Jason Billester: Development VP With a Higher Purpose Article
Development vice president with a higher purpose
Cutline: Jason Billester is the vice president of development for Boise Rescue Mission Ministries.
By Gaye Bunderson
Jason Billester serves as the vice president of development for Boise Rescue Mission Ministries. Though it's a corporate-sounding title, VP of development takes a different spin in the nonprofit world — especially working for an organization that helps the homeless.
Billester's job requires him to raise both money and food for the Mission, as well as thank donors for their generosity. Asked how he does that, he replies, “I get to show how the love of Jesus Christ is offered to our guests every day.”
The guests he refers to are the people who find succor within the Mission's walls. “On average, we provide shelter for 400 men, women and children per night at four facilities*. They're hurting, broken people with shattered lives and scrambled brains,” he said.
Another of his responsibilities is getting people involved with Rescue Mission programs and services through speaking engagements and tours of the Mission's sites in the valley. “I tell people, 'If you've got a gift, skill, talent or ability, we will put you to work,'” he said.
Volunteers at the Mission do everything from tutoring children to serving meals and sorting clothes.
Billester, now 39, finds himself in a far different position than he ever imagined as a younger man. “My goal was to work and make money,” he said. “I thought of God as my ATM machine, and prayed that way. The accumulation of money and possessions was my motivator.”
Though Billester has been a believer since his youth, he was not born into a model Christian family. “We were showy Christians,” he said. “We went to church. We dressed well, smiled big and smelled good.”
But beneath the outward display, there were undercurrents of dysfunction — his parents were on the verge of divorce. “They argued constantly,” Billester said, “about money, business and family matters.”
Then, at age 13, Billester suffered serious injuries when an El Camino he was riding in was t-boned by another driver. He was thrown 32 feet out of the back of the vehicle and landed on his head. He was in a coma for a month, with 44 staples holding his skull together; his wrist and both his ankles were broken. The doctors gave him a 3 percent chance of living, a 2 percent chance of living but being in a vegetative state, and a 1 percent chance of regaining a fully functional life.
He pulled through despite the extremely narrow odds, with youth and faith in his corner.
“I realized I was a broken vessel that was put back together, and the Lord had a different plan for me,” Billester said.
He moved from Southern California to Northern California to live with his grandmother, and his parents eventually divorced. In the small town of Lucerne, he attended an Evangelical Free Church at a senior center with older Christians; his relationship with the Lord started to take root and flourish, and his grandmother was pivotal in fostering its growth.
“It was my grandma who taught me how to love others and serve God, stay centered and focused, and stay active and involved in church,” Billester said.
At age 18, he “moved around a lot,” he said.
His travels led him to Idaho. After graduating from Idaho State University in Pocatello, where he majored in speech communication and rhetorical studies, he sought employment in Boise working with a large pharmaceutical company. He imagined it would be his ticket to a world of financial and career success.
It was another grandmother — Grandma Jean — who connected him with this current vocation/ministry. She told him she'd been talking with a friend at church who suggested he call Rev. Bill Roscoe at the Boise Rescue Mission about the possibility of employment, but it wasn't until four months later that he made the call.
“It was a pride thing. I just didn't see myself working at a homeless shelter,” Billester said.
He set up a meeting with Rev. Roscoe, who told him, “I like your resume.”
But when Roscoe offered him a job, Billester answered no, respectfully. Nonetheless, Rev. Roscoe wasn't ready to concede. He said, “I'll call you in a week. I want you to pray about it.”
So Billester spent time on his knees during the ensuing week until, at last, he was convicted by the Holy Spirit that the Boise Rescue Mission was where God wanted him. He took the job, but the focus on his paycheck remained. “I thought working at the Rescue Mission was a way to make money,” he said.
He was doing a lot of work and drinking Monster energy drinks to get it all done; but over time, his emphasis shifted. “Back then, I worked harder and prayed less,” he said. “Now I work hard but pray more. I see God's evidence and fingerprints every day, doors of favor that open with fundraising, and transformative changes in the lives of people we serve.”
An influx of approximately 1,300 people come into the Mission's shelters each week, according to Billester. “We never turn anyone away because of lack of room, so if someone needs recovery, they'll find it at the Rescue Mission,” he said. “We want to treat each person with love and respect and address their needs as an individual.”
The development vice president has served a total of nine years at the Mission. He took a job at the Better Business Bureau for two years in that nine-year time frame to earn enough money to pay off medical bills incurred when his baby son was born with a heart defect that required treatment at a Seattle hospital. When he returned to the Mission, it was again through the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Despite his formal job description, he feels he's been called to more than might be undertaken in a similar secular position. “I used to think I was here for the purpose of raising food and money. The Lord has shown me that His plan is perfect and better than anything I could imagine. This is the Lord's rescue mission; it's not mine,” he said. “I just get to be a part of it.”
*Boise Rescue Mission Ministries homeless shelters include: River of Life Men's Shelter in Boise; Lighthouse Men's Shelter in Nampa; City Light Home for Women & Children in Boise; and Valley Women's and Children's Center in Nampa. The Mission also has a thrift store at 1215 12th Ave. S. in Nampa that helps raise funds for BRM's many programs, including addiction counseling and other services. The Mission thrives through the generosity of the local community and receives no government funding.
FCA Idaho Director Ken Lewis Serves Through Athletics
By Gaye Bunderson
Some people are called by God to be ministers, while others are called to be missionaries. Fellowship of Christian Athletes Idaho Director Ken Lewis felt he was called to coach. For 15 years, he worked as a wrestling coach and biology teacher at Kuna High School; it was, at the time, the sweet spot of service for him.
“I felt called to make a difference for Him in that world,” Lewis said.
Lewis was brought up in a Christian home and had wrestled at Meridian High School and later at Northwest Nazarene University. When his college team visited Panama and Peru, he caught a vision of how sports could be used for the Kingdom.
“I had an incredible time. I saw that you can use sports to influence people for Christ. I was using something I loved to do ― wrestling ― and combining it with my love for Christ. It was a big adventure,” Lewis said.
He got his job at Kuna High in the mid 1990s.
“A couple years in, I wanted to be part of something intentional in terms of discipling athletes and showing them the love of Christ. I started looking into the FCA, and we started a Bible study at Kuna High in the fall of 1997. We would meet before school or during lunch,” Lewis said.
He became the adviser for Kuna High School's FCA huddle, as the organization's Bible studies are called. “We started to grow the Bible study. ... Then I went to FCA Sport Camp in Wyoming in 2001. It's incredibly impactful as a coach to get encouraged and grow with other coaches. God had called us to be coaches, and we were getting equipped to go back and make a difference on campus,” Lewis said. “For me it was refreshing. The Holy Spirit was validating, 'This is what I made you to be.'”
He faced challenges in bringing his faith into a public school setting.
“It was tough being a Christian coach and teacher. You had to find ways to be creative on how you love people. There were divine appointments and opportunities to creatively use biblical truths,” he said.
When a crisis happens ― 9/11, for instance ― everybody wants to pray, he said; but when things are going well, nobody seems interested in praying, or hearing or seeing anyone pray. As a wrestling coach, when an athlete would get hurt, Lewis would use that as an opportunity to pray for and with the athlete.
“I could hear His voice telling me to love on people and love on kids and speak life and vision to them. Even in the intensity of competition you can speak life into them,” he said.
It was frequently just a matter of encouragement rather than criticism.
“God had to teach me how to do this,” he said. “It was a process. Part of that was treating all the athletes the same, whether they were star athletes or were never going to be on varsity or go to state. You need to communicate their value to them, because it's about them. They're not a means to a better season. See them the way God sees them. Their identity ― and your identity as a coach ― is not in the win-loss record.”
He admits it was a fine line to walk because the thrill of sports, and the reason for training hard, is victory. Finding a way to participate in athletics and to work toward winning but not be defined at the end of the day by stats and scores required effort.
“This was something I had to learn as an athlete and then re-learn as a coach,” Lewis said.
For him the answer was integrating his faith with his profession. “Like everything else, sports is about glorifying God,” he said.
“I would tell the athletes to give their absolute best. It freed them up. I would say, 'Don't worry about the score, just give it your absolute best.' When you do that, you're free. It brings back the joy. Jesus gave His absolute best for the Father when He went to the cross.”
Throughout the early 2000s, the FCA experienced a revolving door of directors; and for a while after that, it was completely without a director. In 2005, Lewis was approached to serve on the FCA staff. He credits his wife Judy, a teacher at Greenleaf Friends Academy, with encouraging him to accept the position. “She felt the leading to work with the FCA before I did,” said Lewis.
After serving as Treasure Valley director, he eventually became state director. There are now 55 huddles (or chapters) throughout Idaho. Lewis helps coaches and athletes get their ministries up and running and helps plan all FCA-related events.
The 4Cs of the FCA ministry, according to Lewis, include: coaches, campuses, camps and community. FCA membership is open to all athletes in junior high, high school and college and includes Bible studies for coaches at each level of campus-based sports. “Since most of our involvement is on campuses, the community outreach (the fourth C) includes things not tied to a campus,” Lewis said. That encompasses FCA-hosted events such as a golf scramble, a couples getaway, and a Famous Idaho Potato Bowl FCA Breakfast*.
If there were a D in the 4C ministry, it would stand for donors; Lewis acknowledged that without donor assistance, the FCA would be severely limited in its ability to reach athletes.
Though Lewis has taken on administrative tasks and other necessary responsibilities to keep the FCA functioning, he's never forgotten his first calling. “I spur people on to a personal relationship with Jesus,” he said.
*The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl FCA Breakfast is set for 7:30 to 9 a.m. Wednesday, December 21, at Boise Centre in downtown Boise. Keynote speaker will be Coach Tom Osborne of the University of Nebraska. Players and coaches in the 2016 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl will share their testimonies and an “Up Close” reception with Coach Osborne will follow. For more information about this or any other aspect of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, go to www.fcaidaho.org or call (208) 697-1051.
The Shoe That Grows: Because International's 'practical compassion'
Because International President Andrew Kroes, left, and founder Kenton Lee with a group of Haitian children wearing The Shoe That Grows. (Photo courtesy of Because International)
By Sandy Jones
Born and raised in Nampa, Idaho and a graduate of Northwest Nazarene University, Kenton Lee felt called to the mission field. Having served on a couple of weeklong mission trips with his church group, Kenton knew that to make this decision he needed to spend a considerable amount of time in the mission field before he made a commitment. Right after college he opted to spend six months in Quito, Ecuador, but it was the six months of 2007 that he spent near Nairobi, Kenya that forever changed his life ― and the lives of many others.
Living and working in an orphanage of about 140 kids outside of Nairobi, Kenton recalls having “an amazing time.” Walking to church one Sunday he looked down and a little girl in a white dress was walking next to him; it was then he noticed that her shoes were so much too small for her feet that the toes of the shoes had actually been cut off to allow room for her toes to stick out. Kenton knew these children were poor, but it wasn’t until then, as he looked around and saw many other children in the same situation, that it hit him just how incredibly poor they were.
Later that day he went to the director of the orphanage to inquire about the children’s shoes. The director explained that the previous year a group had sent a shipment of clothes and shoes, but nothing since. It was all the orphanage could do to keep a roof over the children’s heads and food on their table ― they simply had to make do with what they had. It was then the thought crossed Kenton’s mind: “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a shoe that could adjust and expand, so that kids always had a pair of shoes that fit?” Fortunately, he wrote those thoughts down.
Upon his return to Nampa, Kenton realized that the mission field was not his calling, but his heart to serve was beating every bit as strong. He asked himself: “What can I do from here that’s still missional? How can I be involved in missions right here in Nampa, Idaho?”
Then he ran across the note he’d made about children needing a shoe that grows with them, which started him on his way; soon after, a few friends joined in and they started Because International in 2009, practicing what they call “Practical Compassion.” Since none of them knew anything about shoes, they reached out to the big brands ― Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Crocs, Toms ― and either they weren’t interested, or they told Kenton’s little troop that it wasn’t a good idea, it just wouldn’t work.
Thinking they weren’t explaining the concept well enough, Kenton's group had a friend make a video, which they presented to the major manufacturers, with the same result.
Determined as ever, Kenton went to area thrift stores and Walmart to buy “cheap” shoes, cutting them up in his garage and trying to piece together a prototype of what he had in mind. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that he really didn’t know what he was doing and the project wasn’t going anywhere. Knowing the big brands weren’t interested in helping, Kenton and his team found a small shoe company in Portland, Oregon that actually makes prototypes of shoes. Christians also, the owners of the company had been on mission trips themselves and had also seen this real need. They were in! Working through the design process together they finally came up with The Shoe That Grows. Five years of hard work and dedication had paid off!
With his wife, Nikki, Kenton took the 100 pairs of the prototype and returned to Kenya, placing them in four different schools and having the kids try them out for about a year. The kids loved them but they had a few changes to make, so back to the shoe company in Portland; then, the first batch of 3,000 pairs was made. The end result, in Kenton’s own words: “…just a really simple, functional shoe for kids who are in desperate need of sustainable footwear…” The shoe project was funded largely by donations from friends, family, and Kenton and his friends' own money.
Kenton and Nikki stored the shoes in their guest room, with the plan to send them with friends and sell them to people going on mission trips. Since he was working a full-time job at Northwest Nazarene University, this was supposed to be a small side project. That was until Buzzfeed.com, a website based out of New York, picked up their story in April of 2015 and published an article that prompted a “tidal wave” of publicity. They sold out of shoes that day! Between that publicity and the people who’d been directed to their website as a result of the story, they had $112,000 donated by people from around the world in the next two weeks. Out of shoes, Kenton started taking pre-orders for mission trips that were scheduled for that summer. They had shoes being made as quickly as possible, running short for approximately three months while production caught up to demand.
Soon Kenton realized that his small side project had outgrown him. The first person he had shared his idea with was his best friend since second grade, Andrew Kroes, who quit his full-time job in Boise to join him. Having always been a part of the project, Andrew is now the president of Because International. Kenton laughs and shares: “He’s 100 times better at business than I am!”
In the 12 months following July 2015 Because International has gotten over 50,000 pairs of The Shoe That Grows to kids in over 70 countries, primarily through mission trips and organizations that work with kids in need. It’s amazing that a shoe that grows five sizes can be manufactured, packaged in a nylon backpack, and delivered to a child in need for as little as $16. Kenton explained that most missionary trips order a large duffel bag (provided by Because International) with 50 pairs of shoes in it to take with them for $800. Some larger groups take two of these duffel bags with them for a total of 100 pairs of shoes at a discounted rate of $1,500.
With his heart for the people in these areas, Kenton is now working to shift production to a small factory in Ethiopia and hopes to find a similar partner in Haiti, where most of their shoes go. Moving production will create jobs in those areas and keep the costs of shipping down to maintain the affordability of the shoes.
A true visionary, Kenton sees The Shoe That Grows expanding, with the eventual possibility of retail sales here in the U.S. and other countries. But as we parted that day, he hinted at the next project for children in dire need in struggling countries that is set to be launched the first part of 2017. A story that clearly is “…to be continued…!”
For more information, or to contact Kenton Lee about The Shoe That Grows, go to www.TheShoeThatGrows.org; to learn more about Because International, go to www.BecauseInternational.org.
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