I spent the weekend at Roseland Christian Ministries on the South Side of Chicago. I went down on Saturday morning with about 20 other volunteers from my church. We spent the day working to renovate a house on a block that is known as "Skid Row". There has been a lot of gang and drug activity on the block. In recent years RCM has been running a homes program where they will buy a foreclosed house, renovate, then rent or sell it at reduced price to local families. The house we worked on will be a rental or may be used to house summer volunteers. We spent the day on several projects in the house. Some painted cabinets, porches, rooms, or the upstairs floor. Some cleared weeds and trash from the yard. Some laid down tile in the kitchen and bathroom. I got to work putting up joist brackets under the porch and helped Mark do the trim in the kitchen. He did most of the measuring and cutting while while I smoothed surfaces, pried off boards to be replaced and nailed down the new trim, and generally supplied a second pair of hands. Mark and I stayed late to try and finish our job after everyone else had headed out. We didn't quite make it but we got to do a walk through before turning out the lights and locking up. I don't know what it looked like before we got there, but the upstairs looked fantastic where the team had been scraping, cleaning and painting all day. The house isn't done but I could really see that we had made progress.
In the evening the team served supper for women and children at The Strong Tower, RCM's short-term living shelter. Mark and I didn't make it back in time to be part of the supper crew but I did get to hang out with the children and play Simon Sez and Duck Duck Goose after dinner. Later we had a short devotional and worship time before same of played Clue and then turned in for the night.
During our devotional time David, the director of the homes program, and his wife Laura, the Volunteer Coordinator for RCM, shared with us about the history and vision of the ministry. This was a neat time. I had been in a small group with David during my second time around at Trinity and had met Laura on occasion. It was very encouraging to hear their vision for the ministry and some of the things that they had learned. We heard about families who had been settled in homes who had then been able to take out equity loans to send their kids to college or start a business. One of the houses that RCM had taken over had been a notorious drug house where someone had been murdered with an axe. The ministry bought the house after the gang was driven out and renovated. It's now owned by a lady from the church who tells the gang members and drug dealers to get out of her neighborhood but also that Jesus loves and is willing to save them too. David describes it as a model of how God works. He is a God of restoration, taking fallen sinners and making us new. Their vision is to see Skid Row become Reformation Row. Laura talked about working with the women at the shelter. When she was in seminary she expected that God would work through the things she said to people. But she has learned that He works even more through her presence, through her willingness to be there and listen and help. They share the gospel and tell the people about Jesus' love, but they are there in the neighborhood living that love. It was a powerful time and honor to be able to serve with them and to be able to pray that God would encourage and continue to support them in the ministry.
On Sunday morning a few of us stayed behind to clean the volunteer space at RCM while the rest of the team served a breakfast for the community at Roseland Christian Reformed Church. We ended up serving breakfast for 30-40 members of the community, some homeless, our 20 volunteers, and 50 folks from Iowa, The Gospel Singers Male Chorus of Oskaloosa, Iowa, with their wives. It was a delicious breakfast and interesting time talking to the men from the Roseland neighborhood who were there for breakfast. After breakfast we celebrated Pentecost at the church. It was a great service with joyful worship, good singing by the Iowans, and a powerful message from Pastor Huizenga about how the God who reigned at Passover, Sinai, Calvary, and Pentecost is the same God who reigns today.
I was touched by the time we spent there and I hope it was a good warm up for next week's Extreme Build in Whitley City. It's good to be able to serve.