Acton Institute Powerblog

How a church in Chicago’s South Side is empowering people through work

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After purchasing an abandoned, dilapidated pool hall in Chicago’s South Side, Living Hope Church began massive renovations, engaging a range of help, including church members, volunteer construction workers, generous donations, and random passersby.

Yes, random passersby.

As Pastor Brad Beier explains in Essays for the Common Good, neighborhood residents would often stop by the project looking for money or some kind of material assistance. There were also a series of consecutive break-ins and burglaries, during which expensive tools and lighting fixtures were stolen.

Recognizing that the Woodlawn neighborhood has a 23% unemployment rate and that 41% of children are growing up in poverty, the church decided to grant new passersby with opportunities for employment. In the course of the four-year construction project, more than 50 people were hired off the street to receive a paycheck and learn new skills.

“Our primary way of trying to help without hurting those in need was to invite anyone who came looking for help to learn new skills or to put their existing experience to work on this old building,” writes Beier. “…Along the way, we realized that completing a day’s work together seemed to release a shared, God-instilled purpose and created a natural context for forming relationships.”

The result was a new web of life-giving relationships across the community, prompting Beier to partner with an economics student in the congregation to found Hope Works, “a community development ministry” that “provides an individualized delivery model to address each person’s unique circumstances, especially for the person struggling to enter the job market at the lowest level.”

The organization has been running for over two years, providing resources and support to hundreds of unemployed neighbors and helping 74 people find jobs. As Beier explains:

The mission of Hope Works is to empower our neighbors to become catalysts of and participants in a flourishing South Side Chicago community….Every day our story continues, our partnerships expand, and our impact grows for the common good and the glory of God…

Hope Works was built on the premise that jobs are critical to healthy families and a healthy community. And, of course, work is good for the soul, because we were created by God to work. When a family has a steady income through God-honoring work, the blessings positively impact their health, their children’s education, and the family’s overall peace. And when families have shalom (God’s perfect peace), it permeates a neighborhood’s ecosystem.

Many are quick to write off the enterprise and contributions of those in under-resourced communities like Woodlawn, turning instead to top-down solutions or materialistic fixes from governments or powerful businesses. Instead, Living Hope Church is tapping into the bottom-up sources of abundance that God has already placed there — recognizing the human capital in all of us and setting people on the course of creative service that God designed.

Image: David Wilson, 200400405 16 CTA South Side (CC BY 2.0)

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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