Sure, pray for us, Rev!
Pray me and my boys don’t get shot out here!
He couldn’t have been older than 18 or 20. Bright eyes, tall and muscular with dark skin, and a large grin, but a nervous look behind it. Knowing the stats, the fact he needed protection from violence did not surprise me; what did surprise me was the fact he was willing to admit it.
I was out traversing the neighborhood on foot, back-and-forth, up and down the blocks. I was offering prayer to those who would receive it, handing out Bibles, offering job search assistance and conversation about Jesus. Similar to many of the encounters I experience, he was offering me drugs. I wasn’t from the block, so surely I was there to buy. I started the conversation with,
No, I’m not buying anything; I’m out here to pray for people. Can I pray for you?
Sure, pray for us, Rev!
Pray me and my boys don’t get shot out here!”
With his approval, I began right there to call out to God on his behalf. I pleaded with God to remove the life of fear, anxiety, and anger that these boys might be facing through the reality of his resurrected son Jesus, and to lead them to a life with him, raising families in the neighborhood free of the fear of bullets, and working productively with their hands. When I opened my eyes and lifted my head, I was surrounded by about six white tee wearing gangbangers. They were huddled around us with their hands in their pockets, their heads bent in reverence, looking over their shoulders from time to time, but very much engaged. They each introduced themselves to me by name, and patted me on the back as I left to find my next willing prayer partner.
The next week, I ran into J, who tried to sell me some “squares” (cigarettes). He prayed with me, and then introduced me to his lady friend, H.
Look, honey, I met a pastor!
We stood together and reverently observed the outside wall of a soul food restaurant. Every brick was marked with the signatures of neighbors paying their respects to “Pokey,” a 37-yr-old man who was shot at that exact spot a week earlier. An empty cigarette box was taped to the wall and a lone Sharpie sat inside for future signatures to be added to the makeshift memorial above the plastic flowers and burning candles on the sidewalk. I asked him what he thought about this—the death of Pokey.
That was my boy [meaning friend] right there. I’m going to miss him.
Tragedy is not the only characteristic of my beautifully diverse neighborhood. There are bright moments as well like the familial camaraderie among the local Dunkin customers, the older Puerto Rican gentlemen who daily banter over fast-paced games of Dominoes at the park, and the little girl across the street that yells out every time I pass by, “Hello, Elijah’s dad!” And there are the smiles and short waves as I walk by from happy front stoop dwellers, taking in a few last remaining rays of sun before our winter hits.
It’s in this context during my morning devotions that I read in God’s Word,
Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior (Ephesians 5:23b).
And I weep with joy at the thought of God forming an extension of his body here, of these my people, one day knowing Jesus—not as their good luck charm against bullets, but as their eternal Savior. And he is the one who will save them—yes, save them completely—not me. The weight of community transformation does not rest on my weak shoulders, but on the Savior who builds churches out of prostitutes, Domino players, gang bangers, yuppies, and fishermen.
And so I write this to invite you to join me in this joy—the joy of praying with my people, of sharing Christ with them. I’m not just talking about sending checks to support our efforts or prayers from afar, though those things are vitally necessary. When you invest financially or prayerfully in us, you tangibly propel us forward. But I’m inviting you to actually come and join us. To move here to Chicago from elsewhere, or to move from your part of Chicago to West Humboldt Park. Relocate. Bring your love and your Jesus to lock arms with us here. We need people who carry in their hearts a humble Gospel settledness. These Gospel settled people are not necessarily remarkable in their academic achievements or financial attainments, but they are cemented in their minds that they have been welcomed to dine with Jesus, though they know they do not even merit being his shoe shiner. They say without a shred of bravado, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
I pray that God would bless Regeneration Church with men and women who are definitively compelled to pursue obscurity among unbelieving neighbors for the sake of his glory. Are you one of these people?
As always, we are thankful for you and every prayer, email, call, and dollar. You are our joy.
Craig, Elizabeth, Elijah, Anna, and Baby