(January 14, 2001)
Lake Michigans shores are packed with people on the balmy summer
day I tour the Windy City with nationally appointed home missionaries
Tim and Sharon Thomas.
|Sharon and Tim
Thomas planted this church in 1991. Today they are working on
their fifth church plant.
Once comfortably ensconced in a small-town pastorate in Nebraska,
the Thomases could never have guessed how their first visit to Chicago
would ultimately change their lives.
With a burden for the city on their hearts, they found themselves
returning regularly to assist City Limits Ministries with inner-city
When the burden became a call, they made the move to the inner city.
Pouring new fervor into existing ministries, the Thomases saw numerous
conversions. But they were frustrated by their inability to get new
converts established in churches. The answer: church planting.
In 1991 the Uptown Area was the most densely populated part of Chicago
one and a half square miles with 65,000 people and an incredible
200 language groups, peopled largely by the homeless, mentally ill
and occultists. Locals referred to it as "The Gates of Hell."
New Hope Christian Center became the first of four churches the Thomases
have planted to date. Averaging only 30 in attendance after a year
all "hard cases," they say they fought through
discouragement to see the church grow significantly.
We pass a corner of Blood Alley where the ministry dispensed food,
clothing and spiritual deliverance.
Near here we meet Lillian Knight, 73, on the steps of her apartment.
She has been on the streets witnessing, as she does every Saturday.
It was on the street that, carrying two sixpacks of beer and a pack
of cigarettes, she was handed a tract by a team from City Limits Ministries.
Soon thereafter, at New Hope, she was delivered from those habits.
Now she is reaching others with those same bondages.
In 1993, the Thomases transitioned New Hope to Jerry and Jeanette
Milliken, so they could plant a second church in an area of 100,000
people that had no full-gospel work.
We arrive at that second church, New Life Christian Center, which
began in May 1997. The Thomases pastored here the first six months
then turned it over to North Central University graduates Ron and
Inside we meet 19-year-old Denise McDonald. Crowded into a small
apartment with 15 other people, she only knew abusive living conditions.
At an outdoor crusade held by New Life she committed her life to the
Lord. Denise experienced deliverance and now feels called to ministry.
Hector Galvez, 23, a former gang member, shows me a scar on his chest
where he still carries a .22 caliber bullet. When a friends
mother encouraged him to attend New Life, he did reluctantly, and
gave his heart to Christ.
A half-year later Robert Medina was baptized in the church. Medina
had been a member of a rival gang that had killed one of Hectors
best friends. The remarkable circumstances that made these two former
enemies best friends will be told in a future Pentecostal Evangel.
"We are seeing God raising up the castoffs of society,"
Ron Marsiglio says, "to do great things for God."
Mabel Alvarez was living in an abandoned building when her 8-year-old
son, Ronald, gave his heart to Jesus at a sidewalk Sunday school.
He begged her to come to New Life. She did and now she and Ronalds
father, Rodney, who accepted Christ through her letters while in prison,
are leaders in the church.
Today as head of City Limits Ministries, Tim Thomas believes church
planting is the most effective way of reaching the inner city. "To
me the birth of a new church is as exciting as the birth of a human
baby," he says. With a goal of seeing strong churches in all
of Chicagos 50 wards, Thomas is currently eyeing a location
for his next church plant.
"We love the city," says Thomas. "The key is to love
This love led to the salvation of Anita, a former prostitute who
ultimately died of AIDS. "If God brought us to Chicago for nothing
else," says Sharon Thomas, "it was worth it for Anita."
But there have been, and will be, many more than just Anita. For
Chicagos inner-city soldiers have determined that
Gates of Hell shall not prevail.