Transformation Within Diversity: God at Work through Relationships in the Windy City

Ask Navigator Roger Matthews to describe what The Navigators Metro Mission in Chicago is all about, and he’ll tell you that a big part of it is about revealing God to people who haven’t yet seen Him in a way they can understand.

“Society places a lot of emphasis on information,” says Roger, “but when it comes to the Gospel, a lot of the people we encounter don’t trust the information they get. They need to see the truth of the Gospel lived out before they can understand and trust that truth.”

For Roger and the Chicago Metro team, the words of Jesus in Matthew capture the essence of what their ministry is all about: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:15).

Roger says that happens through creating a network of relationships that reaches the diversity of Chicago. When we hear “diversity” most of us think in terms of racial differences. But Roger suggests that cultural, social, and economic barriers are even more of a challenge, and that developing relationships that extend across these barriers is essential.

“Nan, one of the women in our ministry, is a great illustration of reaching across these kind of barriers,” says Roger. “She’s connected to Larry, a man who was homeless for 17 years and is now on staff with The Navigators. Because of his background, Larry has access to people many of us could never reach—including gang members and other ‘street’ people. But even though Larry is considered a ‘street pastor’ (a moniker given him by the Chicago police), and doesn’t even have a high school education, he also has relationships with some of Chicago’s well-to-do business people.”

Nan’s circle of relationships is similarly diverse. She lives with a group of women who grew up in the “Uptown” area of Chicago. Don’t let the name of the area fool you. This area was essentially a dumping ground for people with mental health issues when the State of Illinois closed down several state facilities in the 1980s. People with nowhere else to go were transported to their new home in this section of Chicago. Nan lives, relates, and makes disciples in this neighborhood.

Her relationships, however, extend in other directions as well. Nan also works with young women who have come to Chicago from other Navigator ministries to reach out to others in an urban environment. Some are teachers, some work in businesses downtown. And some live in rough neighborhoods, like Roger’s daughter, Anna, who lives in a largely Hispanic neighborhood where residents feel lucky that there is only one gang present.

In the midst of all these differing neighborhoods and environments, the Gospel is lived out and talked about. “It’s easy for some of us to think in terms of initiatives, projects, or ministry activities,” says Roger, “but it’s really this big, interconnected thing. We meet and interact with people from all across the social spectrum.”

Roger shares that members of his team interact with thousands of people from all walks of life, and he often asks them with whom they are intentionally relating—and living out the Gospel. Like any good Navigator, Roger focuses on individuals. “But it’s not just about the individual,” he explains. “It’s also about their network of relationships. That’s how the Gospel moves forward.”

Roger loves it when the light goes on and these young disciples realize that there’s more to the Gospel than just what they get out of it. Not long ago, one of the young men Roger works with told him, “Now I see myself as a steward [of the Gospel]. It’s not just about me anymore.”

“That’s what we pray for,” says Roger. “That’s one of the keys for someone to become a laborer for Christ.”

One biblical promise that Roger and others claimed for the Chicago Metro work comes from Isaiah 61. It describes the actions of transformed people building the Kingdom: “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations” (Isaiah 61:4).

In Chicago, God is at work through transformed people—working through their networks of relationships to reach others of every kind.

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