Joey Ekburg, Executive Director of the North Park Friendship Center, was never one to mince words. “We pay almost twice the amount for food, and we have more clients than ever before.” It took awhile for the words to sink in and the math to play out in my head. I was never great at math, but the implications were pretty obvious.
I looked over at the people sitting near the entrance, waiting to pick up food to make it through the week. I wondered what would happen if this food pantry were to run out of food or if the unthinkable were to happen — the Friendship Center suddenly shutting its doors.
The Albany Park neighborhood in Chicago has served as an entry point for generations of immigrant families, including my own. Many of them come to America looking for a fresh start. Sometimes that search becomes reduced to finding a fresh meal.
Mark 6:39-41 (TNIV)
39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people.
It’s interesting that in the midst of overwhelming need and crisis, Jesus first prayed before offering provision. If I had the power to do away with poverty and hunger, that would be the first order of business. But Jesus started with prayer?
During chapel hosted by University Ministries on the North Park University campus, we told our students what Joey had said. We issued the call to form a human circle around the Friendship Center and show our solidarity. We needed to act, to do something.
Hundreds of students filed out of the chapel and walked down the road. They filled the parking lot in front of the Friendship Center, formed a large circle, held hands ... and prayed.
As we prayed, doubt slowly began to work its way into the recesses of my mind. I wondered if this was really going to make a difference.
When we opened our eyes, the Friendship Center was still there. The poverty was still there. The hunger was still there. But something had changed. I looked at the students in the circle and I saw something different in their eyes. A hunger had stirred inside of them. A hunger to see change.
But something else happened that day — something that invariably happens when we pray. We were reminded there is one reality that surpasses all other realities, one that strengthens our hearts and our hands to stand for what matters: that in the midst of crisis, hardship, hunger, or wistful hope, God is still there.
Richard Kohng is the Outreach Ministries Coordinator at North Park University in Chicago and a member of the Sojourners National Mobilizing Circle.
Photo: Prayer circle, ©