Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Chicago's diversity is his mission field

Chicago's diversity is his mission field
By Mickey Noah

CHICAGO (BP)--Michael Allen could have been the guy who comes to install or repair your computer. Originally, that was what he was trained to do.

Instead, his work today takes place in uptown Chicago, about a mile northeast of Wrigley Field's ivy-covered outfield fence. The church he serves as senior pastor, Uptown Baptist, is close to the corner of Sunnyside and Sheridan or "Blood Alley" -- famous locally for its unsolved murders, rapes, gangs and prostitution.

None of this deters Allen, who also has served as a North American Mission Board missionary the past three years.

"I like it here because it fits who I am, fits my journey and fits the vision that God has given me for my life," Allen said. "It allows me to be Jesus to so many different kinds of people."

It's hard to say what's more diverse in Allen's life -- his ministry or his congregation.

When Allen is not preaching sermons and shepherding his multicultural flock of 180 at Uptown, he's leading a "Men's Fraternity" discipleship group for businessmen in downtown Chicago; overseeing a Monday night meal for up to 350 homeless men, women and children; directing a shelter for 50 women; managing a church staff of six; counseling; serving on the board of Pacific Garden Mission; and serving as moderator of the Baptist association of which Uptown is a member. And in his spare time, he and his wife Marla homeschool their four children.

"As pastor of Uptown, one day I can be in a suit and tie at a press conference with the mayor of Chicago and other movers and shakers, and later that day be on the street talking to somebody who just gave his girlfriend AIDS or to a drunk," Allen said.

"It's a powerful thing and an amazing thing," he said, getting choked up. "It's God at work changing people's lives, and I feel like a pawn on God's chess board. It's just remarkable to be His piece being moved into position wherever He wills, and being available wherever He wants you on that board."

The Uptown area of the Windy City, like the church Allen leads, is diverse by any measure: ethnically, economically, educationally, gender, age.

"There must be at least 80 or 90 languages spoken in the public schools here in Uptown, so it's a fun place," Allen said. "There's not a dull or boring day in ministry, in business, in school or in government because of that diversity.

"There are still so many more ethnic groups out there that are not represented in our church right now. We might have 10 or 15 different ethnic groups in church on a Sunday morning," he said. "But there is much more to be done and we're just beginning."

Born in Jamaica, Allen grew up in a Christian home and accepted Christ in a Nazarene church at age 9. After earning a computer electronics degree and working as a technician in south Florida, he was called to the ministry as a member of First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1989. Allen holds a Bible degree from Trinity College in Miami, Fla., and a master of divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. He also has served on the staffs of Moody Church in Chicago and Sagemont Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Houston.

Allen is one of more than 5,600 North American Missionaries supported by Southern Baptist gifts to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions and the Cooperative Program.

Mickey Noah is a writer with the North American Mission Board. To learn more about the Annie Armstrong Offering, go to www.anniearmstrong.com; to learn more about the Cooperative Program, go to www.sbc.net/cp.

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