Living Sent

God is using the giftings and passions of a missionary who knows deep life transformation to reach out to others in an urban community of Chicago in hopes they will experience the same.

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Living Sent

Tanya Franklin | Dec 4, 2017, 13:00 PM

God is using the giftings and passions of a missionary who knows deep life transformation to reach out to others in an urban community of Chicago in hopes they will experience the same.

The older gentleman hesitantly asked “what’s the catch?” as I invited him into the church for a cup of coffee. There was no catch. We had just begun a community coffee ministry with the purpose of showing love to our neighbors by being hospitable.

Located in an old firehouse in the Garfield Park neighborhood on the west side of Chicago, Reborn Community Church sits at the intersection of loneliness and despair. Garfield Park is one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. Faced with high unemployment, high crime, failing schools, deteriorating houses and gang activity, many in our community feel like there is no hope. Reborn has been strategically placed to be a pillar of hope and influence in this broken community. The mission of this local congregation is to transform a broken community with the love of Christ, one person at a time.

As we love, we earn the right to speak.

Relationships are important to creating true community. In poor communities, people gather in groups on street corners, in the parks and on front porches and stoops to be in relationship with others. Unfortunately, people sometimes join gangs to fill similar desires. The coffee ministry provided a safe place for our neighbors to gather, with no expectations and no catch.

I grew up in a community much like Garfield Park. I desperately wanted to “get out,” and with the emotional, spiritual and practical support of people God put in my life, I did. I moved out of the city, out of the state and focused on my education. As I matured in my relationship with Jesus, my heart began to ache for those who were not able to “get out” of the cycle of poverty, and God began to reveal my purpose. I wanted to use my gifts, abilities and experience to help others while making a difference in the lives of people around me. I was passionate about bringing hope to families living in poverty through education, encouragement and empowerment.

After receiving an undergraduate degree in ministry leadership and nearing the completion of a master’s degree in organizational leadership with a ministry focus, I had the opportunity to participate in a one-year ministry residency with Brentwood Baptist Church (BBC) in Brentwood, Tennessee. Through the partnership between Reliant and BBC, the hands-on ministry training I received during the residency prepared me to serve and live out my passion as an urban missionary in Chicago.

I never wanted to be a missionary. I didn’t even really know what a missionary was. I thought missionaries only served in other countries. I wanted to help people who came from hard places and desired more for their lives but needed relational support — just as I did — to get ahead. I wanted to serve people in urban communities who didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus.

One of my biggest takeaways from the residency is an understanding of what it means to “live sent.” Often the church looks at discipleship as a program and missions as a project. Living sent changed my perspective on both discipleship and missions. This new perspective helped me to understand that discipleship and missions are lived out in our everyday walk. As God continued to uncover my calling — to equip, educate and encourage others to reach their full potential in Christ — my experience in the ministry residency gave me tools to walk out my calling as an urban missionary in Garfield Park, Chicago. This would not have been possible if it weren’t for Reliant and Brentwood Baptist Church.

Our coffee ministry is not about coffee. It is a first step toward community transformation. My pastor says, “As we love, we earn the right to speak.” People have openly shared their loneliness, brokenness and need for God sitting at a table over a cup of coffee. We have seen God meet needs, tear down walls of pride, provide resources, bring conviction and transform hearts, even among our leadership team. The neighbors we encounter through the coffee ministry are hungry for relationship and desperate for life change. We get to love them, meet a need for friendship and empower them with practical support, all while pointing them to Jesus.

I met Calvin during our first week of the coffee ministry. He came in and sat quietly while drinking his coffee. I pulled up a chair next to him and asked him how he was doing. He didn’t give me the cordial response of “Fine.” He said, “I woke up this morning, so I am blessed that God gave me another day.” We engaged in conversation for about an hour while he openly shared with me about his life. Calvin grew up in church but, in his adulthood, fell into some tough situations. He shared about his heroin addiction, how he has been clean for seven years and now wants to encourage others and help them beat their addiction. Calvin walks and prays around the neighborhood every day and tries to be a positive influence to the young guys on the block who are dealing drugs and to those who are using. At the end of our conversation, Calvin said, “You’re a good listener. I’ve been needing to get this off my chest.” The following Wednesday, Calvin showed up at our prayer gathering. He came in beaming on Thursday morning to tell me that was the most powerful experience with God he had ever had.

It is a privilege watch God bring people closer to Him. My desire in serving an urban community is not to help others get out (though sometimes God allows this to happen) but to see a community empowered and transformed by Jesus Christ. Every act of love makes a difference. Calvin now wants to help with our substance-abuse support group. This is what living sent looks like to me: showing love, practicing hospitality with no judgment and watching God transform hearts. It is because of people like Calvin that I love what I do.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11