Real Hope in Chicago

Real Hope in Chicago

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by Wayne L. Gordon

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When Wayne Gordon and his wife started a Bible study for high school kids in North Lawndale, Chicago, people warned them that a white couple moving into a black neighborhood as a recipe for disaster. That was twenty-five years ago. Today, what began as the Gordons' seedling Bible study has become the Lawndale Community Church. It has a staff of 150, has renovated more


When Wayne Gordon and his wife started a Bible study for high school kids in North Lawndale, Chicago, people warned them that a white couple moving into a black neighborhood as a recipe for disaster. That was twenty-five years ago. Today, what began as the Gordons' seedling Bible study has become the Lawndale Community Church. It has a staff of 150, has renovated more than 100 local apartments, has helped more than 50 young people graduate from college, runs a medical clinic that treated 50,000 patients in 1994, and has become a vital part of rebuilding an inner-city neighborhood into a community of faith and hope. Real Hope in Chicago is Wayne Gordon's inspiring account of how people, white and black, rich and poor, old and young, worked together to transform a decaying neighborhood into a place where love is lived out in practical and miraculous ways. It offers an exciting model for interracial cooperation, urban-suburban church partnering--and real hope for the inner cities of our nation.

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Real Hope in Chicago

By Wayne L. Gordon Randall Frame


Copyright © 1995 Zondervan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-310-20553-0

Chapter One

Jolo: Release the Oppressed

Dear Coach:

I have a very bad problem in my life right now. I don't know if you can help me, but I really need help right now. I know I been try to come back to church, but I have not try hard enough. I had fun when I was in FCA [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] and I'm sorry that I left. I try to write this letter a month ago but I couldn't. But I'm tired of life bein' like this. I'm very sorry Coach that I had to tell you this. My problem is cocaine. It has really mess up my life and I don't know what to do. Sometime I be want to kill myself and maybe I will one day, but Coach, I don't want to do that. But don't want to keep living my life like this. Coach, you have done a lot for me in my life. And I'm very sorry I let you down. Joe Atkins

It is unusual to take on a nickname later in life, but for as long as I have been in Lawndale, people have called me "Coach." To high school youth, senior citizens, neighbors, policemen, and people on the church staff, I am still "Coach," even fourteen years after leaving a coaching position at nearby Farragut High School.

I started at Farragut in 1975. I taught history and coached football and wrestling until 1981. About six years later Joe's letter was pushed under the door to my office at Lawndale Community Church, where I was pastor. In the upper left-hand corner of the envelope, where the return address is usually written, a single word was scrawled: Scared.

I can't remember a time when I did not know "JoJo" Atkins. I coached him at Farragut, where he wrestled in the lighter weight divisions. After my marriage in 1977 to Anne Starkey, JoJo would stop by our apartment almost every day. He had helped us move into it, paint it, and fix it up. He would hang out with us for ten or more hours a day. He and a friend declared themselves Anne's "bodyguards." JoJo had been nine years old when his father died. He became like a son to me.

Our place was a center of attraction for many Lawndale youth. We had installed a first-class weight machine and a Ping-Pong table in the storefront just below our apartment. When young men from the community came to exercise and play Ping-Pong, some of them would stay for Bible study or other ministry activities. JoJo attended the Bible studies faithfully. In 1978 he was even part of the founding of Lawndale Community Church: fifteen people attended our first worship service; JoJo was among them.

A year or so after graduating from high school, JoJo joined the Army, and I lost touch with him for a while. In the military, he experimented with drugs, and by the time he left, he was a veteran abuser, having tried them all: marijuana, heroin, and cocaine, to which he became addicted.

When JoJo returned to Lawndale, things weren't the same. He attended church sporadically. He would hang out on the streets, doing odd jobs to scrape a meager living. He did not look like his old self. I knew he was struggling, but I would never have guessed he was so heavily into cocaine.

Then came the letter, an uninhibited cry for help. I met with JoJo and offered to do what I could for him. We talked about getting him into a drug rehabilitation program, but it soon became clear how strong a grip cocaine had on his life. I prayed for JoJo, but I felt helpless. He wanted to get straightened out, but-as I have learned many times during my time here-when drugs are involved, sometimes wanting something is not enough.

On April 21, 1987, six months or so after he wrote that letter, JoJo crawled into the bathtub in his apartment, cut his wrists open, and fell asleep. He awoke at 7:00 A.M. and was surprised to be alive. After wrapping something around his wrists, he walked to the church and entered my office to tell me what he had done. Immediately I called Art Jones, the doctor who founded our medical center, and he came over to sew up JoJo's wrists.

After seeing the blood in the bathroom at the apartment, where I had gone to collect his things, I quietly thanked God that JoJo was still with us. But God and I both knew it was just a matter of time before drugs would win this battle for JoJo's life-unless something changed. That same morning, JoJo agreed to enter the Teen Challenge drug rehabilitation program.

JoJo stayed in the program for three months before he left-too soon. Our church reached out to him, and he began to come around a little more often. But every time he seemed to be making progress, the lure of drugs would recapture him.

After several months of this tug-of-war, JoJo came to me again, pleading for help. I invited him to move into the church to sleep at night. I told him I would counsel him, meet with him, and pray with him every day, but he felt he needed more than that. And I am sure he was right. Having


Excerpted from Real Hope in Chicago by Wayne L. Gordon Randall Frame Copyright © 1995 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Wayne L. Gordon moved with his wife to North Lawndale in 1970 and founded the Lawndale Community Church, which he currently co-pastors with Carey Casey. He founded the Christian Community Development Association with John Perkins. He is co-author of Standing Fats: Ministry in an Unfriendly World.
Randall Frame is director of communications for Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and senior writer for Christianity Today magazine.

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Real Hope In Chicago 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
GrandivaNC More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing true story. A great read for anyone. Wayne L. Gordan really knows how to catch you and bring you with him on the entire journey. You will feel like you lived in Lawndale and worked right beside his team. Motivating, Encouraging and Realistic! Please read!