Chicago: Fighting crime with Jesus
Fighting crime with Jesus
FILE - In this May 30, 2016 file photo, police work the scene where a man was fatally shot in the chest in Chicago.
By Cheryl K. Chumley - The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2017
A Chicago pastor, Jon Kelly, tired of seeing kids raised in crime and violence turn around and perpetuate the cycle with their own acts of criminality, has taken his prison past, his theology studies and a hefty dose of good ol’ boldness in God and headed to the streets — taking over drug dealers’ corners and setting up “Jesus Saves” shop.
This is how it’s done, folks.
Kelly, in a phone conversation, said he works with police, schools, other church officials and pretty much anyone of faith, to find the worst of the worst neighborhoods for crimes. Once identified, that’s where he heads, every Wednesday evening during summertime. He and his volunteering force of church congregants, armed with posters about the power of Jesus and dressed for a battle of principalities, stand where the dealers would normally stand. And they tell of the grace and blessings of God to whomever will listen.
In a city where crime rates often take front and center in the national media, and where government has largely failed to stop the surging gun violence, Kelly said he’s trying to win back the streets by appealing to a higher power. What’s more, it’s working, he said.
“It’s amazing what happens,” he said. “It gets tense out there at times. There’s a lot of young guys out there, and when we take over [the dealer corners] they can’t make money. … There’s a lot of people drunk, high.”
It’s not exactly your traditional Sunday sermon.
“It’s called Heroin Highway where we are,” Kelly said, referring to one city spot where the church meets. “The west side … has a massive heroin problem. So if you’re going to do ministry, if your church doesn’t know how to talk to young people … it’s going to be a huge disadvantage.”
That’s where Kelly’s past — one of turmoil and chaos — helps. This, from the website of the Harvest Bible Chapel he pastors: “Pastor Jon was born in Chicago and raised in Philadelphia … Growing up, he spent most his teens in and out of juvenile detention centers and trying not to get killed in the streets. At the age of 19, he landed in prison for his role in a shooting that left a young man dead.” It was in prison he read portions of the Bible, from Matthew to Hebrews. “He was immediately gripped by his sin and his need for salvation in Christ,” the post reads.
After serving time, Kelly headed to Philadelphia, where he attended church and met the woman who would become his wife. Following, he moved to Chicago and studied systematic theology at Moody Bible Institute, and began pastoring duties at Harvest Bible Chapel Cathedral in the downtown area. He now serves as senior pastor of Harvest Chicago West — and as father to two young children.
It’s not as if Kelly has a death wish, or nothing to live for. It’s not as if he doesn’t have opportunity to stay indoors, in the comparative safety of a podium that’s surrounded by four walls, and preach there.
But his street corner mission is working, he said. “We got a lot of guys in our church that way,” he said. “I came here from prison in 2008. Since 2008 and today, there’s been tons of people coming from [the streets] to church.” But it’s more than just the street preaching. A partnering church on the west site offers a practical resource program, The Bridge, that provides for 200 or so who’ve been released from prison, but need help acclimating. And that’s just a drop in the bucket of the collaborative efforts that go forth with other churches, local police and school officials, to take Chicago out of the hands of drug dealers, gang members and thugs and put it back under the protection and blessing of God, Kelly said. The big thing is presence — maintaining a physical, near-constant presence in the neighborhoods.
“They’re not used to pastors being so accessible,” he said, of the youth he interacts with daily on the streets. “People aren’t used to that. … There’s a massive void in the neighborhoods of men and fathers. And so you just listen to them talk. No one’s there to talk to them — but the gangs will.”
So Kelly gives an option — a higher power, a higher purpose — than the one offered by the gangs.
“Dangers? All the time,” he admitted, saying drive-by shootings are a reality that can’t be ignored. “I’m not joking. Christians are’t exempt from getting hit by a stray bullet. … But what compels me is he gospel of Jesus Christ and if we don’t go, who will.” Who, indeed.
Well, God bless you, Pastor Kelly. God bless you and your work. As Matthew tells, “His lord said unto him, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”