Convoy of Hope leader urges cooperation among all

Missouri Supreme Court Judges Paul Wilson and Mary R. Russell, along with the rest in attendance, hold their hands over hearts as the Pledge of Allegiance is recited Thursday morning at the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast.

Missouri Supreme Court Judges Paul Wilson and Mary R. Russell, along with the rest in attendance, hold their hands over hearts as the Pledge of Allegiance is recited Thursday morning at the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. Photo by Julie Smith.

For the last two decades, Hal Donaldson has been helping provide emergency assistance to people with great needs.

He has seen people at the darkest moments of their lives, facing a seemingly horrendous, bleak future because a disaster has destroyed their possessions and killed family members and friends.

And he has seen those people find hope.

Donaldson told the annual Missouri Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in Jefferson City on Thursday morning that the world would be a better place if all pledged a Year of Civility and Cooperation.

“Today, as we consider the uncertainties of life and all the things that make us feel anxious, and we look at the challenges that are facing our nation and the world,” Donaldson said, “we can throw up our hands and accept defeat, or we can press on together and make 2014 our defining moment.”

But, he added, changing the world around us is “going to mean that we live out what Jesus called the ‘greatest commandment’ of all — ‘to love God with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself.’”

He told reporters he wants people to work on a year of civility, because “we’ve all been guilty of being kind for a week — and it takes a lot more than that for it to become a lifestyle.”

Donaldson is a co-founder, and chief executive officer, of the Springfield-based “Convoy of Hope” humanitarian aid organization.

When disasters strike, the organization loads trucks and hauls relief supplies to the people whose lives have been disrupted.

While introducing Donaldson as the morning’s featured speaker, National Guard Maj. Mike Roberts noted: “More than $400 million in food and supplies has been distributed to over 63 million people” around the world by the Convoy of Hope. Its efforts include aid to those who survived the Joplin tornado in 2011, last year’s Moore, Okla., tornadoes and the typhoon that devastated the Philippine Islands.

Convoy of Hope began in California but moved to Missouri after about two years because “this is one of the great trucking corridors of America,” Donaldson said. He chose Springfield because both he and his wife attended Evangel College there.

Donaldson said he and his siblings started the Convoy of Hope organization in 1994 because they had been shown 25 years earlier “what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.”

He was 12 in August 1969 when his father was killed instantly, and his mother seriously injured, in a crash with a drunk driver.

“It would be a long time before (my mother) was able to work,” he said.

That night, a police officer asked the crowd of neighbors who had gathered outside the family’s Concord, Calif., home if anyone could take the four children “home with them” while their mother was being treated for her injuries.

“Finally, one couple raised their hands and said, ‘We’ll take them,’” Donaldson reported.

And “for many, many months,” Donaldson, his two brothers and sister were part of a 10-person family living in a single-wide trailer.

“I’m convinced of this,” he told the prayer breakfast audience, “my brothers, my sister and I didn’t become angry and bitter, because of that year of kindness shown to us” by Bill and Louvada Davis, “who cared for us as if we were their own kids.”

Donaldson said his family recently honored the Davises, now in their 80s, for their help more than 40 years ago.

“Because of their investment in the lives of four children, God was able to take my father’s mangled automobile and transform it into a fleet of Convoy of Hope semi-trucks filled with food and other supplies, that today are crisscrossing this country and helping millions of people across our nation.”

Donaldson said the Davises taught his family three principles about “loving your neighbor:” Moving beyond pity, to action, to doing “something tangible;” cooperating around a common vision; and that “loving your neighbor and giving hope to people is not expensive — but neither is it free. It requires that you and I choose a life of generosity, so that others can have a life of opportunity.”

He said he’s been moved more than once by people’s generosity, and the actions of poor people who have been moved to help others even when they have little of their own.

Donaldson told reporters after the breakfast that, while his work is powered by his Christian faith, religion is not an issue. “When people are in need,” he said, “we all need to link arms as denominations and beliefs, and just meet as many needs as we can.”

And government has a role to play, he said.

“Because my dad didn’t have much in the way of insurance, and the man who hit him didn’t have insurance, our family was forced to survive on government assistance and food stamps,” Donaldson told the audience.

“But we made it, largely because of the generosity of neighbors who would come to our door week after week with bags of groceries.”

All Americans face a choice, Donaldson said near the end of his prayer breakfast speech.

“We can live exclusively for ourselves,” he said, “or we can spend a portion of ourselves giving hope and joy to others.”

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