Making an Impact Behind the Scenes in Chicago

2 staff members influence Chicago business leaders for Christ

  • by Sarah Martin
Photo by Tom Mills

The nation's third-largest city, with its bustling financial district and booming tourism industry, goes by many names: The Windy City, Chi-town, Sweet Home Chicago.

Yet its businesspeople have only their own name -- names that open doors or break deals.

Ace and Marj Mokry, though well-acquainted with these influential decision-makers of Chicago, go at life from a different angle. They aren't concerned with people knowing their names.

Both use nicknames -- Marj is short for Marjorie, and Ace is a lifelong nickname given by his mother. Since 1982, Ace and Marj have built solid relationships with executives in the Chicagoland area as staff members with Cru.

Now serving with Priority Associates, they desire for marketplace influencers to both know and speak Jesus' name.

But they can't be about promoting their names or even Cru.

Making it About the Other Guy

"Our whole process is to help them see it's their opportunity to be a part of reaching the city," Ace says.

The couple has developed leaders in locations stretching from Chicago's Loop to several north and west suburbs. These leaders then reach out to their colleagues with the message of God's love and a vision for changing Chicago for the better.

"I get excited about the other guy's ministry because it goes way beyond my borders," says Ace. He and Marj joined Cru as newlyweds in 1968, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. With no corporate experience, they depend on these business professionals to go places they can't.

More than half of Illinois' population lives in the Chicago metropolitan area, so not even Ace's magnetic personality or Marj's grace under pressure can scratch the surface of reaching everyone. The Mokrys must think strategically when developing leaders and releasing control of the ministry.

David Williams, director of executive strategies with the new ministry, credits their value of people over tasks as a reason why God placed them in Chicago. "There are a lot of people who make Chicago tick who really trust Ace and Marj," says David.

Empowering Others to Lead

Mike Brown, a business owner on Chicago's North Shore, models the kind of ownership necessary for Ace and Marj's efforts to reach beyond themselves.

As a young Christian, Mike accepted a friend's invitation to play golf with a group that included Ace. Mike soon joined a men's accountability and discussion group attended by former Chicago Bear's head coach Dave Wannstedt. The men met weekly at the local Denny's before going to their respective jobs.

"We started brainstorming how we could reach out to other men to show them what they could have in Christ," Mike remembers.

Together they developed the Straight Talk breakfast, a Saturday-morning event featuring a local businessman and a big-named keynote speaker discussing their own spiritual journeys.

The breakfasts have now become Mike's personal ministry. He helped host the 48th Straight Talk breakfast event on the North Shore this spring. Attendees have the opportunity to respond to the gospel message, ask more questions or sign up for a Bible discussion group.

"We focus on people who invite people," says Mike. "It's like an amusement park -- it's much more exciting if you bring a friend who's never been before."

The events' attendance averages between one-half and one-third first-time participants. Already more than 3,500 have attended for the first time.

Facing the Unique Challenges of Ministry

Ace often catches businessmen in the early morning and on weekends, leaving home as the melodious clock chime on their living room wall welcomes the 6 o'clock hour.

Marj faces a more complicated challenge.

Businesswomen, particularly mothers, tend to juggle more responsibilities. With as many as 65% of women in senior managerial positions having children, the need requires her approach to sometimes look different. She maximizes the lunch hour to connect with these influential ladies.

Marj's roles, as varied as the decorative rings on her fingers, help women with details and logistics. One afternoon she hand-delivers pre-printed invitations for an upcoming evangelistic event.

First stopping at the Daley Center downtown, she passes through security and rides an elevator to a 30th-floor family-court judge's office.

Later, several blocks away, Marj visits a vice president, who warmly invites her into a corner office, pressing the "do not disturb" button on her phone before their 20-minute conversation about life, ministry and the city they both love.

"You don't have to be a peer," says Marj. "You get them to reach their peers."

Saving leaders time by working behind the scenes translates into greater freedom for their own ministries among co-workers. The next week, the VP brings her non-Christian business partner to the event.

Slowed by little despite being in their early 60s, the Mokrys combat the complexity of executives' schedules.

"Their availability is a battle that we fight. You call up a businessman and it might be in three months [when he can meet]," Ace says. "If we only count on them being involved in our stuff, we're going to miss a whole lot because their schedule won't give them that. That's one of the reasons why we help them develop their own ministry."

And that's where the Mokrys' hope lies, in key leaders replicating their efforts by telling others about Christ.

Assessing the Immeasurable

It's hard to measure exactly what has sprouted from their years in Chicago, but they do know the ministry's reach is bigger than when they started.

"There are offshoot groups we don't have a handle on," says Ace. "There are a lot more than we know about."

The things they do hear about often refuel their motivation. Rick, a prominent Chicago business owner, accepted Christ after attending an outreach breakfast with a friend.

Within months, he was telling the story of how his life has changed to friends at lunch or on the golf course. Doing what a friend did for him, Rick doesn't wait for events, but takes the initiative to talk about Christ.

Marj sees the same among her women. "I don't have to call the ladies to spur them on to do something," she says. "They're doing it as their own ministry and don't feel any need to report back."

Just as with their names, it becomes less about the numbers and more about the people they help.

In their living room sits a large, leafy Peace Lily -- an unexpected metaphor of the ministry in Chicago. When nurtured and thriving, it grows too large for its pot, providing the opportunity for it to be broken apart and passed along to others.

So, too, a nurtured and thriving ministry given away continues to flourish, no longer confined to one place.

Both bear the risk of failure but also the hope of something better. Ace and Marj stay motivated by these legacies being formed and passed on over and over.

And they don't mind that each legacy bears someone else's name.