CHICAGO – More than seventeen percent of Chicagoans live beneath the poverty line, according to the latest U.S. Census, and on August 4-5, Send Relief hosted a Serve Tour event with local Southern Baptist partners to meet material needs and see lives changed by the gospel.
A city plagued by gang violence, drug addiction and crime, Chicagoland residents could use a heavy dose of hope. According to recent stats from the North American Mission Board (NAMB), Chicago is the United States’ third largest city, but less than ten percent of the population is affiliated with an evangelical church.
“Chicago, population-wise, is the largest mission field in Illinois,” shared Nate Adams, Executive Director of the Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA).
With the overwhelming needs present in the city, Chicago was an easy choice when the state’s Baptist convention was approached to host a stop on the Send Relief Serve Tour, which is a global mobilization initiative of Send Relief.
Through a partnership between Send Relief, IBSA and the Chicagoland Baptist Association, sixty-seven churches from eleven states sent hundreds of volunteers to the city to be the hands and feet of Jesus during a weekend of compassion ministry. From blessing bivocational pastors to serving underfunded schools to refugee outreach, Serve Tour volunteers invested their time and effort to make a positive impact in the community.
“What Send Relief has done this weekend is bring us all together and show us some of the most difficult places of ministry – opportunities that are not just for this weekend in August but opportunities [that are available] all the time,” Adams explained.
And in the most difficult places of ministry, volunteers and residents witnessed God move in incredible ways.
Mobile Grill Ministry Sees Refugees Turn to Jesus
Send Relief affiliate ministry, Forgotten Ministries, has participated in every Serve Tour stop to date, bringing their mobile grill ministry to fight food insecurity and share the hope of the gospel in vulnerable communities.
This year, Forgotten Ministries served alongside Empowerment Community Church, a Send Network church plant settled in the Austin neighborhood in Chicago’s West Side.
Austin is notorious for broken homes, drug addiction and spiritual darkness, and no one knows this better than Maurice Gaiter, lead pastor of Empowerment Community Church.
Gaiter grew up in Austin and spent years as one of the neighborhood’s most prominent drug dealers before becoming a follower of Jesus. Now, he’s seeking to lead his church to make disciples and shine the light of Jesus in his childhood community.
“I used to ruin families in my neighborhood, but now I get to show them that Jesus Christ is a life raft in a dark place,” shared pastor Gaiter.
On Friday and Saturday, volunteers prepared burgers and tacos for residents, many of whom don’t know where their next meal will come from. As Serve Tour teams brought food door-to-door, they discovered opportunities to share the gospel in every interaction.
“The idea is to hand out a burger, and when you do, almost every person asks ‘Why?’” explained Hayden Tobin of Forgotten Ministries. “For us, that’s the best question someone can ask because when they ask ‘Why?’ that’s our queue to talk about Jesus.”
As the mobile grill traveled down the street on Friday, Pastor Gaiter ran into two young men. When asked if they believed in Jesus, they both mentioned they were looking for truth.
One of the young men shared that earlier that morning, his cousin was brutally shot and killed in a tragic act of gang violence, and he said that he really needs God. Pastor Gaiter had the opportunity to share his testimony and pray over the two men.
“We believe and trust that the Lord will make a way,” shared Pastor Gaiter. “And I know that the Lord will make a way because I was in their shoes thirty years ago. And if God can save me with two broken hands, addicted to heroin, nowhere to go, lost and terrified, I know He can do it for them.”
The next day, Send Relief president Bryant Wright and his wife, Anne, joined the mobile grill in Austin. There, they encountered Clara and Marta, two best friends who had moved to the states from Central America four months ago.
On the front stoop of their apartment, Wright shared the gospel with both ladies, who made decisions to follow Christ.
Housing Venezuelan Refugees
In 2012, Chicago officials voted to make the city a “sanctuary city,” stating that Chicago will not ask about a person’s immigration status, disclose that information to authorities or deny someone city services based on their immigration status.
Since then, Chicago has seen an influx of immigrants and refugees, including a large population of Venezuelans fleeing violence and economic hardship from their home country.
When pastor of Starting Point Baptist Church Jonathan de la O walked into a police department three months ago, he couldn’t believe what he saw.
“When I walked in [the police station], it was like a portable dimension. On the outside, it was the United States. On the inside, it was like a third-world country,” shared Pastor de la O.
Every inch of the police station lobby was filled with people resting on cots or in sleeping bags. Pastor de la O shared that there was almost no space for a visitor to walk through the sea of women, children and men. From that day on, he knew his church had to do something.
Over the last few months, Starting Point transformed their building into a housing center for Venezuelans who are seeking to begin a new life in America. On the top two floors of the building, the church has created a clothing closet and opened showers and private rooms stocked with beds and dressers to serve those in need. Church members teach English as second language classes and interview preparation.
During Serve Tour Chicago, a team of volunteers provided much-needed renovations to the church’s kitchen so that those being housed there can cook their own meals.
So far, Starting Point has housed twenty-three people who are on a journey to a more permanent placement in the city.
Meeting the Unique Needs of the City
Ashburn Baptist Church was one of four main volunteer hubs during Serve Tour Chicago, and church members led twelve compassion ministry projects over the weekend. From serving tacos in an overlooked neighborhood to blessing local law enforcement with a special meal and prayer time, they aimed to build relationships in the community by meeting its greatest needs.
In order to identify the most pressing needs in their district, the hub leader, Josh Burks, asked the district’s Alderman’s Office what needed attention in their community. The alderman mentioned that several viaducts, bridge-like structures that support the cities’ railroad systems, were in desperate need of beautification.
So, on Friday and Saturday, dozens of Serve Tour volunteers took to the streets to scrape, clean and paint the large viaducts that had become an eyesore in the community.
“This not only provided an amazing opportunity to serve our community that is overburdened and underfunded, but it also helped strengthen the local Church’s relationship with city officials,” shared Josh Burks, pastor of Ashburn Baptist.
By the end of the Serve Tour, volunteers transformed several viaducts in the city to help beautify the community for residents.
Serve Tour Chicago was the sixth stop on the Send Relief 2023 Serve Tour, with two more 2023 stops in Philadelphia and an international stop in Athens, Greece. In 2024, the Send Relief Serve Tour is going to eight cities, including Dallas, Augusta, Ga., and Cape Town, South Africa.
Learn how your church can participate in a Serve Tour stop at SendRelief.org/ServeTour.
Published August 9, 2023