SBC | Chet Cantrell, executive director of Illinois’ Christian Activity Center, spoke about his ministry in East St. Louis this afternoon at the annual Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) Missions Celebration, held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention.
“God is alive and well in the inner city,” Cantrell told women (and a few men) gathered in the Hilton Americas hotel. At the CAC, Cantrell and his staff partner with an army of volunteers to run a daily tutoring and mentoring program that has resulted in a 95% graduation rate among the kids they serve in poverty-stricken East St. Louis. The center, located next to an infamous housing project, is a haven in the neighborhood.
But it wasn’t always that way. When he arrived in the city and asked parents what he could do to help, their answer was “Keep our kids alive.” Cantrell told his audience the playground that now sits opposite the center was once a weed-plagued field. When he set out to mow down the tall grass, a young child told him he couldn’t do that. When Cantrell asked why not, the reply was, “Because that’s where they throw the dead bodies.”
What child should have to grow up in that environment, Cantrell asked. He shared stories of what God has done in the years since, like transforming that field, and turning a street known for trafficking into a place where kids can feel safe. He thanked WMU for their support of ministry centers like his, and encouraged them from Isaiah 45, where God says:
“I will go before you and level the uneven places; I will shatter the bronze doors and cut the iron bars in two.I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches from secret places, so that you may know that I, Yahweh, the God of Israel call you by your name.” (Isaiah 45:2-3, HCSB)
“I would like to tell you that I’m smart and I’m capable, but sometimes God just asks you to show up,” Cantrell said.
“…God was at work in East St. Louis long before I got there.”
Cantrell ended with a challenge: “You want to find God, you come serve in areas just like mine, because God shows up.