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Homeless are part of his diverse ministry

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth of eight stories highlighting North American Mission Board missionaries as part of the 2010 Week of Prayer, March 7-14, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, with a goal of $70 million to help support Southern Baptists’ 5,300 North American missionaries.

CHICAGO (BP)–Two blocks east of the “El” Train Red Line in Uptown Chicago, a woman named Susan limps over from under a covered bus stop.

“That’s my spot. I was here. I just had to sit down.” She marks her spot by hanging two canvas bags on the fence at Uptown Baptist Church where a dozen men and women are lined up.

“I was here. This weather is killing my arthritis.” Her voice is husky but kind. She limps back to the bus stop, sits and takes a sip from something tightly wrapped in brown paper, looks over her shoulder again, then settles back against the glass enclosure.

As the line builds, she comes back.

Every Monday around 4:30 p.m., the iron gate separating Uptown Baptist from the sidewalk creaks open and a couple dozen or more homeless men and women file into pews for a word from Scripture then to the basement for a hot meal.

Outside, a flock of Chicagoans scatter from the train and the buses, shouldering computer bags and backpacks as they head home or as they trek to an evening job in one of the city’s most diverse communities.

This is North American Mission Board missionary Michael Allen’s mission field.

“Uptown is one of the most diverse places in the Chicago area,” Allen said. “It’s diverse in almost every way you can imagine — ethnically, socio-economically, in gender and in age. It’s home to retirees, young couples, newborns, the brilliant and the mentally ill.”

Nearly 100 languages are represented in Uptown’s public schools. The neighborhood’s population includes government officials, college professors, business professionals and a sub-culture of “down-and-outs.”

Allen, Uptown Baptist’s pastor, is one of more than 5,300 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. He is among the NAMB missionaries featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 7-14. This year’s theme is “Live with Urgency: Share God’s Transforming Power.” The 2010 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $70 million, 100 percent of which benefits missionaries like Allen.

Allen has worked with social ministries for years, beginning at Moody Bible Church and continuing with leadership at homeless and recovery ministries throughout the city. His ability to interact across a broad spectrum has given the Jamaican-born pastor a voice among Chicago businessmen and politicians.

“One day I could be at a press conference with the mayor of Chicago and all the movers and shakers and be in a suit and tie, then later that day on the street talking to somebody who’s drunk and just gave his girlfriend AIDS,” Allen said. “It’s a powerful thing. It’s an amazing thing. It’s God at work changing people’s lives and I get to be used by Him to accomplish it.”

Tonight, Allen is hosting an hour-long Q&A session with a top Chicago attorney who’ll help attendees understand and navigate the legal system. Then those who’ve come here will hear the Gospel and gather for a meal of hot chicken and pasta. Later on in the evening, a dozen or more women will make them a pallet for the night in one of the church’s rooms.

Outside the walls of the church, Uptown Baptist also is impacting local schools with a launch of Child Evangelism Fellowship, a door that opened when the church provided backpacks and school supplies at the request of Chicago’s mayor.

Allen joined other church leaders, challenging them to show up at schools nearby to welcome children, interact with teachers and administration, and provide students with backpacks full of paper, pencils and notebooks.

“One of the principals said, ‘I didn’t know what we were going to do. I didn’t know how we were going to provide for all these kids who were unprepared on the first day of school,'” Allen recounted. “And here we were — at the mayor’s invitation — showing up during the time of need.

“The deepest need of humankind is always to know God and to reconnect with God,” Allen said. “Whatever surface problems are going on around us, if we stop long enough and look carefully enough, we would see that it’s a spiritual problem. It’s a heart problem. We need to seize that opportunity before us and to continue to be real with people.”

If you were to ask Allen his priorities in order of importance, loving his family and discipling his children would come first. His resume credentials mount up, from education to inner-city experience, but his job as father is of primary importance to him.

“In a survey of hundreds of homeless people, the recurring theme we saw was an inability to respect authority and a lack of strong male leadership in the home,” Allen said. “I’m passionate about seeing the church change some bleak statistics.”

“Whether times are good or bad,” Allen added, “the opportunities are there to be a light, to be a witness and to share the Good News of the Gospel in word and deed. The time has come for us to be a living example and to speak the truth in love and I think if we do this, we will be more like Jesus.”
Adam Miller writes for the North American Mission Board. To view video profiles of all 2010 Week of Prayer missionaries, go to www.anniearmstrong.com/2010video.

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  • Adam Miller