Two years ago, in the summer before our senior year at Trinity Christian College, we had the privilege of being able to interview eight individuals connected with Roseland Christian Ministries, a Chicago-based outreach center, for what would become a book collection of testimonies entitled Voices of Redemption.
Located only 20 minutes away from our quiet suburban campus, the community of Roseland is a world away from us in terms of the daily experiences of its inhabitants, which include poverty, gang- and drug-related violence, broken families and racial tensions. But despite these apparently bleak circumstances, it was evident from the stories we heard that the transforming power of God is very much present in Roseland.
One transformational story is that of Steve Turner, the hard-working manager of the Roseland Christian Community Store, a thrift store that provides a helping hand to families struggling to find the money to furnish a house or clothe their children. Steve is himself a former drug addict who turned his life around with the help of RCM’s rehabilitation program. To Steve, the best way to mirror Christ to others is by showing everyone the same love and respect, no matter what their background, occupation or race. Here is one story he shared:
“A while back when I was working at O’Hare airport, I would take people in wheelchairs off and on the airplanes, all day, that was my job. Anyway, this one day I had to take this little old lady, she was white, and when she saw me she says, ‘I don’t want that n--- touching me! I am not going with him.’ And I said, “I’m the only one here, ma’am, I have to take you,” so I start pushing her towards where she needs to go. She starts cursing up a storm, and her son and his wife just kept saying how sorry they were for how she was acting. I keep pushing her like I always do, and as I pass various stops, I ask the same questions I always do: ‘Do you need the restroom, ma’am? Would you like a drink, ma’am?’ Course she’s just like, 'No, I do not need a drink!' I notice the further along we get, the quieter she gets, until she suddenly snaps, ‘Why are you being so nice to me?’ I said, ‘I treat everyone this way, ma’am.’ She didn’t say anything until we got to the plane, and then she says, ‘Come here boy!’ I come around to the front of the chair. And she says, ‘No, closer!’ and I’m half afraid she’s gonna to slap me or something, but I bend closer and then I see that she’s got tears in her eyes. Then she leans in and kisses me on the cheek. She takes my hand and holds it, squeezes it hard. She holds onto my hand all the way onto the plane … Anyway, all I know it’s amazing the way people can change if you show them the love of God. Some of them have never experienced it before.”
A few weeks ago, we returned to the Roseland Christian Ministry Center on a Sunday night with members of our (predominately white) home church congregation to participate in a combined service led by Joe Huizenga, pastor of Roseland CRC and director of RCM. After an excellent time spent in praise and hearing the word of God, we joined our Roseland brothers and sisters in eating a meal they had graciously prepared for us. Afterwards, we found Steve sitting by the door, resting. He had been responsible for grilling the hot dogs and burgers, good cooking being just another one of the many ways he shows the love of God to others.
While forming cross-cultural relationships in Roseland had caused us much anxious thought at the start of our internship - Were we being sensitive enough? Would we offend a black interviewee by mentioning race? Would we be able to connect with someone whose life experience was so different from ours? - we have learned from Steve and others here that these considerations, while important, should not be our primary focus. Steve is not worried about “doing it right;” he just keeps on showing Christ’s love to people of all races, even through something as simple as a hamburger patty, a $2 pair of shoes in his thrift store or a friendly smile.
We pray to be able to do the same, in Roseland, and in our own church, and everywhere we go. As Steve told us, “The key thing I’ve learned is love yourself and love others, and everything else will fall into place.”
Voices of Redemption is available through Trinity’s book store by calling 708-239-4702.
What Do You Think?
- What voices of redemption have you heard in your life?
- Have you had a cross-cultural experience deepen your faith?