“I’ve always believed in the pow’r of pray’r,” Gayle quietly whispered, “but I ‘ave a story to tell you that’s gonna open ya’ eyes and touch ya’ heart….”
I first met Gayle as she was walking out the door of one of the more than 80,000 bungalows (commonly called row houses in other cities) that are found in inner-city Chicago. She’s lived in the same section of the city for many years, and she’s never afraid to talk with people about her church – one of many small neighborhood churches that offer free meals to folks in their neighborhood.
“We’re a church that likes to feed people,” Gayle tells me, “and we work with three other churches in our area to provide hot, fillin’ meals every Saturday. We’re serving pork chops and fried chicken today, and we’re goin’ to be offering mashed potatoes, green beans, rice topped with gravy, and a big piece of dessert. And all ya’ need to do is go ov’r to Ruth, our 92-year-old volunteer, and ask ‘er for a ticket.”
I enjoyed my pork chop dinner, but I skipped the mashed potatoes because of some crazy potato allergy that I developed as a little kid. And before I could even clear my space at the table, Gayle grabbed my hand, took me outside, and pointed me toward a little blue mark of paint on the sidewalk in front of her church. “D’ya know what that is?” Gayle asked me as she stepped back and waited for me to answer. “That’s one of them gang markers that marks our neighborhood’s turf, jus’ like a dog marks a tree by lifting ‘is leg. One gang in our neighborhood knows that ya’ bitter not step on this side of da’ mark, and thee other gang knows that ya’ dare not cross to the otha’ side.” “We’ve had lots people shot,” Gayle continues, “and the drug wars ‘re downright fierce these days. In fact, we take time every Rachel’s Day to ‘member all the kids and all the teens who bein’ killed and injured by gun violence. D’ya know that ev’ry thirty minutes a child or a teen is injured ‘r killed by a gun? All those crosses ov’r th’re…. All of ‘em represent a little kid or a teen who was killed or injured by a gun. We r’member ‘em all on the first Sunday ev’ry May with a special service.”
As I stand beside Gayle in silence, she says: “But let’s get back to that paint mark.”
“This neighborhood used be filled with crack houses,” she continues, “in fact, that empty lot right ‘cross the street was one of biggest. And my friends and I decided that we needed do somethin’ about that; and so, we started pray. We went ov’r and we stood on the sidewalk in front of dat house, and we asked God to bring it down and get it out of our neighborhood. And God did it! Shortly after we started prayin’, we’d see a brick or two on the sidewalk; and then, we’d see a few more…. And we kept prayin’ every day on that sidewalk right there…. And bricks continued to fall…. God does mighty, mighty things when people ‘r prayin’.”
Shortly after Gayle and her friends began to pray on the sidewalk in front of the crack house across the street from their church, the building was condemned and demolished by the city of Chicago. “You can’t ‘ave bricks fallin’ on people’s heads,” Gayle laughed. “People could get killed when somethin’ like that happens!” Gayle softly chuckles beneath her breath. “It was almost like those fallin’ walls of Jericho! People pray. God listens. And the walls come a-tumblin’ down.”
But, much to my surprise, that wasn’t the end of Gayle’s story. She continued to giggle as she told me about how the exact same thing happened not once, not twice, not three times. Gayle told me that she and her friends prayed in front of ten different crack houses in Chicago. And, as they continued to pray, bricks continued to fall, properties continued to be condemned, and wrecking balls continued to swing. “We prayed, and the brick walls fell,” Gayle said with a twinkle in her eyes. “Our God is an awesome God who listens to the voice of His people, and who does mighty, mighty things…!”
But, Gayle doesn’t often talk to people about falling bricks and the swinging of the wrecking balls. She just wants to talk about feeding people pork chop and fried chicken dinners with the help of her friend, 92-year-old Ruth. She just wants to brag about the men in the kitchen who cook the meals. And she just wants to talk about all of the people who are struggling with drug addictions and who are trying to begin a new chapter in their life after being released from prison coming to her little inner-city church in Chicago one evening each week to worship and learn about Jesus. “Our God is an awesome God who listens to the voices of His people and who does mighty, mighty things in the world,” Gayle repeats.
“We prayed, and the brick walls fell….”
To learn more about Bethel Lutheran Church: CLICK HERE