Last week a pregnant 24-year-old college student was walking to her car on a lunch break when she was approached by a man with a knife. He forced her into her car, made her drive a short distance to an ally, where he raped her, then locked her in the trunk of her own car before he fled the scene. This happened near Chicago State University, on 98th and Indiana, which is roughly 5 blocks from the school I work at. Continue reading
Two weekends ago there were over 71 people who were shot in Chicago. 54 people were killed by gunshot in Chicago during George Zimmerman‘s trial. In 31% of the killings, the victim was 19 years of age or younger. 76% … Continue reading
Something evil was lurking in my body yesterday morning… I was unsettled and unhappy, but the reason for such a sour state of being was not apparent. This feeling soon grew to need a reason for it’s existence, so I began to pick a fight with my husband. Having a very bright morning, he was not altogether pleased with my needless anger and frustration, so of course, we had a giant argument….. right before church. How many young couples have been in this exact same situation before?
When we first joined our church, we experienced this kind of spiritual attack every Sunday morning. It seemed as though the Devil was working very hard to make us too ashamed and angry at ourselves and each other to be committed to our place of worship. So, when this came up again, I knew deep down that Satan was trying to prevent something from happening… but I had no idea how hard he would be working to break me that morning…
Upon arriving at church, I sat and sulked in the car, not wanting to see my husband lead worship, then I got fed up with sulking (because let’s face it, sulking is no fun) and so I started praying. It was very hard to hear God. I finally made my way into the church, trying hard to blend in and not be noticed (although, being the only white red-faced girl with a runny nose and teary eyes, this proved difficult).
For the rest of the service, I kept getting hit over and over with reasons to want to run. Far away.
It wasn’t that people were being especially cruel or rude (except for one unfortunate occasion), but it was clear that Satan was working to discourage my efforts in contributing to my church. Being still green to church membership and still coping with the fact that not all Christians in the church are perfect followers of Christ (see my previous blog post), I felt heartbroken at being so discouraged by my own church. Somehow I felt that this wasn’t the way it should be…
I came home sobbing, telling Dennis I never want to go back and that if no one appreciates my work or my creativity, then I’ll just go, or then we’ll just go and start our own church!
I literally would not stop crying.
Dennis was very sweet considering I had been a jerk to him earlier that same morning. He told me that what I was feeling made perfect sense….. But God still has called us to this church….so in other words, cry it out, then buck up and get on with it.
I cried for another hour, then decided to be less pitiful and start making some lunch (by this time it was 3pm and our stomachs were growling rather ferociously).
Over lunch I felt the Holy Spirit stirring in my heart. “I told you to plant that garden for a reason Claire. You blogged about it, but have you gotten your hands dirty in that soil yet?”
“I need to plant some seeds today.” I told Dennis.
“I was just thinking the same thing…” He replied. Although he was speaking a lot less literally than I was.
I went outside and got the pots ready with dirt and took out the weeds around our yard. While I was getting dirty and sweaty, Dennis went to get some beer. I know. Not exactly what you were expecting. But we took the beer over to our neighbors across the street and asked if the kids could come over for Bible Study and dinner later in the evening, then hung out on the porch with them, watching the kids play with the water hose and eat icy pops.
Allyiah, Stewie, JR, and Brianna came over to help me make pizza dough. The whole while I spoke to them about treating one another with respect and how to ask for things politely. (JR and Brianna were not as fond of each other and the kids kept grabbing things around our house and from each others’ pockets). Nevertheless, we mixed the flour and milk and butter together and we rolled out the the dough into little roundish disks and I let the kids splatter tomato sauce over it, throw cheese onto every corner of the pan, and sprinkle seasoning onto the little homemade pizzas. We stuck them into the oven and set the timer, and then met Dennis in the living room for Bible Study.
He had chosen Matthew 13: the parable of the sower. We read together, talked about what the seed represented, and what each part of the ground was. Then we read John 3:16 and talked about Jesus. The kids asked a lot of questions, and after showing them a movie clip of “Godspell”, Dennis asked them if they wanted to pray “the prayer” with him.
Let me start off by saying that I am not an avid evangelist by any means. I myself am a new Christian and so I feel somewhat hypocritical asking someone to start believing and living for someone I took so long to find myself. I also have not been trained in any evangelical methods, and so the prayer called “the prayer” was also fairly new to me.
I watched as these four children sat in my living room repeating after me and my husband. Their eyes were closed, they were really talking to God, perhaps for the first time, and they were speaking words to invite Jesus into their lives.
At first I thought, “Well, they don’t really know what they are saying… these are just words”. But then the power of this prayer began to sink in. These kids were admitting that sin was in their lives, that sin controlled the world they lived in, and especially in Roseland, where they are witnesses to violence, drugs, and sex everyday. They were confessing that they believe in Jesus Christ, that He died for them and that they loved Him. They were even vocalizing a choice to follow God and to live for Christ.
I felt the frustration with my church melt away little by little and I felt a quite voice inside of me say “You have planted the seeds, and their fruit is better than any you could reap from your literal garden outside. But I have called you to be a harvester for these children.”
A week or so ago I wrote about God’s unquestionable assignment to plant a garden. Now, we did go out and plant some seeds after dinner with the kids, but what I think God was really alluding to was planting the seed of God’s Word in the hearts of these young children.
The Gospel of Matthew explains that children are as the Kingdom of Heaven, and that if we as adults, humble ourselves as children, then we will be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. The more I study Matthew, the more I am convinced that the Kingdom of God is already here; John the Baptist spoke of it’s coming, and Jesus brought it with Him when he gave us the Holy Spirit and taught us how to pray and live. Many are still waiting, and many are not contributing to it, but regardless, it is here and I know that I want to be sold out for it. Like the man who gave up everything to purchase a pearl of great price, I want to leave all to bring the Kingdom to Roseland.
Little children are Kings and Queens in this Kingdom. The poor, downtrodden, and weak are Kings and Queens in this Kingdom. This Kingdom does not look like any other idea of a kingdom that you could dream of or see in books and movies. This Kingdom is for the least of these. The nothings, the lowlifes, the scum, the dirty, the struggling, the lame, the blind, the sinners desperate for change. Children, wide-eyed, innocent, trusting, and believing, are the perfect candidates for Royal Subjects in God’s Kingdom, and last night, with all six of us praying to Jesus, we brought it a little closer to our part of the city.
Proverbs 22:6 states “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is older he shall not depart from it”. Even if this world takes over this block, even if Satan tests these children, just as he tested me that same morning, and even if they stray into sin, God promises that they will not depart from it when they are older. I pray that Dennis and I can continue to train up these children with Christ as the center, so that they will become good soil for the Word of God.
I truly am amazed how God turns what Satan meant for evil into His goodness. I don’t think I would be truly as surrendered to Christ last night if I had not been broken down earlier that morning. I know that I can always trust that God will encourage me in the areas I lack stamina; He will provide refreshment in the areas where I am dry and rocky; He will churn and tend to my heart so that it is ripe and ready for harvest, and all will see the Glory of God through the fruit of not our gardens or our grocery baskets, but by the fruit of our lives.
And so, when God says “plant a garden”, perhaps He means literally, but perhaps He is speaking in another parable.
Again I have neglected to update for a bit of time, but I assure you all that I have good reason.
Instead of reflecting on my convictions, I was packing up a life and moving to another location. Dennis and I just now got settled in our new home in Roseland, a community on the South Side of Chicago. It took us eleven hours to pack up in Bloomington, and a half an hour to get all of it moved into the house thanks to our Chicago neighbors across the street.
Cookie, Robert, and Dominique were the helping hands we needed back in Bloomington when we attempted to move heavy boxes full of books and oversized chairs down our steep staircase and into the U-Haul trailer.
It is a completely different world here. Our sense of community and our definition of neighbor has already changed quite a lot, and we have never been more aware of the fact that we are white and middle class.
In Bloomington, we definitely lived in a lower-income part of town, and crime (as in theft) was fairly high, but it was not the same as Roseland. I am not even sure how many people live the house across the street, but it is enough that all have to share a room with at least one other person, if not more. I have already heard gun shots not too far away, and I know that most of the students I will be teaching have had at least one loved one lost due to the violence that has run rampant in Roseland.
Before anyone begins to worry about us or our safety (or sanity for that matter), I want to tell you that I truly am not afraid here. In fact, I have never felt braver, and it’s not because of me. No, not at all. God has called both Dennis and myself to this community and we have no doubt in our minds that this is where we will do His work. Now, on the other hand, our fearlessness will not cause us to loose our senses. I am quite aware that we must be much more aware and alert and cautious in a neighborhood such as ours. So don’t worry; we’re not eager to become martyrs out of stupidity.
Nevertheless, we have been met with some skepticism and raised eyebrows, but God has been so good in these past two days, which have been incredible!
Dennis and I were on a quest to get involved in a church. We had met and hung out with the neighbors and we had recently gotten prayer from our former church members, and were ready to get connected and tapped into what the Lord was doing in Roseland. We headed up to meet Ms. Pearl of the Roseland Community Day Care Center at Christ Temple Cathedral. The children were all supposed to be napping, but were rolling around on their cots making eyes at us and playing with their sheets. Ms. Pearl had to get up and scold them several times and one little girl even lost the privilege of having sheets on her cot! Meanwhile, Ms. Pearl pointed us in the direction of Roseland Christian Ministries as well as the Agape Center. She shooed us away to go meet Brad and Mark at the Agape Center, and we went on our way.
We were greeted at the Center with smiles and great advice once we introduced ourselves. Ms. Pearl was right when she said there were more than a handful of other white people living in Roseland (something she described as “amazingly enough”). She was also right in telling us that it would feel very familiar to us, but to not simply stop looking for a church home there. This place did seem familiar, and it wasn’t only because most of the people there looked like us; there was a sort of comforting and comfortable sense that I felt, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.
Dennis and I were remembering one of our first conversations when had just met. We spoke about how neither of us ever wanted to get comfortable about our lives. I think we meant that we never wanted to settle or get complacent with our current situation to the point where we were never taking risks or pushing past routine.
Now, that has come to mean something completely different to both of us. It means living a life for Christ rather than for ourselves. We are called to die to ourselves so we can truly be God’s hands in whatever situation he puts us in.
One of the Pastors at Christ Temple said it really well:
In a community where crisis is everywhere, where death and destruction are common day occurrences, and we are pushed to the breaking point as a church, we must remember that God controls all and he even controls evil. He puts us in difficult situations for a reason because he knows that when we reach our breaking point, that’s when we have our break through and call upon Jesus to save us. When we reach our crisis, we push past and receive Christ.
So many people in the Bible were pushed into crisis: Elijah, Moses, Job, Ester, Ruth, David, and especially Jesus. And they all were put there to display the Glory of God. See, many times, the Preacher said, we think of our troubles and crises as the Devil. We are going through temptation or struggle or hardship and we assume that the Devil is attacking us, that Satan is on our back and we’re pressed down by him.
But in reality, it’s all God. What Satan means for evil, God means for good. And we can be rest assured that it will always be this way for believers and followers of Christ Jesus.
So no, I am not afraid of this new life that we are thrust into. I am not afraid of this violent community nor the responsibility of being a full time teacher for the teens who live here.
When I have Christ to guide me, and God’s calling to keep me here, I have everything I need.