The Spero Project
As an Oklahoma Baptist University student pursuing a degree in cross-cultural ministry and anthropology, Brad Bandy has had the opportunity to travel the globe. He witnessed suffering and remarkable courage, and that changed his life forever. From Cambodia and Kosovo, to Nicaragua and Argentina, he shared the daily lives of people living in refugee camps, having nothing left but the hope for something better.
“I realized there are a lot of innocent people in the world that get caught up in situations they have no control of and become victims of political violence and war. And that deeply disturbed me,” said Brad. “That was a major motivation for me to become interested in bettering their lives.”
He and his wife, Kim, started volunteering with Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City and working closely with their Refugee Relocation Department. They discovered there were hundreds of people from countries like Burma, Liberia, Somalia, Ethiopia, the Congo, Uganda, Iraq and Afghanistan within their
own zip code.
“When we started volunteering with that community,” said Brad, “we just got more and more involved and it came to a point where if we wanted to serve the community better, we needed to quit our jobs and start raising support.” That’s how The Spero Project was born. Their blog, initially intended as a platform to engage in conversation, evolved into a nonprofit organization with a clear mission in June 2009 and hasn’t stopped growing since.
“Our overarching theme is that we really want to equip and mobilize the church in the city to serve in under-resourced communities and we want to train them to do it well,” said Kim, who has a degree in nonprofit management from Oklahoma State University.
The Spero Project focuses its advocacy efforts in four main areas: international refugees, marginalized women, foster care and adoption, and combating poverty. “We spent a year really trying to gauge what are the things in the city that no one organization or church can tackle alone, that require system change, one-on-one mentoring and the whole city to be engaged,” explained Kim.
The task is not easy. According to U.N. statistics, in 2010 the United States was projected to resettle about 80,000 refugees, about 300 of them in Oklahoma. National Human Trafficking Resource Center Data shows that while Oklahoma is not among the states with the highest number of cases, last year there were 63 reports of sex and labor trafficking in the state. The latest state Department of Human Services statistics show that in 2010 the Oklahoma Child Support Services division set a caseload record, of more than 200,000 cases.
Kim, who is from Edmond, said the organization is working with a lot of single mothers and foster families, particularly in the Edmond area. They are partnering with volunteers from several local churches, including LifeChurch.tv, Henderson Hills and Bridgeway. “We are really trying to increase the number of single moms that we address, because there are definitely single moms in Edmond that are working two jobs and trying to make it,” she said.
The name of the project, Spero, means “hope” in Latin. It also carries the biblical symbolism of the sparrow, which may not be the prettiest bird or the one with the best voice, but is the most common. “That kind of represents our culture where everyday people, maybe they aren’t the wealthiest or most beautiful or talented, but they are still very valuable,” said Brad. “It’s hope for everyone.”
Brad said his involvement in the community, especially working and living among refugees, has developed from a project to a friendship. “I tell people all the time I am the beneficiary of my relationship with refugees, because I learn from them what I couldn’t learn in any school about how to have hope and endure the most difficult situations this world has to offer,” he said. “That has really given me a perspective on life that you can’t find anywhere else.”
Jacquie Rodgers, who has been volunteering for about two years, works with refugee teenagers as part of the project’s Global Youth Leadership Initiative. “A lot of these kids have come from really traumatic experiences, so we are just giving them an outlet to communicate their story and teaching them to value the importance of their story,” she said. “There are so many opportunities in the Oklahoma City area and Edmond that are just right at our fingertips, and I think The Spero Project really helps people open their eyes to see that.”
Brad and Kim Bandy hope that in five to 10 years their help will gradually become less and less needed as churches take over the initiative. Kim joked she would be glad to say “Let’s move to another city or town, because Edmond and Oklahoma City have figured it out.” She added, “If we move beyond volunteerism to sacrificially living with people in need, then our city is going to look so different, that anyone in the world will try to figure out what’s going on.”
For more information about the organization or to get involved, go to www.thesperoproject.com.