hear from Dave Donaldson and Wendell Vinson, the CEO and President respectively of CityServe International, proclaiming that what Satan has meant for great harm, God is using for His glory. Dr. Tim Clinton will interview these two Godly men and introduce us to a Christian ministry with an eye on every church in America as a distribution point within a wide Christian relief net. You won't want to miss a minute of this program. But first, let me tell you about our guest.

Dave Donaldson is an author, speaker, and humanitarian leader. He previously served as the national director of Operation Blessing and co-founder of Convoy of Hope. His calling card is truly spearheading global partnerships with churches, businesses, and governments to mobilize volunteers, goods and resources worldwide. In 2016, Dave left Convoy of Hope to launch CityServe International, the organization I just mentioned, with a mission to train and resource local churches and non-profits, to help people move from dependency to sustainability. CityServe has been radically effective, helping communities address systemic poverty, addiction, foster care, job readiness, and other areas of need. Dave Donaldson is also an advisor to the Produce Alliance Foundation, a non-profit organization which works to be a part of the solution to provide hunger relief, to grow jobs, and to strengthen local economies that are underserved in rural and urban communities.

Dave also serves on the National Faith Advisory Board, as does Dr. Dobson and Dr. Clinton here at Family Talk. Dave Donaldson host the podcast called Influencers in which guests from corporate, government, nonprofit, and church sectors share valuable insights. He earned his master's degree from Fuller Theological Seminary with an emphasis on "developing and implementing social programs in across cultural environment." Dave Donaldson and his wife have four adult children and they make their home in Northern California. Dave's co-leader at CityServe is Wendell Vinson, a pastor and also the president and vice-chairman of CityServe International. Wendell and his wife became the senior pastors of Canyon Hills Church in Bakersfield, California over 30 years ago. Today, it is one of the leading multi-site churches in southern California, pioneering fresh approaches to church planting, church renewal, and taking the gospel to unreached communities.

Wendell has trained pastors around the globe and has helped to coordinate government briefings in Washington as part of the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives. Wendell and Linda have two adult children and three grandchildren as well. And now here is Dr. Tim Clinton, to introduce today's edition of Family Talk.

Dr. Tim Clinton: Dave, Wendell, such a delight to have you. Dr. Dobson sends his regards. Thank you for joining us.

Dave Donaldson: Well, it's our joy. I grew up being a huge fan of the Dobsons and they helped my family through some difficult times, so what an honor it is to be here. And thank you, Tim.

Wendell Vinson: Amen. Thank you, Tim, for having us.

Dr. Tim Clinton: Well, I can't tell you how many times I hear that, the influence and reach of Dr. Dobson is through the years.

Wendell Vinson: Amen.

Dr. Tim Clinton: And continues to just be a strong voice for such a time as this. Well, today we're going to talk about CityServe, an organization that the two of you guys are at the helm of, and it's stunning to see what God's doing in and through it. Let me read the mission real quick, first of all. "CityServe trains, equips and mobilizes the local church to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ in its community through compassion." I love that. Gentlemen, let me ask you up front, I guess Dave probably let me start with you. The heartbeat of CityServe, why does it exist and why is it important in modern day Christianity?

Dave Donaldson: You know, my former boss, when I was at Operation Blessing, he was the vice president of marketing for Chrysler, and one day he brought me into the office and he said, I'm going to give you a blank piece of paper. I want you to write down your best idea for reaching the world. I wrote down on that the church. The church, the church in America, if it is equipped, mobilized, and resourced, we're going to see the greatest revival in what we call the neighborhoods, but also to the nations.

Wendell Vinson: The church really is God's infrastructure. Jesus said, "I'll build my church. The gates of Hell will not prevail against that." It is God's infrastructure for the healing of our nation. There's an amazing opportunity for the church to really engage right now because the world's hurting. I think of what Paul said when he said, "it's the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance." And kindness in the church and from Christians is kind of like a superpower that the Lord has given us. It really has a way of lowering the barriers and resistance to the gospel, and as we build relationship with people, the gospel can be proclaimed.

Dr. Tim Clinton: I know this after learning a little bit about CityServe and interacting with the two of you. I can't wait for this story to get out, what God's doing here. But before we go there, I wanted to ask how God connected the two of you. I mean, there you are at the helm together, there's got to be something special.

Wendell Vinson: Well, over 30 years ago, George Wood, who was the former general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

Dr. Tim Clinton: Yes. I know George.

Wendell Vinson: He connected Dave and I. I was pastoring in California, still pastor of the same church. And Dave was meeting with George and George said, "there's somebody that you need to meet," and he told me, "there's somebody you need to meet." And he's the one really that put us kind of on the same page. For over three decades we've been working together doing missions and compassion evangelism around the globe.

Dr. Tim Clinton: I had the chance to interact with George on a number of occasions. I know he's gone now, but what a great man of God.

Wendell Vinson: What a great leader.

Dr. Tim Clinton: Yeah. And you talk about a visionary.

Wendell Vinson: He was.

Dr. Tim Clinton: He was a real visionary. Dave, Wendell. I want to make sure I get these numbers right because they're staggering. $540 million of gifting kind is what CityServe is actually taking out there, if you will, to minister to people. What is that all about? How do you that?

Dave Donaldson: Well, first of all, we appreciate these very generous companies, Home Depot, Amazon, Costco, and many others that have this product that perhaps has been returned or maybe it's over its shelf life and we end up getting this product. Some of this product would end up in landfills and Tim, we take this product, we put it into warehouse hubs, and then from those hubs, it's distributed through Pods, points of distribution, and that's local churches all across the country. And the purpose of this product is to meet needs, but most importantly, it is an open door to share the love of Jesus Christ. And what's amazing about this product, because it's home furnishings, it could be beds, couches, chairs, tables, school supplies, but like one single mom said to us in Fresno, "every time I put my child down in that bed, I'm reminded of a God who cares and a church who cares." So it's a living sermon in that home.

Dr. Tim Clinton: Where did that vision come from? I'm just fascinated by it. So you're going up to corporate America and other entities and looking for resources and then taking them, I guess, through local churches?

Wendell Vinson: Through local churches. If you can imagine, there is great overproduction in America in the retail sector. And because of that, all of the retailers really need a way to liquidate their products. Or as new product comes in and they have old products that's going out or they need a way to responsibly steward that without eroding their market. So the church is able to really take that and get that into the hands, whether it's household furniture or other goods that people need into the hands of people that need it, people that wouldn't be able to go and purchase it. So it's not eroding their market. So it's a win for the retailer, it's also a win for that person in need. And the church really gets to be the people in the middle, the broker, the goodness of the Lord.

Dr. Tim Clinton: I noticed that in the distribution of your product, these resources and services that you take to people, God is taking you beyond your own borders. We're going to talk about some of those projects in a moment, but you guys are serving in Ukraine, you're out on the front lines too. Is that true? And what's happening over there?

Dave Donaldson: We were there, Tim, soon after the war broke out on the Ukrainian-Polish border. And we can't adequately describe how desperate it was. It was about five degrees. You had thousands of people, a tsunami of people trying to escape.

Dr. Tim Clinton: I heard there were millions who are just...

Dave Donaldson: Well, eventually millions, but where we were at, I mean, it's thousands of women, children, the elderly, and many of them were hiding in tents trying to escape the cold, but also to hide from predators. In fact, where we were at two days later, 40 predators were arrested by the Polish police. And I'll never forget walking into this tent and seeing these women and children, I mean, the young women are like my daughters. I have three daughters and I saw this one young woman and she was crying and I walked over to her and I gave her a fatherly hug. And as I pulled away, she pulled me back to her and she said, "ne zalyshay mene," don't leave me.

Wendell Vinson: It's just a staggering thing to witness. But the good report is, it's the church that is being mobilized in Poland, in Moldova and Romania to serve those refugees. In Ukraine, it's a church that's being mobilized to serve people that have been disenfranchised by this war. The government's got their hands full just fighting the war. So the church really is providing all the social services.

Dr. Tim Clinton: How many churches were you able to mobilize over there?

Wendell Vinson: Just in Ukraine, 1,800 churches in just Ukraine. And then hundreds of churches on the border regions, about 400 in Poland, another 5 or 600 in Moldova, and then many more in Romania. So if you look at all those churches along that border, they are really serving many of them as safe houses that take in those women and children, care for them, provide all of the services that they need, the care, the place to stay, the food, the clothing, and even schooling now because those children are going back to school now, even in those refugee centers.

Dr. Tim Clinton: What were you able specifically to do?

Wendell Vinson: In most cases, those churches did not have the capacity to expand. So they didn't have the capacity to rent other facilities to offer larger safe house environments. Many of them are very small churches. So CityServe was able to both help them rent facilities, lease facilities. And Kraków, Poland, for instance, one of the largest hotels there, a beautiful hotel, but it was in bankruptcy and the churches wanted to serve the refugees. They didn't have the capacity to lease that hotel. So CityServe was able to go in and empower them to lease that hotel. Financially, we were able to get them the vehicles they needed to care in and shuttle people, and then the resources they needed to care for them 24/7. It's largely women and children that are in those refugee centers because their husband stayed home to fight the war.

In many cases, it was just children. And the oldest teen in that family was kind of like the caregiver because mom even stayed with her husband there in Ukraine. So there's so much opportunity there. The church just needed someone to come alongside and help it. And the church in the West is doing that. That's what's so exciting, that the body of Christ here in America and throughout other parts of Europe are standing with the church in Poland, in Moldova, Romania, and in Ukraine.

Dr. Tim Clinton: You're listening to a Family Talk, a division of the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute, I'm Dr. Tim Clinton, co-host here at Family Talk. Our special in studio guest, President and CEO of CityServe, Dave Donaldson and Vice-Chair Wendell Vinson. They're here telling us about what God's doing in and through this amazing organization. God raised it up by the way rather quickly, and it's stunning. But let me go back to Ukraine just for a moment. What I hear you saying is God's at work, it's real. And there are people over there who crying out to Him, looking for help and hope. And what you're doing is you're being the hands and feet of Christ, you're the church. What you're doing is you're taking the work of neighborhoods back here and you're taking it to the nations. Is that it?

Dave Donaldson: That's it. And again, this is a vibrant church there. I got to tell you, it was a dangerous trip for us. We went into Bucha, I've already described that, but from Bucha into Kyiv. We went to a restaurant that day in, and I kid you not the waitress, she brought out the bill and she said, "please pay it now, in case you get killed or something." And then she ran inside. And so, they're living under this kind of threat and pressure. But at the same time, you would never know it because they are a victorious, they're part of the victorious church and they're not giving in. They're not giving up. And so, it's an honor for CityServe and our partners to serve them as they serve their people.

Dr. Tim Clinton: Let me ask you, what do you believe the greatest need or needs are in Ukraine, still? Sometimes I think of growing up as a boy in a small rural country church, central Pennsylvania. Every now and then missionaries would come and do a presentation. And it seemed like it was so far away and now the world's real close together now, technologically. You're up on social media, you have all kinds of stories and things and everything's instantaneous. Yet, there's still some people who are confused a little bit about what is really happening. Is the need as great as they say when they know Samaritan's purse is over there? They know CityServe's over there, and are they really making a difference? That's what I appreciate about our conversation. It's like somebody's saying, "I've been there, the church is there, God's at work." But the greatest needs you'd see?

Dave Donaldson: It's prayer. And we did a video, "Cry for Hope" with Michael W. Smith, and he introed it by saying, "we need to jack up our prayers tenfold for the Ukrainian people." The second is, Wendell and I describe, "winter's coming, and so we got to provide housing. It's only $25,000 for one of these beautiful homes with all the amenities that we can move around." And so, we're hoping to build a lot of those as we approach the winter. And the other would be the food. And we're going to continue to rush in this emergency food and other supplies.

Dr. Tim Clinton: These are unprecedented times and God is at work.

Dave Donaldson: Amen.

Dr. Tim Clinton: In light of all that, I think about the future. My daughter asked me the other day, "dad, what about Olivia and Sophia growing up? What are they going to live in? Where are they going to see?" And when you think about what's happening over the pond, as they say, and you guys are on the front line, you see it and the conversations that people have around the dinner table. They're worried about not only Russia, but China, they're worried about the Middle East, the instability. They're worried about our own country, what's happening here. And it's like, "God, are we going into a dark time, challenging season?" Boy, we need the church to come alive like never before.

That work that you're doing over in Ukraine, it started somewhere though. I'm going to come back stateside. A couple of initiatives that I found fascinating. One was the Farmers to Families Initiative. You're taking neighborhood work and taking it to the nations, but it started back here through some amazing projects. Tell us about Farmers to Families and how that came about, and it's a massive project. I have seen video of people showing up in towns all across this country looking for food and you all delivering it to them.

Dave Donaldson: Well, during the pandemic we were receiving hundreds of calls from churches asking for food to help their people, their community. And we had some, but we didn't have enough. And one Monday morning through a mutual friend, Paula White connected us to Ivanka Trump who was developing a program called Farmers to Families. Because as we recall, the farmers were plowing their produce back into the ground because restaurants were not open, cruise ships were not happening, meat was rotting, dairy products getting poured down the drain. So the whole idea was to take all this product, put it into food boxes, and then distributed to families in need, families that were suffering through the crisis. And so Ivanka said, "you guys have one of the largest networks of churches in the nation. What about spearheading that?" The faith-based Christian response with these food boxes, and I got to tell you, 2,300 distribution sites, church parking lots that you described. And what was so powerful, Tim, is not just distributing the boxes, but we prayed for over 20 million people.

Dr. Tim Clinton: Wow. So I want to make sure of getting this correct. I want to make sure our listeners are understanding this story here. So you were connecting with local churches across the country and asking them to be distribution channels of this amazing resource that God gave you all the idea to bring, if you will, food, resources, supplies, what have you to those families in need in these local communities here across the country?

Wendell Vinson: Yeah. There's not a lack of both need and there's not a lack of supply. We just need to be people who say, "we're not going to vacate that space of being the hands and the feet of Jesus in our communities. He'll give us everything that we need if we'll step into that space, not vacate that space."

Dr. Tim Clinton: Yeah. I think of when natural disasters happen. Say a tornado wipes out towns in Kentucky or a hurricane hits the coast, people say, "okay, they're sending all kinds of organizations in there trying to take supplies in, same idea through local churches. And this is about taking food and other supplies into our local communities.

Wendell Vinson: Same idea. We like to say it this way, there are those occasional national disasters that happen, those moments of a hurricane or an earthquake that are incredibly important times for the church to respond. But there are really everyday disasters happening in every part of the cities across America that are eroding the fabric of our society. We have to respond to both, those occasional disasters that happen, but also those everyday disasters. And those everyday disasters require us to get up close and personal to the need in our community and be a part of not just bringing help and hope, but bringing freedom to people, seeing people set free. We often say we don't want to serve poverty in a neighborhood, we want to break poverty. We don't want to just serve addiction, we want to break addiction. To do that, we have to really dig deeper and really be committed to seeing transformation in people's life, seeing them elevated and seeing them change and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Tim Clinton: So this makes sense with COVID and all the lockdowns and everything we were going through. Have those same sites continued?

Dave Donaldson: We have tried to convert many of those sites into what we described earlier, hubs and pods. Because as Wendell said, "hunger is still there, but the resources there, in fact, the amount of food that is wasted every day would fill the Rose Bowl." We just need coordination and distribution. The other thing is that I'm got really the joy and sorrow of serving at disaster sites, directing Operation Blessing with The 700 Club. And then my brothers and I started Convoy of Hope and I'll never forget responding to a disaster. And this mom was there with her kids and she was receiving food and other supplies, and I asked her, "is this your church that is helping you?" And she replied, "it is now."

Wendell Vinson: Amen.

Dr. Tim Clinton: That's the good work that God's doing in and through this organization, CityServe. Well, we have a lot more to talk about and really want to, I can't wait to get into tomorrow's broadcast. I want to talk a little bit about the backwater. There's a backstory here, Dave comes back to you. You alluded to you and your brothers and some work that you did together, but there's a reason that goes behind that. We're going to share that on the broadcast tomorrow. I think people will really be moved by it. But that's the inspiration here. At the end of the day, this is about the gospel.

Wendell Vinson: Amen.

Dr. Tim Clinton: This is about taking the gospel. This is a platform for evangelism.

Wendell Vinson: Amen.

Dr. Tim Clinton: This is how we take the good news to people all across this country and around the world.

Wendell Vinson: Amen.

Dr. Tim Clinton: Well, closing thought here for a moment. How do people get involved with CityServe, the church or as an individual? Maybe they want to get behind this ministry. They think, you know what? That's the kind of organization I could support.

Wendell Vinson: is the website people can go to, They can also encourage their pastor to just look into connecting with this partnership that's really, it's a movement that's moving across America. Churches working together to see community transformation. CityServe brings three things. We bring a robust supply chain, capacity building secondly, and then thirdly, a platform for collaboration. Churches have to work together better. John 17, Jesus prayed that the church would be one, and when the church is one, he said, "we'll give a credible testimony of the reality of Jesus Christ." So, God is bringing His church together just like He is in Ukraine during this moment. He's bringing His church together here, and we're excited to see that.

Dr. Tim Clinton: Well, I've seen the joy in a lot of faces when they come through that line.

Wendell Vinson: Amen.

Dr. Tim Clinton: And there's something there for them to take home to their family and they receive it, by the way, as a gift from God.

Wendell Vinson: Amen.

Dr. Tim Clinton: They do. Well, what a delight to have you both on behalf of Dr. Dobson, his wife, Shirley, the entire team here at Family Talk. We salute you and the good work that's going on at CityServe. Again, that website is

Wendell Vinson: Yes.

Dr. Tim Clinton: Thank you for joining us.

Wendell Vinson: Thank you.

Roger Marsh: Well, what an encouraging message from Dave Donaldson and Wendell Vinson of CityServe here on Family Talk. But that's just half of the message. Be sure to join us again tomorrow to hear the balance of this conversation in which these two humble servant leaders will explain the undeniable benefit of rendering aid and providing much needed resources to those in need. The true reward is being able to open the door to share the love of Jesus Christ person to person. Now to find out more and how you can fit in, as always, you can go to That's Or give us a call at 877-732-6825, that's 877-732-6825. Our staff is standing by waiting to speak with you and pray with you. We have all the details about CityServe, which is a tremendous partner providing assistance for such a time as this. And again, for more details about all they do, you can reach us or contact CityServe directly. That's, I'm Roger Marsh. Join us again next time for another edition of Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk.

Announcer: This has been a presentation of the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute.
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