Adriana has challenged my expectations. She is a member of the Chicago Dream Center recovery program for women. She is in the third phase of the program, where she is learning job skills by working in the church’s café.
Many of the women that work in the café have been on the streets for countless years. Because of this, one has to be especially patient- frequent repetition, having to thoroughly demonstrate a task, etc. Adriana’s background is no different than any of these other women - she spent 15 years of her life using drugs and living on the streets.
Adriana reminds me that people always have the ability exceed their expectations. I expected to have to carry her through the sandwich making process, but she was an incredible fast learner! Not only did she pick up the skills initially, but her proficiency continues to increase, making her a very helpful partner throughout the day. Working with her day after day reminds me that if you set high expectations for people, you give them the chance to live up to those standards. We should never limit where people can go based on where they’ve been.
Jose is in charge of maintenance at New Life. He grew up in Humboldt Park, and later was involved in a gang at Cabrini Green. He achieved great success as a drug dealer, until God took it all away from him and he found himself in jail. He then entered a recovery program where he was able to earn his Bachelor’s in Social Work. He then began working with the same men that he once ran the streets with! Eventually, God called him to work at the church and he has been there ever since.
Jose has very much become a mentor to me during my time at the church. He has taught me things about marriage, tithing, and other “real life” lessons. But most importantly, Jose has taught me that we all truly have the potential to be people of God’s Kingdom. To think that a former gang member and drug pusher would be a nurturing spiritual father to me is pretty wild- and I think that’s how God likes to work. He brings people together in a way that could only be possible through the Holy Spirit and His grace. Seeing how Jose’s life has turned out really encourages me in my ministry- knowing that every single person truly has the ability to tap into God’s spirit inside them- it helps encourage me, even when ministry becomes trying and painful.
Julie & Shayla:
Working with the girls at the teen center has provided me with many opportunities to teach, and even more chances to learn. Julie and Shayla at two of the girls in the center, and they have both taught me different lessons about working with high-risk teens.
Julie is a tough girl, and she has encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone when interacting with her. She is constantly challenging me to be bold and speak truth to her. It is decidedly easier to tell people what they want to hear, and be “kind” instead of truthful. However, working with Julie has instilled in me that being kind often means speaking painful truth to people. It is more difficult, but my relationship with Julie is more genuine and healthy because she constantly challenges me to keep her accountable and ask tough questions.
Shayla is a constant encouragement to me - and not because she is easy to work with! The first five months that I worked with her, it was like pulling teeth to get her to make even the simplest conversation. She has a lot of trust issues and behind her tough exterior is a very scared girl. Her small strides of initiating conversation, engaging in Bible Study discussions, and coming to me for advice have been so encouraging. Of course, she still has a long way to go before she is completely healed from her damaged past, but God is working! She is always showing me that even a small improvement is a reason to celebrate in the kingdom of God.
In addition to teaching the Bible on Sundays, Pastor Andres has shown me the importance of networking. This man has meetings with everyone from homeless mothers to politicians. Watching him interact with the people of Humboldt Park and the greater Chicago community has shown me the necessity of being relationally flexible. God calls us to have compassion, and to minister to the hurting. That said, God also gives some of the ability to relate to those in power, who can help further God’s work in a more financially supportive way. The incredible thing about Pastor Andres is that he has the ability to treat these varied people as equals, with the same dignity and respect. That is a lesson that I think we can all be constantly learning and relearning, and I’m glad to have a pastor who constantly demonstrates this.
*All names have been changed.
-Mindie, CSM Chicago Apprentice 2009-2010
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