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Why Chicago?

ib2newseditor —  December 7, 2017 — Leave a comment

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We may not verbalize the “why” question with the persistence of a young child, but we still look for a reason or substantial meaning when called to some action.

Through more than a dozen years in church planting, I’ve heard the “why” question. When a family gave five acres for a new church property to a local association in eastern North Carolina, many in nearby churches asked why, even as their buildings were nowhere near filling their seating capacity.

When I planted a church in Buckeye, Ariz., the North Carolina churches I invited to partner with us often wondered why they should care about planting a church in a community 2,000 or more miles away.

For nearly four years now, I have had the privilege of living in Chicago. During that time, I have mentored, coached and challenged many church planters here. I’ve also invited churches in more than a dozen states to get engaged in supporting church plants here in Chicago with prayer, action and finances.

“Why Chicago?” some ask, jesting, “Why not Hawaii? That would be a great mission trip!”

Yet there are three key answers:

The first reason is biblical. In Luke’s account of the Great Commission in Acts 1:8, Jesus tells His disciples and us, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (CSB).

No matter where you live, major metropolitan areas like Chicago are located between you and “the end of the earth.” And frankly, because of political views and sensationalized news, Chicago in particular is to many in southern Illinois and elsewhere what Samaria was to the Jews: a place and people we’ve been trained or conditioned to dislike or even hate. Yet, even if it is Samaria to Christians, it’s a place and people to which Jesus has sent us to bear witness of Him and His Good News.

The second reason is practical. Cities like Chicago have, from their earliest settlement, become a home for immigrant people groups — many that are identified as “unreached and unengaged” by the International Mission Board.

Because of technology and ease of global travel from America’s major cities, many immigrants maintain a reach to and influence in their homelands. So, effectively evangelizing and discipling people in a city like Chicago gives us a reach into many parts of the world, including most of the peoples in the 10/40 window, a region between the 10th and 40th parallels across Africa and Asia where most of the people who have never heard the Gospel live.

Reaching Chicago and other metropolitan areas with the Gospel could bring a significant advance toward the global evangelization that Jesus promised in Matthew 24:14.

The final answer to “Why Chicago?” is missiological. Chicago is sometimes called the “most segregated city in America.” And while that is changing in some of the neighborhoods of the city, people groups are usually heavily concentrated in certain areas. Poles are heavily concentrated in the northwest neighborhoods and nearby suburbs. Chinatown, as you might guess, is home to mostly Chinese people, many of them still speaking Mandarin or Cantonese. Pakistanis are clustered along Devon Avenue in the northern part of the city. Professional millennials make up two-thirds of the population in the West Loop. Wicker Park is the epicenter of the hipsters.

High concentrations of people groups in a specific place give us a missiological advantage in reaching them. Even if it is a cross-culturally gifted southern boy and his family living among south Asian immigrants, winning one or two to Jesus could result in dozens who live nearby coming to faith in Christ. Given their close proximity to each other, bringing them together to a form a new church can happen very naturally.

While it may not be unique, Chicago is rare in giving us three good reasons to seize the opportunities for the Gospel that lie within our reach.

Dennis Conner directs IBSA church planting efforts in northeast Illinois. Beginning Jan. 1, Conner will transition to planting a church in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood. This article first appeared in the Illinois Baptist and has been republished by Baptist Press.

Andreson-Ponce

Chicago pastor Dave Andreson (left) met Puerto Rican church planters while serving on the island in October, including Jose Ponce, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Resurrección in Isabela.

Arecibo, Puerto Rico | In October, Southern Baptist volunteers began relief efforts in Puerto Rico after the U.S. territory sustained devastating damage from the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The volunteers are working through Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Relief initiative, but their work is unlike other Disaster Relief projects.

“The circumstance is so unusual that we have to take the full responsibility of this response on our own,” said David Melber, president of Send Relief. “That means buying and shipping the food, renting warehouse space, sending the kitchen equipment, and then providing the volunteers to do the cooking. We are forging our entire response by ourselves.”

Chicago church planter Dave Andreson spent a week in Puerto Rico as a trained Disaster Relief chaplain. Andreson, a U.S. Army veteran, couldn’t shake the growing burden he felt for the island. “I had to get there,” said the pastor of Resurrection City Church in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood.

While plans to send volunteers to Puerto Rico were on hold immediately after the storms, Andreson attended a two-day Disaster Relief training at Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp in southern Illinois. One week later, with Baptist volunteers able to get into Puerto Rico, Andreson boarded a flight from Chicago to San Juan.

McKnight

Pastor George McKnight and his wife, Debbie, pause for a photo at Green Island Baptist Church in Puerto Rico, which lost its roof and was flooded during Hurricane Maria’s sweeping destruction.

He served with a Disaster Relief team from Virginia in Arecibo, a city 50 miles west of San Juan in northern Puerto Rico. The team stayed at First Baptist Church there and spent their days cleaning out homes and removing downed trees. Andreson said the teams are working under the leadership of local pastors who understand the people and needs in their communities.

Since the hurricanes, Andreson said, many people are leaving Puerto Rico. Their workplaces are still without power, most schools are still closed, and if you have running water, it’s not safe to drink. FBC Aricebo has already lost about 40 people. One church planter Andreson talked to is worried his young congregation won’t survive.

But the Chicago pastor said he believes Puerto Rico is primed for the gospel. “Physical suffering makes us aware of physical need, and those physical needs always open the door by which the word of God, the gospel proclaimed, makes us aware of our spiritual need,” Andreson said.

“This is a horrible thing that happened, but it’s a good gift from God by which the gospel will go forward. Now more than ever, the church in Puerto Rico, the church of Jesus Christ, has an opportunity to shine the light of Christ.”

The punishing hurricane season has left its mark in other parts of the U.S., including Florida and in Texas, where Illinois teams have served in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. For more information about Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief opportunities and training, go to IBSA.org/dr. To learn more about opportunities in Puerto Rico through Send Relief, go to sendrelief.net.

– Meredith Flynn, with reporting from NAMB

Marci Coble

Standing outside their Chicago condo, Marci is holding a photo of her grandparents. Her grandfather, Maurice Swinford, led church development for IBSA and ultimately served as executive director.

The strategy is simple. Lost people know lost people. They hang out with lost people. If you lead one lost person to faith in Christ, suddenly you have broken into a whole new circle of people who need Jesus. And the most effective witness to the gospel is someone whose life has been changed by salvation in Jesus Christ—especially if it’s happened recently.

That’s why the Illinois Baptist State Association continues to invest in church planting as an important and effective strategy for evangelism. There are lots of places in a state of 13 million people where there is little or no evangelical witness.

IBSA is identifying 200 places and peoples that need Jesus. With at least 8 million lost people living just next door, it won’t be hard to put those pins on the map. For Bryan and Marci Coble, that pin landed in the Irving Park area of Chicago, far away and far different from her small hometown in Chatham.

Marci Coble was raised near Springfield under a strong Baptist influence. Her grandfather, Maurice Swinford, was on IBSA’s staff 15 years and served as executive director from 1988 to 1993. “He was always making sure I knew who Jesus is,” Marci says with a tear in her eye. She was a GA and Acteen, and worked one summer at Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp.

“I was allotted a lot of opportunities and a lot of blessings that I probably wouldn’t have had without his influence and without being his granddaughter—even my call to missions.”

She is almost as emotional describing Chatham Baptist Church. “I grew up there, I was baptized there,” Marci says. “Bryan and I were married there. They shaped me and molded me and I’m blessed to call that my home.”

So when Marci’s husband, Bryan, suggested when he finished his seminary studies that they move to Portland, Ore., to plant a new church, Marci’s brows furrowed. She was willing to go wherever God led them—in fact, they visited the Pacific Northwest on a vision tour—but might God lead them to Chicago?

“Bryan had set up an appointment in Portland. And we received a note from my grandmother with an article from IBSA letting us know they need church planters in Illinois too.” Marci laughed. “And we were like, ‘Oh, that’s so sweet. I love Grandma.’” But the message stuck.

“I didn’t want to come to Chicago,” Bryan readily confesses. “I was raised 60 miles south of St. Louis and grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan. When we started to pray about Chicago, God actually told me—this may sound crazy,” he says as an aside, “to get a Chicago Cubs hat and wear it for 30 days.”

Bryan shifts the Cubs hat on his head, as if he’s adjusting to the fit.

“My heart started to change,” the Missouri transplant says as a smile breaks out. “My love for this city and my burden for this city started to grow. We love this city so much. We love the people of this city so much,” he says.

A similar feeling started growing back in Chatham, Marci’s home church in suburban Springfield. The town of 11,000 is one-seventh the size of the Cobles’ new neighborhood. And for the church members there, Chicago has seemed like someone else’s responsibility.

“To be honest with you, Chicago has always seemed very distant to us,” says Pastor Milton Bost. But having a hometown girl serving as a missionary in the big city has changed things.

“I think Bryan and Marci are kind of pioneers for us,” Bost says.

Chatham has become heavily involved in the Cobles’ planting work 200 miles away. “Folks from Chatham came up to help us do this,” Bryan says on a rainy Saturday morning in April. A children’s playground in the center of their neighborhood is also the epicenter of their planting work. “(We) hand out flyers, hand out cookies, talk to people, build relationships.” The park is covered in people wearing green T-shirts declaring their love for the area.

“We want the community to know that we love them, we’re here to invest in them first and foremost,” Marci says.

The couple moved their two boys there last year—in time for the Cubs’ World Series win. They began surveying the city and seeking God’s direction. In the spring the Cobles bought a small condo in a pre-war three-floor building, and started meeting the neighbors—Hispanics, Anglos, and some Asian people. Their goal is to launch a Bible study, then a church, in the recreation building at the park.

“Chicago is a world city. It has high influence not just within the state of Illinois, but in the world,” Bryan says. “We need to be able to reach these people with the gospel. We do it in love, so that they will hopefully come to know Christ and be changed by the gospel. And the world with them.”

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offer and Week of Prayer September 10-17 at www.MissionIllinois.org.

Watch the video, “A Heart for the City.”

 

 

 

 

The Briefing

Charlottesville violence: SBC leaders urge prayer
Southern Baptist pastors and leaders denounced racism and called for prayer in the wake of white nationalist protests that turned into violence and death in Charlottesville, Va. Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), described the rally as “a gathering of hate, ignorance and bigotry. “

Pro-life billboard reaches Chicago’s South Side
The Illinois Family Institute has rented a large billboard on the south side of Chicago with the message: “Abortion Takes Human Life.” It’s located at 59th and Wentworth, overlooking the Dan Ryan expressway (I-90/I-94), just 3 miles south of the White Sox Stadium, west of The University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry. The message will be seen 3.86 million times during the month of August, reaching residents all around Chicago’s south side.

Stericycle cancels contracts with abortion centers
The nation’s leading medical waste disposal company has cut ties with hundreds of abortion centers, according to a pro-life activist group. Stericycle, which has a record of hauling aborted fetal waste despite a company policy against doing so, recently reiterated its policy against taking fetal remains and told the group Created Equal that it has “canceled hundreds of contracts with women’s clinics” over the past few years.

Iranian youths mass converting to Christianity
The massive rise of Christianity in Iran, especially among youths, continues despite the Islamic government’s efforts to suppress the faith. Even Islamic leaders admitted that more and more young people are choosing to follow Christ. According to Mohabat News, which reports on the persecution and state of Christianity in Iran, the “exponential rate” of Christian growth has been a factor for the last couple of decades.

Two-thirds of Americans say they’re sinners
Two-thirds of Americans (67%) say they are sinners, according to a new study from LifeWay Research. Most people aren’t too happy about it—only 5% say they’re fine with being sinners. As America becomes more secular, the idea of sin still rings true, said Scott McConnell, executive director of the Nashville-based group. “Almost nobody wants to be a sinner.”

Sources: Baptist Press, Illinois Family, World Magazine, Christian Post, Christianity Today

The Briefing

Protestors target Chicago church for stand on marriage
Demonstrators flocked to one of Chicago’s South Side’s largest churches Sunday morning after its pastor removed a woman from the congregation because of her same-sex wedding. The situation renewed a long-standing debate in churches around the country, pitting tolerance and acceptance against tradition and teaching. There has been a massive culture shift over the last decade on gay marriage, but the Apostolic Church of God is staying put, saying it’s defending faith and family.

New reason churches end up in court
For more than a decade, sexual abuse of a minor was the No. 1 legal matter involving US congregations. It made up more than 1 in 9 of all church lawsuits, according to Church Law & Tax. But last year, the top reason for church litigation became a different problem: property disputes. More churches went to court in 2016 due to their building itself rather than any abuse that occurred inside of it.

Targeted for marriage beliefs, judge appeals to high court
A longtime municipal judge and circuit court magistrate is seeking relief from the U.S. Supreme Court after the state of Wyoming fired her for telling a reporter she believes marriage is between a man and a woman. Judge Ruth Neely petitioned the Supreme Court Aug. 4 to hear her case after the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics forced her to stop solemnizing marriages, ending her career as a part-time magistrate.

President’s evangelical advisers request papal meeting
President Trump’s evangelical Christian advisers are requesting a meeting with Pope Francis after a Vatican-approved magazine published a piece condemning the way some American evangelicals and Roman Catholics mix religion and politics. That request came in an Aug. 3 letter to the pontiff from Johnnie Moore, an evangelical author, activist, and public relations consultant. Moore asked Francis for a meeting of Catholic and evangelical leaders — and quickly.

People assume serial killers are atheists
A new study published in Nature Human Behaviour found that people around the world are predisposed to believe that atheists are more likely to be serial killers than religious believers — a bias even held by atheists themselves. The study included 3,256 participants across 13 diverse countries that included highly secular nations like Finland and the Netherlands as well as highly religious ones like the United Arab Emirates and India.

Sources: WGN, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Religion News, Axios

Tale of two cities

I’ve visited Phoenix a few times over the years, but attending the Southern Baptist Convention there recently reminded me again how much it differs from cities here in the Midwest. Of course, it’s a city in the desert, a reality that’s evident even from the sky as one’s plane lands. That difference is even more noticeable as you first breathe the dry air, touch the hot pavement or sand, or simply realize that, at least in the summertime, the brown of Arizona bears little resemblance to the green of Illinois.

In the short walk from my hotel to the convention center each day, I also noticed many different cultural influences, from Native American and Hispanic to the Old West. I saw colorful jewelry, pottery, and clothing in the store windows, and pragmatic architecture spread low across the skyline, all reflecting the unique beauty of the desert.

It wasn’t long, however, before I also began seeing similarities between Phoenix and cities like Chicago. For example, there is great wealth alongside great poverty. There are busy freeways, and constant traffic, and countless people in a hurry. There are many faces that seem sad, or angry, or just empty as they go about their routines. And there are relatively few Baptist churches, or visible evidence of Christian hope.

I’m taking time to paint this picture of Phoenix because I hope that by the time our IBSA Annual Meeting rolls around this November, we may be ready to invite many Illinois Baptists to return there. Discussions with Arizona Baptist leaders during the convention revealed several opportunities for partnership.

For example, there are currently only three African American Southern Baptist churches in the Phoenix association, while Chicago has dozens. On the other hand, Arizona Southern Baptists have been particularly effective in suburban church planting, an area of great need in Chicagoland. We began to see that a complementary partnership between churches in our states, focused especially on church planting in these two “Send Cities” of North America, could give each of them a needed boost in reaching people with the gospel and establishing new Baptist churches.

We also discovered that there are numerous natural connections between the mission field residents of Chicago and Phoenix. For example, according to recent census data, Chicagoans move to Phoenix more than any other metropolitan area except Champaign, Illinois. In fact, more move to Phoenix than to New York, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Atlanta, or even Indianapolis, which round out the list of top relocation destinations. And while Phoenix is a much smaller city, more than half the number of people that move from Chicago to Phoenix each year also move the other way, from Phoenix to Chicago.

Many Chicagoans “snowbird” in Phoenix. And the fact that both the Cubs and White Sox hold their baseball spring training camps in the Phoenix area is just one factor that keeps the airports full of tourists as well as business travelers. In fact, one travel writer recently referred to Phoenix as “Chicago West,” and commented on the numerous pockets of Chicago culture that can now be found in the desert city.

So, the tale of these two cities isn’t over with the conclusion of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, at least as far as Illinois Baptists and Arizona Baptists are concerned. We are discussing a more formal partnership, with vision trips in early 2018, facilitated mission trip opportunities next year, and the matchmaking of several church-to-church partnerships. If all goes as planned, our desert partners may even provide Illinois Baptists with a welcome, new experience—the winter mission trip.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

The Briefing

Immigration raids target Iraqi-American Christians
Chicago’s Iraqi immigrant community is bracing for raids by U.S. immigration officers after witnessing a sweep in Detroit, where federal agents rounded up more than 100 Iraqis, most of them Christians, and sent them to a detention center in Ohio, pending deportation. Federal agents took Detroit’s Iraqi-American community by surprise, showing up at a Chaldean church during Mass, at restaurants frequented by the Iraqi Chaldean community, and at homes bearing orders to arrest and deport residents.

Baptists deny CSB translation is ‘gender neutral’
Conservative Christian groups and intellectuals are rejecting a recent claim that the latest version of the Christian Standard Bible has been edited to be more “gender neutral.” The Atlantic published a piece on Sunday that claimed that the theologically conservative Southern Baptist Convention was embracing a more gender-neutral version of the Bible.

SBC Phoenix wrap-up: Alt-right resolution & evangelism draw focus
Appointment of a task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in evangelism and a resolution decrying “alt-right white supremacy” were among highlights of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix. Attendees of the SBC Pastors’ Conference preceding the annual meeting elected Florida pastor H.B. Charles as the conference’s first black president.

Chicago records 300th homicide
Chicago recorded its 300th homicide over the Father’s Day weekend, just like it did last year. The somber milestone was reached around 2:30 a.m. Monday when a 33-year-old man was gunned down during a burst of violence that saw four people killed and 13 others wounded over just five hours Sunday evening through early Monday, according to data kept by the Tribune.

Catholics launch conversation about female deacons
Several progressive Catholic groups are launching an initiative aimed at giving lay Catholics and clergy across the U.S. a direct say on whether the church should ordain women deacons. Their actions follow the appointment of a panel of experts set up by Pope Francis to consider the controversial question.

Sources: World Magazine, Christian Post, Illinois Baptist, Religion News, Chicago Tribune