Long drive but fun. We got here around 5pm and set up our tiny rooms, then got separated into our two groups. I was instantly thrown out of my comfort zone by not being with some of my friends, but throughout the night I realized God must have put me there for a reason.
We went to go eat at a restaurant called Afghan Kabob, and we were served pita bread with hummus and potato turnovers with a sort of yogurt sauce, which was pretty good. Then the main course was beef, VERY spicy chicken, ground chicken, and rice. I had the ground chicken and rice and it wasn't bad, but I'm pretty sure I had a lot of pita bread. A lot. The owner was very friendly and always smiling, and you could definitely tell he was proud of his restaurant.
Then we started our prayer tour, a tour of the city and the different issues that each district faces, and we prayed at every stop we made.
The tour started in Humboldt Park, a district with a very large Puerto Rican community. There was a festival going on that happens every summer, and the area was very busy where we drove. There were ferris wheels and a carnival set up in the park. Humboldt Park is the only recognized Puerto Rican community outside of Puerto Rico, which is cool. The edges of the district are marked by the two largest permanent sculptures of the Puerto Rican flag. Spanish is the most commonly spoken language there, and the district had Spanish signs everywhere. The community faces a lot of hunger and gang violence and is the origin of the Latin Kings. The Latin Kings used to be a sort of protection system for their families when it first originated, but greed and drugs led to a shift in the gang's focus and it is now one of the most violent gangs in America. We drove by Roberto Clemente High School-yes, the baseball player-and learned about the lack of quality education in Chicago public schools there. Their graduation rates range from only 10-30% from each neighborhood graduating. The school is mainly made up of Hispanics and blacks, and only less than half will graduate. Only 12% of students that go there and graduate will have the opportunity to choose a selective college. The reason for most of the dropouts is the gangs that surround the neighborhood. It doesn't matter if you want to be in the gang or not, because if you're in the neighborhood then you're a part of that gang. Students will often have to walk to school with a member of their respective gangs just in order to be safe, because they typically cross at least 4 or 5 gang lines just to walk to school.
We then drove to Garfield Park. There is a place called the Marillac House that has a daycare and classes for children and also offers education for adults, such as GED courses. In the two days after MLK's death, there were riots all across the country, specifically Chicago. There were 6 major fires reported every hour those days, yet the community surrounded the Marillac House and the house was completely untouched after the two days of rioting. As Martin Luther King said, "a riot is the language of the unheard", and the people wanted to make their point. The fact that the Marillac House was completely untouched shows how much the community values a safe place for their families.
Next we drove into the Lawndale Community, a very strongly church oriented neighborhood. The area is 94% black, 5% Hispanic, and 1% white. It was nicknamed K-Town previously for the amount of street names starting with K, but now for Kill-Town, because of the amount of violence in the area. (I'll admit that this is where I started getting a little anxious.) To the left of where we parked was Lawndale Christian Health Center, a modern building with very affordable health care-something extremely necessary to the people in the area. There is a community center with its motto based off of the verse Micah 6:8, "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." This simple verse is there to encourage the people in the community to change their ways and follow God for a new path in their life.
(This is the part where it got too dark to write about the other districts, but they all have the same concept-facing violence and needing safety.)
As we drove towards downtown Chicago, the Chicago that everybody knows and loves, our CSM host put on the song Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath. The lyrics represented the gorgeous city we drove through and gave us all a new perspective. I strongly encourage you to listen to the song and really take a chance to listen to the lyrics as well. While driving through the crowded streets surrounded by tall and elaborate buildings, I noticed that there was only one, maybe even no churches that I spotted along the way. Yet in the run down areas of Chicago, there would be two, three, even four churches on every single block. It made me wonder why people that are suffering are often the best and most dedicated worshipers of Christ you've ever seen, and the people that are well off and have no worries are the ones that struggle in their faith lives. We ended the prayer tour by listening to God of The City by Brandon Heath, perfectly fitting the tour to let us know that the city still has greater things yet to come.