Two blocks east of the “El”
Train Red Line in Uptown Chicago, a lady named Susan limps over from under a
covered bus stop.
“That’s my spot. I was here.
I just had to sit down.”
She marks her spot by
hanging two canvas bags on the fence where a dozen men and women are lined up
outside Uptown Baptist Church.
“I was here. This weather is
killing my arthritis.”
Her voice is husky but kind.
She limps toward the bus stop, sits and takes a sip from something tightly
wrapped in brown paper, looks over her shoulder again, then settles back
against the glass enclosure.
As the line builds, she
Next Monday, she says, they’re
giving out shoes.
“Could you help me with
this?” asks Susan, holding up a kids’ Revenge of the Sith wristwatch six hours
fast. “It’s a cheap watch. I don’t know how to fix it. It’s not a very nice
Every Monday around 4:30
p.m. the iron gate separating Uptown Baptist from the sidewalk creaks open and
some 350 homeless men and women file into pews for a word from scripture then
to the basement for a hot meal.
Shouldering computer bags
and backpacks, a flock of Chicagoans scatter from the train and the buses
toward home or an evening job in one of the city’s most diverse communities.
This is North American
Mission Board (NAMB) missionary Michael Allen’s mission field.
“Uptown is one of the most
diverse places in the Chicago area,” said Allen. “It’s diverse in almost every
way you can imagine — ethnically, socio-economically, in gender and in age. It’s
home to retirees, young couples, newborns, the brilliant and the mentally ill.”
Nearly 80 languages are
represented in Uptown’s public schools. The neighborhood’s population includes
government officials, college professors, business professionals and a
sub-culture of “down-and-outs.”
Allen is one of more than
5,300 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported
by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®. He is among the NAMB missionaries
featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 7-14, 2010. This year’s
theme is “Live with Urgency: Share God’s Transforming Power.” The 2010 Annie
Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $70 million, 100 percent of which benefits
missionaries like Allen.
Allen has worked with social
ministries for years, beginning with his tenure at Moody Bible Church and
continuing with leadership at homeless and recovery ministries throughout the
His ability to interact across a broad spectrum has given the Jamaican-born
pastor a voice among Chicago businessmen and politicians.
“One day I could be at a
press conference with the mayor of Chicago and all the movers and shakers and
be in a suit and tie, then later that day on the street talking to somebody who’s
drunk and just gave his girlfriend AIDS,” said Allen.
“It’s a powerful thing.
It’s an amazing thing. It’s God at work changing people’s lives and I get to be
used by Him to accomplish it.”
Tonight, Allen is hosting an
hour-long Q & A session with a top Chicago attorney who’ll help attendees
understand and navigate the legal system. Then those who’ve come here will hear
the gospel and gather for a meal of hot chicken and pasta. Later on in the
evening, 50 homeless women will make a pallet for the night in one of the
Outside the walls of the
church, Uptown Baptist also is impacting local schools with a launch of Child
Evangelism Fellowship, a door opened when the church provided backpacks and
school supplies at the request of Chicago’s mayor. Allen joined other church
leaders, challenging them to show up at schools nearby to welcome children,
interact with teachers and administration, and provide students with backpacks
full of paper, pencils and notebooks.
“One of the principals said,
‘I didn’t know what we were going to do. I didn’t know how we were going to
provide for all these kids who were unprepared on the first day of school,’”
Allen recounted. “And here we were — at the mayor’s invitation — showing up
during the time of need.
“The deepest need of
humankind is always to know God and to reconnect with God,” Michael added.
“Whatever surface problems are going on around us, if we stop long enough and
look carefully enough, we would see that it’s a spiritual problem. It’s a heart
problem. We need to seize that opportunity before us and to continue to be real
If you were to ask Allen his
priorities in order of importance, loving his family and discipling his
children would come first. His resume credentials mount up, from education to
inner-city experience, but his job as father is of primary importance to him.
“In a survey of hundreds of
homeless people, the recurring theme we saw was an inability to respect
authority and a lack of strong male leadership in the home,” Allen
said. “I’m passionate about seeing the church change some bleak
“Whether times are good or
bad, Allen added, “the opportunities are there to be a light, to be a witness
and to share the good news of the Gospel in word and deed. The time has come
for us to be a living example and to speak the truth in love and I think if we
do this, we will be more like Jesus.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Miller is a writer for the
North American Mission Board.)