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Encounter with urban violence fails to nix church’s outreach

WACO, Texas (BP)–A run-in with urban violence didn’t scare Seventh & James Baptist Church out of doing missions. On a Chicago street one evening last summer, gun-toting teens injured two members of the Waco, Texas, congregation and trapped their mission team in crossfire. The Texans had traveled to Chicago to do mission work at Uptown Baptist Church in the middle of a 12-block community that is home to people who speak 82 languages. They completed orientation at the church and were returning to their hotel when two teens ran among them, shooting at each other.

By the time the bullets stopped ricocheting, Ali Stanke, one of nine youth on the trip, and Linda McManness, one of four sponsors, lay wounded. Although they weren’t injured seriously, the incident brought Seventh & James’ mission trip to a quick halt, and the group returned to Texas. But the bullets didn’t kill their desire to share Christ’s love and message of salvation with other people, church members say. This summer, the church plans to sponsor two mission trips. The youth will journey to Lubbock, Texas, following a pattern of alternating in-state and out-of-state mission sites. And an intergenerational group will work on a hunger project in Cuidad Acuna, Mexico. Rather than frighten the church into staying home, the grim experience in inner-city Chicago reinforced the church’s resolve to spread the gospel, said Susie Shearer, the church’s youth minister. “Among our youth, there’s just a greater awareness of the need for missions and carrying the peace and hope of Christ to some dark areas and to bear witness to that hope,” she said. “They’ve been given a unique perspective on violence.” “The fact some of our young people and a few adults were in harm’s way,” noted pastor Raymond Bailey, “brings to mind the fact some people live in harm’s way every hour of every day. “If anything, the experience intensified our interest in and desire to do missions,” Bailey said. “It’s important to be active in trying to change social structures and political systems that contribute to poverty and rage and hunger.” The shooting “was a reality check,” said Lenora Mathis, 14, who went to Chicago last summer. “We live in Waco, which is a sheltered place. … But the experience in Chicago made me feel closer to the people who live there.” And that experience has strengthened their understanding of missions, Shearer added. “When we talk about understanding people and why people resort to violence, there’s a lot of depth, and they sympathize with people in those circumstances. They see people who they might have thought of as enemies … as people who need hope and who need Christ.” Dana Stanke, mother of Ali Stanke and an organizer of the Mexico mission trip, noted her enthusiasm for this summer’s trip across the border “came out of the Chicago experience.” “Seventh & James always has been very missions-minded, and I don’t think that has changed at all. … But I felt strongly we needed to get right back in there and do it again.” The Mexico project will involve 20 to 30 church members for up to 10 days around the Fourth of July. And the youth ministry intends to take a full contingent to Lubbock as well. In addition to Stanke, other parents whose youngsters went to Chicago said they want the church to remain vitally involved in missions. “My husband and I realize we cannot hide in our nice part of town and in our nice church and home,” said Ann Sims, whose daughter Frances went to Chicago. “We’re not isolated from the violence and poverty and difficulty that impacts people in other places. What happens to the rest of the world is important to us.” The Chicago experience drove those truths home to her family, Sims said. She and her husband, Gayland, both physicians, hope to take at least some of their three children to participate in the Mexico project. And the violence that happened last summer is not a great concern this year, she said. “I think our young people’s experience in Chicago was a fluke, although it may be a sign of the times,” she said. “I worry more about safety on the roads. But you have to look at the overall picture. You can’t shelter children always, so you have to ask if it’s worth the risk. “It is essential to be well-rounded and develop a sense of mission in life and do something for someone else. Our children see a side of life on mission trips they never would see anyplace else.” For their part, youth who participated in the Chicago trip are ready for more missions. Ali Stanke, 13, said she’s looking forward to both mission trips this summer, and she urged other teens in other churches to participate in missions. “Go ahead; it helps other people,” she said. “The reason those kids in Chicago had guns and were shooting at people was because they don’t have help. If they had help, nothing like that would have happened.” Some Seventh & James members are talking about planning a trip back to Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago for 1998.

“I’d like to go back, just to say, ‘I was here, and I overcame the fear,'” Mathis said. “From what I saw, it looks like a wonderful place to be. Every town has its problems. We just ran into one of them.” And a mom of a Chicago veteran hopes the church’s youth return. “I hope she will have the opportunity to go back to Chicago,” Ann Sims said of Frances. “It would be helpful for her, and for the other young people, to complete the trip they started.”

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  • Marv Knox