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Reaching out with 'word and deed' in Chicago


Ted Wilcox/NAMB

NAMB missionary and pastor Michael Allen leads a summer backyard Bible study for children in his Chicago neighborhood.

CHICAGO, Ill. — 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 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 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, 2010. 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 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

Ted Wilcox/NAMB

North American Mission Board Week of Prayer missionaries Michael and Marla Allen live in Chicago, Ill., where Michael serves as pastor of Uptown Baptist.

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 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 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.”

Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.


Ted Wilcox/NAMB

NAMB missionary Michael Allen greets Chicago’s homeless men and and women who’ve come to Uptown Baptist Church for Bible study and a free meal. Allen uses the Monday night meal to encourage the needy and hurting to become a part of the church community.