HEARTLAND | Nate Adams
Last month IBSA hosted a pilot mission project at Judson University in Elgin, one that linked student groups from all over Illinois with church planters in Chicago. We called the experience “ChicaGO,” and welcomed to it over 60 students from 11 IBSA churches. For a couple of the days, the IBSA All-State Youth Choir joined us, bringing our total to over 100 that helped a half dozen church planters.
After leading a brief devotion with the larger group each morning, I was able to follow individual groups to their work sites. Here’s a brief journal of what I saw:
It’s Monday, and I pull in to Transformation Church in South Chicago Heights. Alex Bell is the planter of this restart in a church building that has been there for years. The property had been somewhat neglected under the previous, older congregation, and Alex has the students hard at work sprucing up the grounds for their first outreach Vacation Bible School.
Alex is cutting down small trees, and I join in with a group hauling the branches to the curb. The bus full of IBSA All-State Youth Choir members pulls in, and I walk over to it with Alex and listen as he hops aboard and quickly gives the new arrivals their instructions. I’m impressed with his concise, passionate orientation to their mission field, and the people’s most pressing needs there.
He tells the students that, for today, they are missionaries from his church out into its community, and asks them to represent them well. He sends them out with invitations to Vacation Bible School, and asks them to pray as they deliver them, and to return with any prayer requests they discover.
It’s Tuesday, and I follow a group out to the Avondale neighborhood, where Dave Andreson is the planter. There is no church building, except the rented flat where Dave and his wife and their toddler and baby live.
After orienting the group to his mission field, he leads us down the street three blocks to the school where he is seeking to build relationships. Politics and budget shortages have kept the school grounds from receiving any major maintenance for three years. We cut tree branches so the school’s sign can be seen. We pull weeds from the cracked asphalt playground. We trim bushes and drag away debris.
It’s Wednesday, and I follow a group out to Garfield Park, a neighborhood second only to Englewood in its annual murder rate. Heroic planter Jamie Thompson has been seeking to establish a church there, though it is really an urban ministry center as well. They meet in a rented building that used to be a Chicago fire station.
Our group is helping Jamie host a week-long Bible club for the neighborhood’s kids. While they clean up from the previous day’s club and get ready for the kids to arrive, Jamie tells me how hard it is to build a church in the midst of violence and poverty, and how hard it is to disciple new Christians when they need jobs and freedom from addiction.
It’s Thursday and I don’t get to visit a work site. Instead I help interview a prospective new staff member, to fill a position that’s been vacant for over two years. He will help us start new African-American churches in Chicago. I leave the interview excited that we’ve finally found the right guy.
Friday the groups head back home. Later we will learn that the Friday night we departed, 11-year-old Shamiya Adams, who attended the Garfield Park Bible Club that week, was shot and killed by a stray bullet that entered her apartment and passed through two rooms to strike her. Pastor Jamie tells us she knew Jesus as her Savior.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.