Jacki Rivera kept hearing about what others were getting. She wanted it, too. But it wasn’t money, fame or material things she was after.
She wanted help.
“I was working with other ministries, and I would hear them say, ‘We got volunteers from Here’s Life Inner City,’” said Jacki, program director of Restoration Ministries, located just south of Chicago’s city limits.
Knowing from experience the value of volunteers who care, Jacki jumped at the opportunity. More people to help allowed them to expand their outreach to the community, enrolling more children in the afterschool program, increasing the efficiency of their food pantry and creating a larger support system to the men and women in their residential recovery program.
Partnerships like this have characterized Here’s Life Inner City, the compassionate urban ministry of Cru. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the ministry’s focus on meeting the needs of others continues to multiply in the nation’s largest cities.
A key to HLIC’s longevity is the emphasis on equipping others – they call them “partner ministries” – to help the poor in their own community while at the same time telling people about Christ.
For most inner-city churches and ministries, funds, materials and manpower are scarce. HLIC stands in the gap by providing all 3 in various forms to those they partner with.
Jacki calls it a “match made in heaven.”
Jacki appreciates how they are trained. “Here’s Life Inner City took the time to mold their program so that these college students, many who would never have the opportunity to work with the poor, could live out Scripture,” Jacki said.
The students give a drink to the thirsty, feed the hungry and clothe the naked, both literally and figuratively. Many return to campus seeking further opportunities to apply what they have learned.
Partner ministries also benefit from receiving compassionate products, like Boxes of Love, and trainings in areas like evangelism and S.A.Y. Yes!, a biblically-based curriculum for children.
Pastor Milton Adams of Broken Chain Ministries in Milwaukee is grateful for what that has meant for his church. “Here’s Life Inner City equipped us to do what God has given us a vision to do. Now we have a relationship with the people in our community, and they are coming to the church.
“We never could have done it without the help of Here’s Life Inner City. They aren’t trying to do my job, but they sure are making it easier for me to do.”
Discovering how to include this unique and vital aspect of ministry within Cru didn’t happen overnight.
It began with a small band of staff members gathered in the late 1970s to prepare for a large evangelistic campaign in New York City. While the venture seemed temporary, they discovered a great need going unmet in the nation’s largest city.
Having already trained pastors from over 800 churches specifically for the campaign, the team returned with a question: “How can Cru help you serve your communities more effectively?”
Many of those pastors served in inner-city areas, where congregations were poor and couldn’t afford a pastor’s salary, leaving them to have other jobs away from the pulpit.
“They needed each other, and they needed us,” says Meredith Gandy, an original team member and Communications Director of HLIC. “We as a large organization had access to resources and were trying to figure out how to serve those heroes of the faith.”
Around the same time, Cru founder Bill Bright realized the organization’s focus on fulfilling the Great Commission had its own void – reaching out to the those whose needs are more than spiritual.
Combining the 2 – the organization’s values with the opportunity to apply its resources – Here’s Life Inner City became a reality in 1983.
“There are dedicated and enthusiastic Christians in poor communities who know the culture, speak the language, and have a dream of making a difference in their corner of the world,” Bill wrote in his book, Come Help Change the World. “Here’s Life’s mission is to serve the people of the inner city by assisting the urban church.”
Along with the current trend of rising urban populations, much has changed over the past 25 years for HLIC and its staff members.
The ministry has spread to other large cities throughout the United States, adding new facets like New Focus, which provides practical life skill trainings, and the Prison Ministry, focused on the needs of not only the incarcerated but also their families.
Society’s views of those in need have also changed.
“When we started this, we almost had to convince people that social involvement is biblical,” says Meredith. “That’s not true anymore. Everywhere we go we find more and more churches initiating ministries to the poor.”
Regardless of trends, HLIC remains committed to equipping the local church. As those ministries learn and grow, they pass it along to others as well.
A picture of what Cru calls a spiritual movement, the ultimate legacy of Here’s Life Inner City will be found in the people, the churches and the communities where faithful Christians help the poor in the name of Christ.
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