Delivering Meals and Hope to Chicago

Compassion Baptist Church is a historic church. We’ve been here for almost 150 years, and God has blessed us to be a solid witness throughout a century and a half. It’s my joy to be able to see the church be led forward in that direction.

I am one of the co-founders of Chicago Delivers. This idea came about back in May when we heard news in a meeting with city officials that 71% of those who were dying from COVID-19 were African-American on the south and west side of Chicago. It had a lot to do with the fact that many African-Americans were considered essential workers, and many were packing stores to buy basic necessities.

We felt strongly that this is not good that people have to literally choose life or death to get food. I and a few other pastors in the city came together to brainstorm an idea of how we would come together to be able to serve people in our city on the south side and on the west side and then eventually into the south and west suburbs. We brainstormed this idea where we would connect with Instacart, because we were trying to protect ourselves as well as the lives of the people in our church from having to go out and buy groceries and therefore put other people at risk of potentially spreading a very virus that we’re trying to contain. We secured thousands of gift cards, and we were able to bless the lives of over 3,000 people over the span of about two months. It was through the support of churches around Chicago that gave deeply from their coffers to be able to help us to afford this effort. People’s lives were blessed. There were people who called us and said that this was their last meal, and they didn’t know where the next one was coming from. Because of Chicago Delivers we were able to see lives changed. We were able to demonstrate that there is a God, and that God deeply cares for us. It’s easy for me to say he cared enough to send Jesus, which is the most important truth, but we wanted to demonstrate that care by representing our lord and savior as the hands and feet.

Now Chicago Delivers has taken a different direction. We gave away meals that were ready-made, and we partnered with another organization to do that. Now we’ve shifted focus again, and my church specifically is focusing on providing meals or boxes of food to people in our community. Just last week we gave away 400 boxes. Our goal and my hope and prayer is to be able to give away boxes at least once a month throughout the thick dark part of this pandemic.

We believe it’s important for us to be able to say before our lord and savior Jesus Christ that when people were hungry, when he was hungry, we fed him. And then we will say, how did we feed you Jesus? How did we do it? He said, “What you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve also done unto me.” It is our service to try to serve people because it is, in essence, serving our master, and it is a testimony to the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

A Tale of Two Churches

KODY: I was on staff at a multi-site church in Nashville, and as we had a new pastor and kind of began to get to know him a little bit, one day he pulled me aside he said, I want to promote you to the campus director of our downtown campus. I was excited; I thought more authority, more responsibility, more leadership… About two weeks later I found myself in the parking lot waving a wand, waving cars in every single week in the pouring down rain. I thought, God, is this really what you meant? I thought I heard from you. I thought it was clear on what you were calling me to do. And he said, Kody, until you’re willing to serve in the parking lot, you’re not ready to preach in the pulpit. God was calling me to be a servant first. He was calling me to actually pastor people and love people, and not just use a gift of communication. And so I did, I just began to serve.

STEVE: When I came to Servant Church in 1983 the church had just sent 40 of its members out to start a new church in this city. God blessed us in the first 24 months that we were here; we had 60 people that were won and baptized and joined the church. It was just amazing, it was all God, and we just continued from that point on.

KODY: We had a baptism service, and my wife was backstage. I just got done baptizing a couple of people and we walked off and she was crying behind the stage. She said, “Kody, I have this feeling that one day that’s going to be you baptizing people in the church you start.” When she said that we really began to pray and to figure out what was next. The conversation happened after that, believing that I was called to be a pastor and not really know what that entailed.

STEVE: I realized three years ago that I needed to resign as lead pastor. I believed that we really needed a younger guy, not that I think that I’m old or that my ministry is finished because that’s not the case. The scripture says that you don’t put new wine in an old wineskin because if you do the wineskin will burst. New things were coming, we tried the new things and they were successful, but the wine skin kept bursting. I realized that I needed to step out of that role, that we needed someone of this day’s culture with a new plan of action, with a new system, to come in and restart the church.

KODY: We announced we were planting the church in the fall of 2019 here in Gallatin and began to form a launch team. We began to pray for space for us to be able to meet on Sundays, and a friend of mine connected me with Servant Church and Pastor Steve.

STEVE: Kody Woodard came and spoke a few times for us to fill the pulpit, and we knew that he wanted to start a church in this city.

KODY: When we were looking for a space for a worship night and the first place fell through, I called Pastor Steve and asked, can we use your building on a Sunday night. It wasn’t a public event. Our launch team just invited people, and then I invited some people who were going to Servant Church at the time just to come and check it out if they wanted to.

STEVE: We had 150 people at that service and it was amazing. My wife and I went home that night and as we were talking about it I said, “so what do you think?” and she said “he’s the guy.” And I said, “I know. So what do we do about that?”

KODY: They believed the best thing that they could do for the city, for their church, for their people, was to give us their building that was debt-free. We began to pray about what that would look like. We wanted to reflect a new church and a new work that God was doing in our city, so we knew that we wanted to update and renovate the building.

STEVE: It really was an easy transition because we believed that the church needed to remain on this corner. It didn’t matter what the name was as long as it was doing ministry in this city and in this neighborhood. We talked to Kody about it, and I wasn’t sure he’d even be interested, but he was. God worked it all out.

KODY: Steve became a catalyst in making sure that we stayed on task. This guy was here laying down baseboards until nine or ten o’clock at night and would actually tell me to go home and be with my wife, and he would stay and just lay baseboards.

STEVE: Kody said after it all began and we were planning for the launch, “Steve, what do you want to do?” I said, “I’ll take the parking lot.” I chose that for two reasons: one was that I wanted my neighborhood to know I was still here, but the other reason was I wanted the city to know that I was here, and that we were flourishing, and that I was happy about it.

KODY: A lot of the group from Servant Church is still here, and they’re still involved. I think it’s just a testament to a group of people who lay down their preferences and make Jesus the priority in their life and are willing to just do what it takes.

STEVE: I’m Steve Briggance. I pastored this church for 33 years, and now this is my pastor.

KODY: And I’m Kody Woodard, and I’m the lead pastor at Renovation Church, and I hope to be like this guy one day.

100 Years of Life Change

Believe it or not, Berkeley Community Church launched right of the last pandemic, the Spanish Flu. A women’s bible study in the Detroit area wanted to start a church in the northern farmlands north of Detroit. 101 years later and five pastors later, here we are.

Technically we had an affiliation prior to Converge, but in functioning we were a silo church for 40 years or more. I knew I needed others; I needed encouragement, I wanted coaching and camaraderie, and I wanted to be part of something bigger. I saw that the best days for this church were in the days ahead, and I knew I needed someone like Converge to help me get there. We’ve always been a great family church, but it was my dream that we would become a sending church as well. I’d love to see Berkeley plant many churches with that same love for families and gospel clarity that we have here. Becoming part of Converge MidAmerica has been one of the best decisions that we’ve made in recent years here.

Occasionally God does dramatic Damascus Road-type stories of transformation here, but most of the time God seems to send us previously religious people who find a genuine relationship with Christ. Just a few weeks before COVID hit we had a baptism service. Like many churches, baptism Sundays are just like the greatest party of celebrating what God is doing. There was a husband and wife that got baptized that day. Both had interactions with the church growing up. They knew some religion, and they knew some things about God, but they didn’t know Jesus. In time they put their faith in Christ and this past February they got baptized together.

That same day two teenage brothers also got baptized. They were so sold out, so wanting to be faithful to God in everything, that baptism wasn’t enough; they wanted to become members of the church immediately.

Since then we’ve been online and outside like many churches. We’re a church in the middle of a city. As we’ve been in our Converge Together Groups we’ve been encouraging one another take advantage of this moment God has given us. All summer long we’ve been preaching outside, and I’ve been watching people walk their dogs by and and ride their bikes. At first it was one time, then another, and then they show up every Sunday very slowly. They’re maybe not so sure they want to join in, but they’re curious about this grace that we are preaching about on Sunday morning.

That’s what God has been doing. Life after life is changing. The numbers aren’t dramatic, but we’re seeing one life after another of rescuing people and pointing them to this great grace. God has been moving in this place for 101 years, and I’m excited with Converge to see what he does next.

God Is Still Moving

The issues with COVID and church closing have been so challenging for each one of us who lead a church or who are a significant part of church leadership. I think a lot of church leaders, pastors, and lay leaders have been discouraged because attendance was not near what it was in pre-COVID days; that’s been our case, too, when we see our attendance on the lawn.

But what I’ve been encouraged by is this idea that God is still at work. God is still moving in the middle of COVID. God’s not surprised; it doesn’t catch him off guard. The church isn’t canceled. We aren’t closed down because we couldn’t gather in person in our building. God is still in the movement, and we’re the people of God on mission in this bonded relationship with Jesus together on mission to the world. That mission hasn’t changed.

We usually do baptisms in the summer at Lake Michigan, and we had to cancel our first ones that usually happen around the July 4 weekend. We were able to do another baptism service at the end of August. Honestly, we didn’t know if anyone was going to get baptized or not. We ended up having 14 people baptized! But here’s what was really encouraging to me: we had three people who were baptized who’d never been to a service in our physical building.

Ashley is someone who’s walked through some difficult things in her life. She was in a second marriage; she walked through a lot of depression and struggle. Her in-laws attend The Journey, but she really had no interest. When COVID hit, Ashley started looking for some hope, and she began to watch online. Eventually, Ashley gave her life to Jesus. Her in-laws have invested in her, some others from The Journey have invested in her, and Ashley and her daughter, Ashton, both were baptized in Lake Michigan. In fact the first time I ever met them was at the baptisms at the beach.

The same is true with Kayla. She’s in her mid-20s and grew up feeling like she had to be perfect. She had some semblance of religion but no real relationship with Jesus. She’s never been to a service at The Journey in person but has watched online faithfully throughout this season. She joined in a Zoom New Beginnings class where people were discovering Jesus and trying to figure out what they believed about him. As she took those steps of faith to follow Jesus, she got involved in a virtual small group with some other 20-something young women. One of the people that baptized her was one of those women who was leading that group, and she had accepted Jesus and been baptized at The Journey some years ago.

We were so excited that Ashley, Ashton, and Kayla were willing to take that step of faith and acknowledge Jesus as savior and leader, never having darkened the doors of our building!

Our building has been closed, but God is still opening the doors of people’s hearts. He’s still at work, and his kingdom is still on the move. Our methods have had to change just like yours have, but God’s kingdom is still advancing, and Jesus is still changing lives.

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