“ Who loves cleaning public restrooms?” was the question that always led to my favorite moment of the week. It led to wide eyed stares and disgusted moans from all over the room. Students would come from all over the country, mainly the great Republic of Texas, to downtown Chicago for their mission trips. I don’t know what they were expecting to do when they got there, but I do know that we flipped their expectation on its head.
A few summers ago I left Dallas Baptist University for the summer to help Scott Venable launch Mosaic Church (now New City Church) in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. We had no foundation to build on other than a few friendships Scott had built having moved to Chicago a few months earlier. By the time our first mission teams were arriving for the summer we didn’t even have a “church” to point them too.
Wicker Park is one of the most interesting neighborhoods you could ever visit. On one side you have “six corners” where 3 major avenues collide and the “El” lets its passengers off the blue line stop. Six corners is one of the trendiest spots in all of Chicago, the hipsters party all night. But just blocks away are government housing projects packed with under-resourced families who were there long before Wicker Park was the next “place to be”. There are few places I know of in the world where demographics change so drastically simply by crossing the street.
Kindness outreach is never “easy” in an urban context, especially one as drastically diverse as Wicker Park. But we decided we would try it anyway. Our first project was going to be weekly toilet cleanings for businesses down Milwaukee and Damen avenues. Many of the students who would come each week were uncomfortable cleaning strangers toilets, and even more were afraid of ASKING someone if they could clean their restrooms for no other reason than to show Gods love. But I believe that God shows up in the biggest ways when we are willing to cross the line of comfort.
My favorite story came from cleaning the restrooms of an “adult toy store”. There is really nothing more cringe-worthy than washing the bathroom of a store that you’re not even allowed in unless you’re 18+. Since most of the people serving on mission teams were High School students I knew that cleaning this bathroom was up to me, and I felt clearly in that moment that God was leading me to not pass up on an establishment only because it was a place that I would not endorse. If anything I felt God saying that the need for that stores toilets to be scrubbed was greater. So I went inside by myself and said to the shop owner “Hi Im with Mosaic Church down the street and we’re washing toilets today to show people that God loves them. Would you let me clean yours for you?”
I’ve never seen anyone so confused. She stumbled over her next few words, almost laughing at the thought that anyone would volunteer to clean the toilets in that kind of store, but agreed to let me. When I came back out she had a tear on her cheek. I asked if there was anything else I could do for her and she asked me to explain why anyone from a church would come into her store and do something nobody wanted to do without asking for anything in return. I told her it was because that is exactly how God loves us, freely and undeservedly, and Mosaic Church wanted to be a reflection of that.
There was no “conversion story” that day and to the best of my knowledge that lady never became a “member” of Mosaic Church. But when she went home that night she did know that Jesus loved her, even if she didn’t understand it. And she knew that people in her neighborhood who followed Jesus loved her too. And that’s the goal of kindness outreach, that people would walk away knowing that Jesus loves them. Church membership is great, but people knowing that the Son of God loves them because Christians in your community are obedient to Jesus commands in Matthew 22: 34-40 is far better.
Kindness is bigger than context. Chicago may be one of the hardest places to do kindness outreach in the country. Most people there hate the church, many with good reason. So creating more church programs is rarely the answer. But few people hate love, and when it is given freely as Jesus commands it changes lives regardless of what your community looks like.