Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Don't Build a Building. Build the Kingdom.

This morning I spoke with one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential people for 2013”.

Pastor Wilfred De Jesus (a.k.a. Pastor “Choco” short for chocolate, his boyhood nickname) struck me as a man who matches the description found in Nehemiah 7:2, “. . . he was a faithful man who feared God more than most.”  In the Bible, these words describe Hanani, the governor of Jerusalem appointed by Nehemiah.  In many ways, Pastor Choco is God’s appointed man for the city of Chicago.

When Pastor Choco found out that my husband and I were pastors, he asked me several questions about our ministry.  During our conversation, I made some interesting discoveries about his church in Chicago, New Life Covenant.

After becoming lead pastor of the 120-member church he’d attended since he was a teenager, the church experienced a new wave of growth.  They quickly outgrew their original building.  NLC moved their Sunday services to a high school for the next 10 years.  He told me, “We weren’t in a hurry to build a building.  We knew that would take all our money. Instead, for the first 10 years we bought foreclosed properties around Chicago to do kingdom work.” 

Some of NLC’s “kingdom work” included a homeless shelter, an outreach to drug addicts and prostitutes, and a Chicago Dream Center, just to mention a few.

But God had other plans for NLC beyond renting the high school.  In 2012, the school kicked the church out for the summer. With 4,000 members their options weren’t just limited; they literally had nowhere to go!

Pastor Choco said the Lord told him something unexpected. NLC was to meet on Sundays under a tent. It sounded crazy.  No word from God beyond that.  Just "meet under a tent."

So, ALL summer--in heat, in humidity, thunderstorms, and the infamous wind of Chicago—NLC continued their 5 services under a tent.  He said matter-of-factly, "Some people left."  He shrugged, “People like convenience.”

Somehow in God’s mysterious way, the time in the tent led to their miracle. Soon after their tent meetings started, God showed the leadership a piece of land to buy. The church was able to secure 100% financing (“even in this crazy recession,” he added), and fifty days later they broke ground.

Rewind. How did the church find out about the land?  After a tent service, Pastor Choco invited the people to go on a walk.  The people didn’t know what he was up to, but they followed him several blocks until he stopped. Pastor Choco stepped up on a mini stage* and shared the big secret—they were standing on their new land where NLC would build a church.

The groundbreaking ceremony was truly unique. The people wrote scriptures on hundreds of rocks gathered from the original property.  Each church member threw one of the rocks into the new foundation. Finally, Pastor Choco put a Bible and a bottle of olive oil into a beautiful box** and buried the treasures directly under where the pulpit would be.  He said, “This church is built upon the Word of God.”

Pastor Choco says his church is also based on the story of Stephen, the martyr stoned for his faith—“if you stand up for God, He will stand up for you.” He learned this at an early age.  At 14 he accepted Christ as his savior. In his rough Chicago neighborhood, gang members constantly approached him asking, “Hey, what you be about?”  They meant, “Who do you represent? What gang are you with?” 

Choco would answer, “I represent Jesus Christ. Who you be about?”

Pastor Wilfredo “Choco” de Jesus is truly a “faithful man who fears God more than most.”  After meeting him, there’s no doubt his influence on Chicago, the church, government, and social justice stems from his passionate and unswerving faith in Jesus Christ. 

Young "Choco"

*Pastor Choco tells his church, "This is where we will build."

**Pastor Choco buries a Bible under the future pulpit area

One of 5 Sunday services in the high school

A couple interesting tidbits that didn't exactly fit in the blog:

1)  After his interview, I commented to Rico, one of his pastors who was traveling with him, “That must have taken lots of courage-- at 14, to stand up to gangsters and tell them, ‘I represent Jesus.’” 
He said, “Ya, I witnessed lots of those times.”
“You’ve known him that long?  You two go back that far?”
He nodded, “Thirty-one years.”
I thought that spoke volumes of his leadership, that a friend from his teenage years is still arm-in-arm with him in ministry.

2)  Before Pastor Choco sat down for his 700 Club interview I asked him, “Do you know the mayor of Chicago?” 

He said, “Ya. He was at my church 3 Weds. nights ago.” 
Friends, there’s hope for Chicago!

No comments:

Post a Comment