Two blocks east of the "El" Train Red Line in Uptown Chicago, a lady 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 where a dozen men and women are lined up outside Uptown Baptist Church.
"I was here. This weather is killing my arthritis."
Her voice is husky but kind. She limps toward 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.
Next Monday, she says, they're giving out shoes.
"Could you help me with this?" asks Susan, holding up a kids' Revenge of the Sith wristwatch six hours fast. "It's a cheap watch. I don't know how to fix it. It's not a very nice watch."
Every Monday around 4:30 p.m. the iron gate separating Uptown Baptist from the sidewalk creaks open and a couple of dozen or more homeless men and women file into pews for a word from Scripture then to the basement for a hot meal.
Shouldering computer bags and backpacks, a flock of Chicagoans scatter from the train and the buses toward home or 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," said Allen. "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 one hundred languages are represented in Uptown's public schools. The neighborhood's population includes government officials, college professors, business professionals, and a subculture of "down-and-outs."
Allen has worked with social ministries for years, beginning with his tenure 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," said Allen. "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 the launch of a Child Evangelism Fellowship outreach, a door 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," Michael added. "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 a 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."