the Advance: a look at "real-igion" in action

"Standing in line marking time
Waiting for the welfare dime

'Cause they can't buy a job

The man in the silk suit hurries by

As he catches the poor old ladies' eyes

Just for fun he says, "Get a job."

That's just the way it is

Some things will never change

That's just the way it is
Ah, but don't you believe them."

-Bruce Hornsby
, "The Way it Is"

Last weekend the youth pastor, my husband, myself and two van loads of senior highers headed north to do something a bit different. Rather than our usual "Fall Getaway" retreat, we decided to Advance. The idea was to "see the extraordinary things that God is doing with ordinary people."

That we did. Here's how it went...

"Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell" - C.T. Studd

Family Health Partnership Clinic
("Providing quality health care to residents of McHenry County, IL. Operating with a committed group of volunteer physicians who work alongside a dedicated staff, we serve the uninsured and underinsured population of the county. The majority of the patients work, or are in working families, and almost half are children. Many have delayed care because they were uninsured and could not afford to get the treatment they needed.")

Our youth pastor's mom is office manager at this clinic. After graciously allowing all of us to spend the night in their home in Rockford on Friday night, we took a trip over to the clinic in Woodstock, IL and heard some great stories of what they do. I think this was a wake up call to some as to just how expensive health care really is in the U.S., especially to our Swedish exchange student who expects health care will be provided.

I picked up this fantastic quote posted in several spots throughout the rehabbed medical building, "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist." -Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara

(As a fun bonus afterward, we drove around the square where "Groundhog Day" was filmed. I admit, some of us watch that movie way too much. Thankfully, our lives don't reflect it.)

"Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.'"
-2 Corinthians 8:13-15

Jesus People USA (JPUSA)
("A Christian community in Chicago, we operate both as an intentional Christian community and as a worshiping church. We began as an independent ministry in 1972, and in 1989 joined the Chicago-based Evangelical Covenant Church. We number about 500 people who live together at a single address on Chicago's North Side. We hold our goods and property in a common fund, looking to the model of Christian community depicted in New Testament [Acts 2:44-47, 4:32-35]. Living communally and pooling our resources in this way enables us to minister to one another and those outside the community in ways that might not have been otherwise possible.")

Once we tracked down our gracious tour guide (thanks again!), we had a lot of fun here. I think this introduced most of us to a style of living we never really thought was actually possible. These folks manage at poverty levels, yet are still able to help those in need. They also have a drama group, art studio, record label and plenty of other ways to plug in and serve the Lord, each other and the community.

I got to thinking I could live that way, at least for a while. Maybe it's the "hippie" in me. I always love allowing people to stay in our rather spacious (and kidless) home, but it seems rare and far between. Leave it to American individualism for us to take up way more space than we really need. Our tour guide's main apartment room was probably half the size of my kitchen alone.

Outside on the way back to the van, hubby and I separately noticed two guys apparently doing cocaine in a stairwell across the street. It was cold enough to snow that day. It's hard out there. This is reality. People need people, but most of all people need Jesus to get them out of the pit.

"When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
-Luke 14:12-14

Pacific Garden Mission
("Since 1877, Pacific Garden Mission has been a refuge. Millions weary of struggling through life's storms have come to the 'Old Lighthouse' seeking food, shelter, clothing, medical and dental care. They also came seeking the answer to life’s struggles. They are offered the answer: life through faith in Jesus Christ.")

Wow, we walked in under that classic neon "Jesus Saves" cross, and I had no idea what was coming. When they announced they were about to record episode 3033 of "Unshackled!", I was like, "No way. They're still doing this?" I haven't actually heard the show in ages. But sure enough, we got to watch live radio right before our eyes, complete with organ, real slamming doors for sound effects, and a lot of "CUT!" called for coughing and random outside bus noises.

In case you don't know, "Unshackled!" is an old style radio show that dramatizes true and amazing stories of people who have come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The whole time listening, I was thinking, "This is really true? Nooo, they made that up." But when it was over, they brought out the lady who actually lived the story. Very cool. After all she went through, the Lord, in His mercy, called her out to be one of His own.

After the recording, we got to eat with some other groups and homeless or otherwise needy people. They did a full on chicken and mashed potato dinner for everyone free. (And by "free," I mean funded by those who can afford it. It later struck me as ironic that we were practically around the corner from a Whole Foods Market, a store I shop at least once a month usually managing a bill around $100.) All were well fed that night.

Then it was back to the auditorium for a good old praise and worship service. Our quiet, suburban whiteness was shook up for good by at least three different styles of enthusiastic and interactive praise, and I absolutely loved it. I wish all churches would let it be known they love the Lord like this.

But after some testimonies, you knew these guys had reason to really thank Him for pulling them out of that pit I mentioned. Off the streets, off drugs, out of their hopelessness, Jesus saved them and they knew it. And they wanted everyone else to know it too. (I noticed a similar response at the recent building dedication of a local church which started in biker bars and tattoo parlors.)

The preacher, who spoke on inviting Jesus into every "house" we inhabit, public and private, spent some time on the islands where one of our students lived for a year or so of his life. God does not work in coincidence, and it was great for them to talk for a few minutes.

After all this excitement, we headed to Rosemont to stay in a rather comfy Hyatt (youth pastor got a sweet Hotwire deal) and discussed the day. I don't suppose the irony was lost on everyone. Some began to question their own comfort, and why the Lord gave them such a nice life. We tried to remind them to praise Him for the grace they have been given, and point out that God gives some to be rich and some to be poor. How then will we who have glorify Him by helping those who have not?

We did have a good time handing food to a few of the guys hanging out at some of the highway exits. (Most of my food bars disappeared that way.) Helping, rather than shying away and ignoring. It's a start.

"They say hey little boy you can't go
Where the others go

'Cause you don't look like they do

Said hey old man how can you stand

To think that way?
And did you really think about it

Before you made the rules
He said, son

That's just the way it is

Some things will never change

That's just the way it is
Ah, but don't you believe them."

-Bruce Hornsby, "The Way it Is"

"I have a dream that one day ... little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
"I have a dream today.
"I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lawndale Community Church
("A nondenominational Christian Church seeking to provide a place to worship Jesus Christ. We place importance on a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ and growth in Him through meeting both the spiritual and physical needs of the community through involvement in people's lives. Individual purposes of LCC:
 To reach the unchurched people of the community. To proclaim and live out Biblical Christianity.
 To raise up new generations of Christian leadership.
 To creatively meet the needs of people striving to empower them along the way.")

We showed up just in time to attend another lively praise service at this predominately black church, and I began to wonder how I'll react now to the music back home. (Though I am getting to a point where I'm so caught up in truly worshiping God that I'm less distracted by the style of what's happening around me.)

This was an especially interesting service because it was the Sunday after the election. They went through a good timeline, from slavery to the civil rights movement to MLK and on to the death of the pastor's own father due to hospital negligence, the second person to die in a week after a hospital refused timely treatment. (Concerns of prejudice and racial mistreatment have long been on my heart, and admittedly this all got to me.)

The pastor then launched into how much he loved his daddy, and how betrayed he felt by this country after his death. He couldn't pledge allegiance. He didn't feel at home. No matter where he went, he'd get comfortable and then someone would remind him, "You ain't home, boy." But after this week, and the election of Barack Obama, he finally felt like he was home. He and several others piled suitcases onstage to illustrate their point.

But he didn't leave it there. The sermon was titled "Historic Sunday, but Above All Else, Guard Your Heart." He went on to say that no one should suddenly become proud. Everyone must guard their heart and mouth and so on. He said Barack Obama may be President, but don't put your trust in Earthly princes. Jesus is King. And he finally got the point I hoped—no matter how "at home" you feel here, we await our true home with the Lord in the heavenly Kingdom.

Frankly, it was a fantastic discussion that showed us another side to the story we may not hear in our largely white, suburban, predominately conservative world.

For lunch, we crossed the street to visit Lou Malnati's Pizzeria. While Malnati's is a chain, this particular franchise was given to Lawndale Community Church with the stipulation that the profits help the community. They also provide job preparation primarily for men coming out of their Hope House ministry.

"In the fall of 1995 the Malnati's opened a restaurant on the West side of Chicago in an effort to help rejuvenate a neighborhood that has not had much success in recovering from the riots of 1967 that ravaged the area. Lou Malnati's Lawndale Pizzeria is unique in that all profits will be given back to the community to benefit children's educational and recreational programs."

So while we sat around sharing Chicago style deep dish pizza, and a salad for me, all the proceeds were going to help others. Pretty cool.


The Sum Up

I think, at least personally, this was a productive trip on many levels. I've always had a heart for these concerns, but what excited me here was being able to see God's incredible creativity working through all these people to reach out to others for Him in so many different ways. I don't know how He'll use this in the lives of any of us, adult or student, but you can kind of see the wheels turning for some of us. If you know the Lord, pray for that fire to be well lit.

(All descriptive quotes taken from organization websites.)


Update: This trip actually began a thread that has run through a series of travels related to racial reconciliation and community development, and is now quite significant with regard to events in and around Ferguson. Follow the series here: 

Racism & the Blessing of Being too Concerned to Understand

Mission: Mississippi 2012 - John Perkins, Racial Reconciliation & Community Development

Mission: St. Louis 2014 - Bringing it Close to Home