News Articles

Chicago Send Relief Serve Tour brings volunteers from 11 states to Windy City

Serve Tour volunteers from 67 churches in 11 states traveled to the city of Chicago to serve. Send Relief photo

CHICAGO (BP) – Chicago was an easy choice to host a stop on the Send Relief Serve Tour, a global mobilization initiative of Send Relief.

U.S. Census data show more than 17 percent of Chicagoans live below the poverty line, and North American Mission Board statistics say less than 10 percent of residents in America’s third-largest city are affiliated with an evangelical church.

Through a partnership between Send Relief, IBSA and the Chicagoland Baptist Association, 67 churches from 11 states sent hundreds of volunteers to the city to bless bivocational pastors, serve underfunded schools, minister to refugees and more.

“What Send Relief has done this weekend is bring us all together and show us some of the most difficult places of ministry – opportunities that are not just for this weekend in August but opportunities [that are available] all the time,” said Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Mobile grill ministry sees refugees turn to Jesus

Send Relief affiliate ministry Forgotten Ministries has brought its mobile grill ministry to every Serve Tour stop to date.

This year, Forgotten Ministries served alongside Empowerment Community Church, a Send Network church plant settled in the Austin neighborhood in Chicago’s West Side.

Austin is notorious for broken homes, drug addiction and spiritual darkness, and no one knows this better than Maurice Gaiter, lead pastor of Empowerment Community Church.

Gaiter grew up in Austin and spent years as one of the neighborhood’s most prominent drug dealers before becoming a follower of Jesus. Now, he’s seeking to lead his church to make disciples and shine the light of Jesus in his childhood community.

“I used to ruin families in my neighborhood, but now I get to show them that Jesus Christ is a life raft in a dark place,” Gaiter said.

On Friday and Saturday, volunteers prepared burgers and tacos for residents, many of whom don’t know where their next meal will come from. As Serve Tour teams brought food door to door, they discovered opportunities to share the Gospel in every interaction.

“The idea is to hand out a burger, and when you do, almost every person asks ‘Why?’” said Hayden Tobin of Forgotten Ministries. “For us, that’s the best question someone can ask because when they ask ‘Why?’ that’s our cue to talk about Jesus.”

Send Relief President Bryant Wright shares the gospel with Chicago residents Clara and Marta, who made decisions to follow Christ on Saturday of the Serve Tour.

As the mobile grill traveled down the street on Friday, Pastor Gaiter ran into two young men. When asked if they believed in Jesus, they both mentioned they were looking for truth.

One of the men shared that earlier that morning, his cousin had been shot and killed in gang violence. He said he really needed God. Gaiter shared his testimony and prayed with the men.

“We believe and trust that the Lord will make a way,” Gaiter said. “And I know that the Lord will make a way because I was in [those men’s] shoes 30 years ago. And if God can save me with two broken hands, addicted to heroin, nowhere to go, lost and terrified, I know He can do it for them.”

The next day, Send Relief president Bryant Wright and his wife, Anne, joined the mobile grill in Austin. There, they encountered Clara and Marta, two best friends who had moved to the U.S. from Central America four months prior.

On the front stoop of their apartment, Wright shared the Gospel with both ladies, who made decisions to follow Christ.

Housing Venezuelan refugees

In 2012, Chicago officials voted to make the city a “sanctuary city,” meaning city officials will not ask about a person’s immigration status, disclose that information to authorities or deny someone city services based on their immigration status.

Venezuelan refugees pile into a Chicago police station, where they stay until they can find more permanent housing. Photo by Jonathan de la O.

Since then, Chicago has seen an influx of immigrants and refugees, including a large population of Venezuelans fleeing violence and economic hardship in their home country.

When Jonathan de la O, pastor of Starting Point Community Church, walked into a police department three months ago, he couldn’t believe what he saw.

“It was like a portable dimension,” de la O said. “On the outside, it was the United States. On the inside, it was like a third-world country.”

Every inch of the police station lobby was filled with people resting on cots or in sleeping bags, he said. There was almost no space for a visitor to walk through the sea of women, children and men. He knew his church had to do something.

Over the last few months, Starting Point has transformed its building into a housing center for Venezuelans who are seeking to begin a new life in America. On the top two floors of the building are a clothes closet, showers and private rooms stocked with beds and dressers to serve those in need. Church members teach classes in English and interview preparation.

During Serve Tour Chicago, a team of volunteers provided much needed renovations to the church’s kitchen so that those being housed there can cook their own meals.

So far, Starting Point has housed 23 people who are on a journey to more permanent placement in the city.

Meeting the unique needs of the city

Ashburn Baptist Church was one of four main volunteer hubs during Serve Tour Chicago, and church members led 12 compassion ministry projects over the weekend. From serving tacos in an overlooked neighborhood to blessing local law enforcement with a special meal and prayer time, the church aimed to build relationships in the community by meeting its greatest needs.

In partnership with city officials, Serve Tour volunteers scrape, clean and paint viaducts across the city of Chicago. Send Relief photo

In order to identify the most pressing needs in the district, hub leader Josh Burks, pastor of Ashburn Baptist, asked the district’s alderman’s office what needed attention in their community. The alderman mentioned that several viaducts, bridge-like structures that support the city’s railroad system, were in desperate need of beautification.

On Friday and Saturday, dozens of Serve Tour volunteers scraped, cleaned and painted the large viaducts that had become an eyesore.

“This not only provided an amazing opportunity to serve our community that is overburdened and underfunded, but it also helped strengthen the local Church’s relationship with city officials,” Burks said.

Serve Tour Chicago was the sixth stop on the Send Relief 2023 Serve Tour, with two more 2023 stops in Philadelphia and an international stop in Athens, Greece. In 2024, the Send Relief Serve Tour is going to eight cities, including Dallas, Augusta, Ga., and Cape Town, South Africa.

Learn how your church can participate in a Serve Tour stop at SendRelief.org/ServeTour.

Daryn Flatt is a writer for Send Relief.