Several months ago, Erickson’s church met at a park for outdoor services and was greeted by messages painted on the sidewalk: “Hail Satan,” “God is gay,” “LEAVE.”
The worst is when good people do leave. “A number of families have decided it’s best to move,” says Erickson. “Some from our church, some from other churches. Some good police officers are resigning.” A woman recently called to tell him four random bullets had come through her bedroom wall. She’s moving.
But Erickson also mentions positive changes. Last year, an abortion facility in the area closed, and soon New Life Family Services , a pro-life pregnancy resource center, will open nearby. Across the street is Hope Academy, an urban K-12 Christian school (and a WORLD 2012 Hope Award regional winner), teaching 550 students. In the same building as Jubilee, a food pantry called Jericho Road gave away 127,000 pounds of food in May after the riots.
Erickson explains what he says his neighbor and former pastor John Piper told him was the solution to racial upheaval: “It’s a humble, confident teaching of the Word of God week by week, and trusting God uses that.”
That’s where Erickson rests. He still connects with pastors, joins prayer walks, talks with neighbors, and holds all-church meetings to discuss current issues. But his priority is preaching and encouraging members to invite people into their homes, foster and adopt children, and serve the needy.
Beacon of Hope Church, which Pastor Walter has led for 11 years, is 8 miles north of Jubilee. Although he wanted to keep living in his house behind his church, he moved, mostly because of the growing number of released sex offenders living next door—one started photographing his kids jumping on the trampoline. The day his house sold, a bullet pierced the wall while his children played inside.
Walter grew up on Chicago’s South Side, became a drug lord and gang leader, and ended up in federal prison, where he became a Christian. He knows what it’s like to be pulled over by police—both when he was doing crimes in his past life, but also several months ago by a policewoman. It turned out the church van’s tag had expired, but Walter had never felt so nervous around police before. “It’s not about wrong you do,” he said. “It’s how someone perceives you.”
When the Saturday worship-and-lunch meetings began, he started inviting other Christian leaders to join. Sammy Watkins, Walter’s friend and a chaplain at Union Gospel Mission in St. Paul, said he initially thought the group, though well-intentioned, would fizzle. Now he regularly attends and brings visitors. He learns group members’ names: “That’s one small way you let people know you really do want to know them.”
Ironically, Watkins and Walter were once in rival Chicago gangs, though they didn’t know it until, in Minnesota, they compared pasts. Watkins, too, became a Christian in prison.
He says many of the minorities that come to the mission are angry and distrustful of police. Most lack father figures. Since he knows street life firsthand, the men listen to him: “Christ transformed my life. … That’s what I can offer them.”