Serving Jesus in Chicago
On Sunday, August 27, the Chicago Mission Team shared a report and slideshow about their work on behalf of 12th Avenue Church in Chicago, Illinois. You heard testimonies from the team and saw images from the trip, but I also want to share the experiences of the team in a bit more depth here.
The Chicago Mission Trip took place from Wednesday, August 2, through Saturday, August 5, 2017. Those who were part of the mission team included Youth Leader Louisa Schut, Bob Schut, Rachel Schut, Sheri Bennink, Matt Bennink, Jack Buys, and me, Pastor Mark Bennink. Three others had signed up to participate, but were not able to attend due to health matters and schedules: Ray Buys, Lydia Schut, and Laura Van Vels.
Most of the team gathered at 3 p.m. on August 2 to load their luggage and supplies into the van rented for the occasion. After everything was packed, I led the group in prayer for God’s protection in our travels and blessing on our work. Bob was present to help pack and pray but planned to travel to Chicago with Rachel the following day. The team left for Chicago after 3:30 p.m.
Louisa served as the driver and I served as the navigator. We stopped for a picnic dinner of sandwiches at a park in downtown Chesterton, Indiana, off I-94. We finally arrived at our hotel, the Fairfield Inn & Suites just south of Midway Airport in Chicago. We checked in to our hotel and unloaded what we needed. The guys stayed in one room and the girls stayed in another room right across the hall. Louise led us in our first Bible study on witnessing based on Paul Little’s book How to Give Away Your Faith. We had our first meeting in the dining room on the hotel’s main floor. We covered the six lessons in the booklet during our four days there.
On Thursday, August 3, after getting ready and having breakfast, the team had another Bible study. We then took the van to a nearby Salvation Army store to see if they had any volunteer openings for the following day. We were told that they were fine with their volunteer help that week and needed to screen any volunteers in advance. The team had planned to work on Friday morning cleaning a downtown Chicago park, but the contact person that Louisa had been in touch with was on vacation that week so those plans fell through.
Later that morning, the team took the shuttle from the hotel to Midway Airport. There they got on the subway and traveled to downtown Chicago. By the subway station they took a bus that brought them to Navy Pier. The team got food for lunch at the food court there and sat together in the dining area. After lunch, the team walked up and down Navy Pier enjoying the scenery, the sights, and the sounds.
After walking the pier, we took another bus back to a subway station and took the subway back to Midway Airport. A shuttle took us back to our hotel. We did another Bible study and then spent the rest of the evening relaxing in our rooms. Around 11:30 p.m. that evening, Bob and Rachel Schut arrived at our hotel after they finished their work and schoolwork. They joined the team in their separate rooms.
The next morning, Friday, August 4, we got ready, had breakfast in the dining room, and gathered for another Bible study in the dining room. We then got in the van and drove to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. We were scheduled to work a morning and an afternoon shift there on Saturday. We decided to spend part of the morning finding out where the food depository was located. We also checked out a couple of parks where we could have a picnic lunch the next day. We picked the park that was closer to the food depository and more accessible.
Back at the hotel, we ate lunch together in the girls’ hotel room. We also spent time in fellowship playing a game in the room called Yardzee, the dice game of Yahtzee with large dice made to play on the lawn. We used one of the beds and space on the floor to throw the big wooden dice. We had fun together.
That afternoon, we drove together in the van into downtown Chicago and finally arrived at the soup kitchen on the north side of the city where we would be serving called A Just Harvest. It’s a non-profit soup kitchen that feeds hungry and homeless people daily. We arrived around 4 p.m., found a place on the street to park the van, and came to the mission. One of the employees let us in. We met the director of the ministry as well as the main cook. The director gave us a tour of the building, the dining room, the kitchen, and the food storage rooms. We put on aprons, gloves, and hairnets and the director oriented us to our meal tasks. We were joined by a few other volunteers.
We took out the food for that evening to be served. At 4:30 p.m. those who came for the meal were allowed to enter the building. Louisa and Rachel recorded them and gave them meal tickets. They took their seats in the dining room. We interacted with several of the people at their tables before the meal including Geraldine, an elderly Christian black woman, and a retired pastor trained at Moody Bible Institute. The meal officially began at 5:30 p.m. Sheri and Matt served milk and water to the people at the tables. I worked with the three other volunteers filing the plates with meatloaf, potatoes, vegetables, coleslaw, and bread. Jack and Bob brought each plate to those in the dining room. Even though the dining room was fairly full, we were told that the number of people was down a bit because it was the beginning of the month when people receive their government checks allowing them to afford better their own food. The meal finished at 5:30 p.m. We helped to clean up. Sheri, Matt, and I interacted with a friendly Jewish man who stated up front that he didn’t believe in Jesus but who accepted him as a good man and teacher. Sheri took time to share about Jesus with him. We then sat down to eat a meal of the food we had just served. The staff warmly thanked us for serving. We then drove back to our hotel and rested for the night.
On Saturday, August 5, we were up early. We got ready, made sandwiches for our lunch, had breakfast in the dining room, brought our luggage to the van, and checked out of our hotel. We drove to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. We checked in with the staff, put our valuables in lockers, and headed to the meeting room. Volunteers from other churches and organizations joined us there. A staff member welcomed us and oriented us to the food depository. The food depository is the clearing house where donated food is brought, repackaged, and distributed to outlying food pantries and soup kitchens in Chicago’s Cook County. The volunteers divided into two large groups doing either bulk food or produce. We were assigned to do bulk food in the morning. We washed our hands and donned hairnets, beard nets (if necessary), aprons, and gloves. A staff person in the bulk food room oriented us to our task which was to repackage black beans from large 1,800-pound bags into 3-pound bags. Our shift went from about 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Bob and Rachel shoveled the beans from the large bags to boxes where other volunteers scooped the beans into plastic bags, other volunteers weighed the bags and added or removed beans to make sure they were within an ounce of 3 pounds, other volunteers labeled the bags, and still other volunteers boxed the bags. Jack, Louisa, Sheri, Matt, and I all weighed and sealed bags. After I dropped a whole bag of beans on the floor, I finally got the hang of it and we all got in a good rhythm of work.
After our shift ended around 11:30, we joined the produce volunteers in their room and found out from the staff how well we did with our repackaging. We packaged 7,806 pounds of black beans into 2,602 3-pound bags (each bag feeds a family).
We then took a break between shifts where we returned to our van and drove to nearby Archer Park for a picnic lunch. Louisa also led us in another Bible study.
We returned for our afternoon shift at the Greater Chicago Food Depository by 12:30 p.m. Again, we checked in and put our valuables in lockers. We again joined a roomful of volunteers for orientation. This time we were assigned to do produce. We had been told earlier that we may be repackaging corn picked from a farmer’s field. Instead, we ended up doing pears because the corn shipment was delayed. We were oriented to our task in the produce room where we had to repackage pears from large boxes into net bags of 8-12 pieces of fruit. Our shift went from around 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Jack and I initially filled crates with pears from the boxes to be dumped on the tables for bagging and boxing. Bob helped cut and tie the net bags. Louisa, Rachel, Sheri, and Matt all did bagging. Jack and I helped with that when there were plenty of pears on the tables.
After our shift, we were joined by the volunteers from bulk food and were told by the staff our repackaging stats. We repackaged 8,750 pounds of pears into 250 boxes. We were so grateful to have made a tangible difference to help the hungry in Chicago.
We drove from there to Giordano’s near Midway Airport to have a Chicago staple – deep dish pizza (we also did our final Bible study there). We then returned to our hotel parking lot where Bob retrieved his car. We stopped for gas down the road and traveled back to Michigan. We arrived back in the 12th Avenue Church parking lot around 10 p.m. that night.
Thank you very much for your generous monetary and food donations and your prayers for the mission trip. The team was grateful to be able to serve the Lord on behalf of our church. Our team t-shirt reminded us and those we served of a vital truth: Serving Others = Serving Jesus. The Scripture text on our shirts reminded us of why this is true.
Matthew 25:40: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”