Seeking a new normal in society: My interview with Milan Homola

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More than five years ago, Milan Homola had what he calls the greatest airplane conversation of his life. Sat next to a former department head for President George W. Bush, Milan soon learned that his seatmate headed up a national initiative to end homelessness. Milan, the director of a Portland-based nonprofit focused on showing compassion to neighbors and neighborhoods with medical/dental needs, felt an instant rapport and connection.

For the duration of their flight, the conversation swayed between faith, social justice, spiritual mystics and the like.

“Look around this plane,” he said. “How many people on this plane would say it’s perfectly OK to own another human being?” 

“None? Zero?” Milan responded.

“Exactly,” he said. “What compels me, what intrigues me, about the abolitionists is that this was a group of people who saw what would be a normal one day and fought tirelessly for that.”

A catalyst for radical change in society

I first met Milan several years ago during our work at Portland Leadership Foundation where I discovered that Milan was not only a man of faith, but he also had a compelling sense of personal mission tied to his work at Compassion Connect.

He works tirelessly for what he believes will be a new normal one day in the kingdom of God: where neighborhood communities of faith will come together to serve with an intra-missional posture. Through this process, churches will loosen their grip on their own internal programs, branding and messaging, and will instead gladly partner to meet the needs of the less fortunate in their own back yards.

Milan is the type of person who listens intently, who pauses before he speaks and is always quick to point out God’s faithfulness in his life.

In today’s post I want to share about the work Milan has been committed to for the last ten years of his life and explore how he’s hoping Compassion Connect can be a catalyst for radical change.

Kirk: Compassion Connect is a resource for local churches to combine their efforts and offer medical and dental care, hair cuts and a warm meal to their local neighbors. Where exactly did this idea come from?

Milan: My wife, Tara, and I belonged to Clear Creek Church in Portland, and our community began asking some tough questions around doing missions in our own backyard. We were all being stirred by this idea that we might actually be ignoring our neighbors. Our church had visited Mexico plenty of times to offer dental and medical clinics—why not offer those here in our own backyard?

K: What happened next?

M: We began organizing in January 2006 and by April we were hosting our first free clinic. It was an interesting time to be trying to launch because Portland was experiencing the first of some pretty intense immigration and culture wars. These were the first years that immigrants began protesting for their rights—so we were definitely met with some pushback. But my co-leader and I, Gary Tribbett, wouldn’t take no for an answer. Over the next two years, the Church united together in the neighborhood and continued hosting these clinics, the model gained some traction and we created a neutral non-profit (Compassion Connect) that could equip churches across the country to care for their neighbors in the same way.

K:  What has surprised you in the last 10 years about this work?

M: Just how far down the priority list that unity and collaboration actually are. I read the scriptures and have a hard time understanding how people miss it—God’s a tearer down of walls, not a builder of walls; he’s a reconciler and a uniter. I have seen some changes in the Portland culture, but I still wonder why Church A creates a program and then Church B does the same program with a different church logo. But I guess some of that is a natural byproduct of our American culture that honors the personality, the individual charismatic leader. Nevertheless, ever since coming out of seminary, I’ve been wondering what it would look like to revitalize broken, declining churches.

K: How do church leaders respond to this idea?

M: Nowadays they definitely have more of a “let’s not reinvent the wheel” mentality—they’re seeing that they’re better together and stronger together than apart. Occasionally there will be some churches where I feel like I’m speaking a foreign language; they only want to comingle with churches that have an exact theology on original sin, for example. So that can be frustrating at times because I’m trying to point to something bigger than theological nuance. My role isn’t to change their minds, though. It’s to listen and then gently and appropriately invite them into a better way, a higher way.

K: What’s in the future for Compassion Connect?

M: My family and I just moved back to Minnesota, so I’ve got feet on the ground to start developing relationships with local churches here. From our 10 years based in Portland, we saw 27,000+ volunteers and 300 churches who served more than 37,000 of their neighbors. So, we know the heart behind the vision is catching—and if it can catch on in Portland, then why not Tacoma, Arizona, India, Africa and Minnesota as well?

K: If someone is reading this and they want to learn more about serving their neighbors, what would you want them to know?

M: That they don’t have to be a pastor or a religious person to get involved. Just come and see for yourself. See if you’re supposed to be a part of serving your neighbors in unique and new ways. We have a great staff that can connect anyone not just with local medical clinics, but also with our anti-trafficking initiative called Adorned in Grace. Regardless of how you spiritually identify, these missions don’t move forward without generous, compassionate volunteers.

If you’d like to learn more about the new normal Milan and the team at Compassion Connect are championing, this link will take you to their website.