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ICE team leads hundreds to Christ in depressed areas of Chicago

CHICAGO (BP)–U.S. Census worker Rayfield Jones, ice cream truck driver Daniel Heosto and 8-year-old Antonio Williams all knew the rules on Green Street. The white sign on the corner with black letters spelled it out in no uncertain terms.

“No Gambling, Loitering, Horn Blowing, Speeding, Car Washing, Repairing, Ball Playing, Drug Activities, Loud Music, Double Parking, Soliciting, Profanity — Violators Will Be Prosecuted.”

But when asked by members of a North American Mission Board Inner City Evangelism (ICE) team if they knew they would spend eternity in heaven none could say for sure.

Jones, 38, had one more stop when he turned the corner off Green Street and met Hiram Acree walking in his direction. At first, Jones refused Acree’s offer of a “How To Live Forever” gospel tract by saying he was in a hurry to finish his survey work.

Armed with a large smile and engaging handshake, Acree asked Jones in a soft, caring voice about his relationship with God. “I’m a fair man,” Jones replied. “I obey God’s laws.”

When Acree, a member of North Peachtree Baptist Church in Doraville, Ga., asked him why he had not totally surrendered his life to God, Jones candidly responded, “I feel I’ll be losing out on something.”

Acree then explained how salvation in Christ is a gift through faith and repentance. Jones prayed to accept Christ and filled out the “Eternal Life Birth Certificate” in the back of the tract, signing and dating the card at 3:41 p.m. on July 7.

Before walking away with a copy of the New Testament, Jones said the first thing he was going to do was share his decision with his neighbor.

Over the next two-plus hours, Acree and three other members of the ICE team — a group of street evangelists sponsored by the North American Mission Board — recorded more than 50 professions of faith from passersby along the perimeter of Mt. Carmel Ridge Missionary Baptist Church.

The inner-city church in south Chicago is part of a business district including bars and convenience stores. Behind the church, brick houses with barred doors and windows line sidewalks bordering tiny curbside lawns.

Acree — who at 72 years old spent three warm July days walking the streets carrying a backpack filled with copies of the New Testament and a fanny pack full of gospel tracts around his waist — said he didn’t expect people to be as open to the gospel. “I was told these people are hard as nails,” he said.

Two four-member teams trekked the inner-city streets of Chicago July 7-9, sharing the gospel as part of SearchLight, the central focus of Southern Baptist’s Strategic Focus Cities evangelism and church-planting initiative in Chicago. By Saturday night, the two ICE teams had recorded more than 320 professions of faith, consistent with their pattern of recording the bulk of decisions during major area-wide evangelism events. By Sunday night, the number was up to 390.

Alice Randle, a member of Mt. Carmel, was not surprised by the results. “They are hungry for the Word,” Randle said. “They want to learn.”

Heosto, a 27-year old ice cream truck driver, did not hesitate in accepting a copy of the New Testament written in Spanish when offered by N.T. Campbell. Campbell, 66, led Heosto through a gospel presentation in the Book of Romans by asking him to read the verses underlined in his Spanish version.

Stopping several times to take care of his customers, Heosto returned each time to continue reading. Before pulling away from his Green Street stop, Heosto repeated the prayer for salvation written in the back of the Spanish New Testament.

Campbell, a member of Central Baptist Church, Hixson, Tenn., said he was glad he didn’t allow his lack of knowledge of Spanish to prevent him from sharing the gospel over a cup of ice cream. “I feel the least qualified here, but I don’t have any excuse not to do it,” Campbell said.

Acree said the hunger for the gospel in Chicago was epitomized in the face of 8-year-old Antonio Williams. Williams approached Acree several times as he made his way around the block surrounding Mt. Carmel Baptist Church exclaiming repeatedly, “I want to pray.” Earlier Acree had led Williams’12-year-old friend, Malik, to profess Christ as Lord as Williams watched.

Finally convinced that Williams was sincere, Acree led him in a prayer for salvation.

R.A. Sharpe, also a member of Hixson, Tenn., church, wore a wide-brimmed hat with the words “Jesus Saves, Jesus Is Lord, Jesus Is The Living Hope, He Loves You” painted across it.

Among the many people Sharpe shared the gospel with was a 63-year-old man with the smell of alcohol on his breath. By the end of their conversation, Theodore Rogers prayed to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. With tears running down his face, Rogers said, “It’s good to know somebody loves me.”

Mark Martin, an ICE team member and minister of evangelism at Roaring Fork Baptist Church, Gatlinburg, Tenn., said there was only one explanation for the tremendous responsiveness to the gospel among those in Chicago.

“People are praying over these situations,” Martin said.

    About the Author

  • Lee Weeks