Christian Reformed Churches in the South Chicago, Ill., area have answered the call to serve people without homes through Christ Cares, a local ministry that provides rest, warmth, and the gospel message to people affected by homelessness. Scott Reese, former interim director of Christian Service Ministries for Classis Chicago South (a regional group of churches), began the ministry. Orland Park CRC, Family of Faith CRC, and Cottage Grove CRC all partner with it.
“There are a lot of cold people [without homes], and there are also a lot of warm, empty churches,” said Reese, who has been involved in urban ministry for around 40 years. “We help to connect the two.” Once a week, he drives a group of about 12 individuals to various churches in the area.
Cottage Grove CRC of South Holland, Ill., welcomes the group each month by serving a light breakfast and coffee, leading a Bible study, and providing a lunch of homemade chicken soup. They also provide access to showers and cots for people to rest.
Carol Schaap, a member at Cottage Grove, initiated the church’s involvement with Christ Cares three years ago. She saw it as a way to become directly involved with those in need. “We are the hands of Christ and called to be involved in the lives of people around us,” she said.
Eight church members donate their time and gifts to prepare the food, lead the Bible study, and interact with those who come with Reese. Others in the congregation join the efforts in other ways. As a Christmas project, the GEMS girls’ club filled backpacks with toiletries and snacks to donate to the group at the next gathering. Other church members donate gift cards or clothing items.
Each church that hosts the group plays an important role in Christ Cares. Because of the stigma surrounding homelessness, Schaap said that it is a process for a church to grow into a ministry like this. “There are always challenges; we just need wisdom,” she said. “But people get so excited about being a part of this ministry.”
Because it is a consistent group of people, Reese and the volunteer churches are able to invest in the lives of each person. Reese either shepherds them in their faith or leads them in the direction of Christ if he or she isn’t already a believer. Volunteers have seen spiritual growth and transformation over time while growing in their own faith journeys as they serve.