Payback time: Christian
volunteers motivated to give back to community
(July 21, 2002)
By John W. Kennedy in
Saturday, May 25. Its
9 a.m. and looming gray clouds look threatening. Meteorologists
have predicted rain all day for Chicagos northwest side, which
doesnt bode well for the Convoy of Hope outreach set to start
in two hours at Hanson Park. Rain would substantially reduce the
number of neighborhood residents who come out for the event, especially
since the temperature is in the upper 40s with wind gusts of 20
miles per hour.
A torrential half-hour
downpour ended at 7 a.m. and saturated the grounds. Despite the
continued overcast skies, Evangel Assembly of God Senior Pastor
Ray Berryhill is confident. He says he has received a word from
"This morning I was awakened
by rain tapping on my window," Berryhill explains. "As soon as I
opened my eyes the word of the Lord spoke to my heart saying, Elijah
was a man of like passion as we are; yet he earnestly prayed that
it would not rain and it rained not. I prayed this
morning as Elijah did that God would hold off the rain, and when
I looked out the window, the rain stopped."
Making a decision:
Sean Parker (pointing) urges attendees to come to the altar
at the tents platform as Ray Berryhill (right) prays.
Berryhill, 46, believes
this is a sign that more residents will visit the site than in two
previous Convoy of Hope outreaches hosted by Evangel Assembly in
the same location.
It doesnt hurt
that Adrienne Berryhill, Rays wife, is leading a group of
20 intercessors who are praying in a tent in the park adjacent to
where families will hear the gospel preached before receiving free
groceries, haircuts and more.
By the end of the day,
the optimistic and enthusiastic Berryhill is correct on both of
his forecasts. God withheld the rain and more than 9,000 guests
registered for the event.
Hanson Park, at the corner
of Central and Fullerton, is the junction of different ethnic communities:
Hispanics, African Americans, Italians, Poles and Greeks. Many residents
have never ventured beyond their own neighborhood. "We can meet
a diverse group of people with this outreach," Berryhill says. Several
members of Evangel A/G, which is located a mile northeast of the
park, have come off the streets themselves, including Sean Parker,
senior associate pastor. He uses John 3:16 as his foundational verse.
"The streets were my
mother and my father," says Parker, as he preaches the 15-minute
sermon that guests of the day hear under a tent. "I was a gang banger,
a stick-up man, a dope dealer. God brought me out of all that mess."
Parker holds up his Illinois Department of Corrections rap sheet
during his testimony, revealing 20 felony arrests, including two
for attempted murder.
Parker, who became a
Christian while in jail as a teenager, urges people to accept Jesus
as Lord, in addition to the free bag of groceries distributed at
the Convoy. "In five days you are going to be hungry again," says
Parker, 36. "But Jesus is the resource that never runs out."
Unlike many Convoy events,
which rely on dozens of congregations for volunteers, Evangel A/G
and suburban Willow Creek Community Church are providing more than
80 percent of the help today.
"Even though Willow Creek
is large, were very concerned about the needs of the least
of these," says Pastor Alvin C. Bibbs Sr., director of extension
ministries at the church, where 20,000 attend each weekends
main services. It is located in South Barrington, 25 miles northwest
of Hanson Park.
Most of the 400 Willow
Creek volunteers are white and from the affluent suburbs, in stark
contrast to Bibbs, who grew up in Cabrini Green, a black housing
project that is one of Chicagos roughest. "Convoy of Hope
represents what Jesus meant when He spoke of the oneness of Christ
in John 17," says Bibbs, 43.
Many of the Evangel A/G
members serving this day say their lives have been transformed by
God and they want to offer others the same hope.
Evelyn Irizarry is praying
in the tent during the preaching times and then at the altar with
those who make salvation decisions. "I want to give back a little
bit of what has been given to me, although I can never repay enough,"
says Irizarry, 48. "Someone took the time to reach out to me once
and talk to me about the Lord. Through their perseverance and prayer
Im here today."
The event, while offering
Jesus message of eternal life, also can be a physical life
saver, according to nurse Tonni Townsend, a member of Evangel A/G.
Free medical services offered include vaccinations for children;
asthma, blood pressure and diabetes screening; and, for the first
time at a Chicago Convoy event, HIV testing. "Theres a lack
of education about health care issues and a lack of knowledge about
health care services in the community," says Townsend, 42. "Young
people think they wont get diseases. So its great to
provide them with information and services, while giving them free
food and entertainment."
Evangel A/G members provided
the majority of the 10 entertainment venues for the day, including
a choreography team, drama troupe, hip-hop singers, adult and childrens
choirs, and jazz poetry.
Ronny Fondren, a car
rental com-pany manager, is cooking thousands of hot dogs for the
meal provided during the day. Fondren, who attends Evangel A/G,
says he would rather be around Christians instead of the worldly
environment that dragged him down in the past. "Its hard to
live a godly life, but I cant be a quitter this time," says
Fondren, 30. "At the beginning of the year I decided to give it
my all. God has been too good to me. This church has helped me realize
God wanted me to be in His kingdom."
Reaching people with
the gospel is the whole point of a Convoy of Hope event. By the
time of the final altar call, 2,156 people have indicated a decision
to make Christ their Savior.