MAKING A DIFFERENCE MEG E. COX
Collaborating with the Spirit
place for them to go after school. Michaelsen didn’t yet attend Living Water Community Church, but she knew some people who did: Debbie Lee had started the moms’ group for which Michaelsen babysat, and Lee’s upstairs neighbor, Lidia Mika, was hosting a small Where are the ministries? This is what I group of middle-schoolers for homewanted to know when our family began work time in her apartment in the afterattending Living Water Community noons. Mika invited Michaelsen and the Church, a small Mennonite congrega- boys to use her living room while the tion in Chicago’s Rogers Park neigh- middle-schoolers met in the kitchen. Mika and Lee introduced Michaelsen borhood nine years ago. Before moving to Rogers Park, we to other members of the church who had attended Rock of Our Salvation had created a tiny nonprofit called Bridge Church on the city’s West Side, and I and Garden Works, giving it the motto had worked at Circle Urban Ministries. “Christians cultivating children’s potenThe two form a church-parachurch part- tial in Rogers Park.”When Michaelsen’s nership that serves hundreds of people term with Youth with a Mission ended, each week and is widely regarded as a she asked her friends and family to conleading model of faith-based commu- tinue to support her work by giving to the nonprofit. nity development. This jived with the congregation’s I felt at home in our new congregation because its core members were mission strategy. Members “look for socially conscious people who had relo- where the Spirit of God is at work and cated to this city neighborhood to start collaborate with it,” says Pastor Sally the church, but I was perplexed because Youngquist. The Bridge and Garden there seemed to be no outreach programs. Works connection was only a small part Then I heard about “Kayleen’s Boys.” of the picture. Hospitality, peaceful Kayleen Michaelsen had come to volunteer action, and good cooking are Rogers Park to work for Youth with a Living Water’s long-term tools for culMission. She was volunteering at a local tivation: Discipleship flourishes when pregnancy center when she met six boys members welcome neighbors into their who together hailed from three conti- homes; a lemonade stand provides a nents—a microcosm of the neighbor- peaceful presence on a corner where hood’s ethnic mix. Only 8 to 10 years old, fights often break out after school; neighthe boys wore their house keys around borhood kids crowd in for a weekly their necks and spent their afternoons potluck meal. When Pastor Youngquist opened her roaming the neighborhood. As they got to know the Youth with a Mission home to the boys for an evening Bible folks, they began to hang out in the study, they began to invite their friends, unlikeliest of places: the waiting room and soon they were a group of 12—all of the pregnancy center where boys but one. They called themselves Kids Network. Michaelsen volunteered. The group then moved to the dou“Obviously they must have been bored to want to come in there, and they ble apartment that the congregation felt we were people they could trust,” used for a fellowship room, and Living Michaelsen remembers. She and her col- Water’s after-school program was born. leagues kept the boys busy with art sup- More volunteers joined in, and they plies, but she wished there were a better began serving a dinner-quality snack to PRISM 2008
the children. “It’s often the kids’ first meal of the day,” said the current coordinator, Sue Ormesher. Soon the original Kids Network group became too old for the afterschool program, so youth pastor Joe Maniglia began integrating them into the church youth group. Now they are finishing high school and beginning college—and anchoring the volunteer staff of Living Water’s summer VBS. Two years ago Living Water moved into its own building.The transition was so expensive that the tiny after-school line item had to be cut from the church budget, and the youth pastor position was cut down to part-time.The congregation held its breath, wondering how things would go without them. Ormesher wasn’t worried. “If God wants this thing to happen,” she said, “then it doesn’t require a particular leader.” Indeed, the program now serves an unprecedented 18 children two afternoons a week, Spanish-speaking volunteers are joining in, and the leaders are beginning to make connections with the children’s families. Living Water was recently awarded its first-ever grant for the after-school program—$5,000 from a major foundation. Ormesher is hoping to expand the program to four afternoons a week rather than increase its size. There was a time, Ormesher said, when what she wanted most was to reach more kids. But her husband asked her: “Why go a quarterinch deep and a mile wide when you could let the roots go deep and cover a smaller portion of land?” Ormesher realized he was right. “To get to water,” she said, “you have to have deep roots.” ■ Meg E. Cox is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago. “Making a Difference” is a new column profiling congregations—of any size, budget, and denomination—that put arms and legs on the gospel.You can nominate a church at firstname.lastname@example.org.