I live and work in Kankakee, Illinois, about 60 miles south of Chicago. It’s a small city of about 25,000 with a mini-metropolitan area (two other towns, Bradley and Bourbonnais, that seem analogous to suburbs). When my fiancée Bethany and I get married in May, we intend to live intentionally a poor neighborhood, engage in both evangelism and service to our neighbors, and participate with (not dominate) our neighbors in changing the neighborhood for the better. I realize that this may sound abstract, but for a more systematic explanation of what we are talking about, you can see the Christian Community Development Association website.
When Bethany and I were on the Justice Journey this past summer, which took white and black Christians from the Chicago area to significant spots in the history of the civil rights movement, we felt encouraged to pursue this course of action. We actually got to talk to the “founding father” of the Christian Community Development Association, John Perkins. Perkins is an old-time gospel preacher who also has done a lot of thinking and working on community development. When we told him our idea, he immediately warmed to it, telling us we needed to get a three-bedroom house with a large living room so that we can host our neighbors and other guests for Bible studies and other things. He also said we should put down a concrete slab for a basketball hoop for children in the neighborhood, and that when choosing a place to live we might want to look for a place near the unspoken boundary that can separate the black and white communities. We were thrilled that he was taking us seriously!
Well, this week, by God’s grace, we started to take some concrete steps to help the vision turn into reality. We looked at some houses and found one on which we may well make an offer. It’s definitely near a socioeconomic boundary in Kankakee. We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.
We also started to make some great connections with other Christians, even before we looked inside any of the houses. At the recommendation of someone from our home church, Christ Church of Oak Brook, we connected with the Kankakee-area Youth for Christ office. When we told the staff about our plans to relocate to a struggling neighborhood in Kankakee, they were really interested and excited. It was great to see how God used us to encourage them and them to encourage us. We met the staff person who runs the YFC outreach to Kankakee youth and also found out more about the “City Life Center” in East Kankakee that I had seen before. It turns out that YFC is really thinking about urban ministry and bought the City Life Center so that kids from the toughest parts of Kankakee would have a place to go after school. They also wanted us to meet the assistant staff person for Kankakee outreach, who also leads a church that meets in the City Life Center. When Bethany and I left, we agreed that the meeting couldn’t have gone any better.
The next day, we were able to meet with both of the outreach staff for Kankakee at the City Life Center. We were so impressed and encouraged by both of them. In fact, we think that we might have found our church home when we move! The YFC assistant director/church pastor seemed to be a really kind, smart, spiritually mature guy, and he was thrilled that we were interested in coming to the church. He gave us a CD of his teaching, and from what we have heard so far he’s a faithful and skillful teacher with a heart for both the gospel and spiritual formation of believers. We’re eager to talk to him and find out more about his story and his influences. Three interesting things we know so far: if we do get the house that we like, he would be a reasonably close neighbor; every week at church he explains a traditional phrase to get the people in touch with traditional ways of talking about doctrine; and while he is African American, he really feels that black churches have overemphasized racial particularity, whereas he emphasizes racial unity in Christ in what seems like a very scripturally grounded way.
As you can tell, we are very excited about the future and feel blessed beyond measure, not because we deserve it but because God is gracious. We’re thankful to God for His providence and for the relationships that we were able to begin. We do believe that God planted the desire to relocate in us, and we are so grateful that He doesn’t seem to want us to do it alone.