Chicago Views: Dolphins, Loops and the Blues
We’ve occasionally written about our witness at “Taste of Chicago,” but the Windy City hosts a variety of other festivals as well. We hope you enjoy these reflections from three of our missionaries who wanted to give you glimpses of three venues where we had a witness.
Festival Of Cultures
by Lyn Rosen Bond
Our branch has been located in the “village” of Skokie (which shares a border with Chicago) since early 1976. When Alan and I were transferred here in 1997, the sign, “Welcome to the Village of Skokie, population 60,000” made us smile. Our rather large village was first settled by German immigrants, a few of whom were Jewish, but in the 1950s many more moved here, making it one of the biggest Jewish populations in the Chicago area.
Numerous festivals in and around Chicago provide opportunities for Jews for Jesus to make the Messiahship of Jesus an issue to the people here. For over five years, the Chicago Branch of Jews for Jesus has had a presence at the Skokie Festival of Cultures. Each year it has fallen to Alan Bond to oversee our ministry’s participation in this festival. Since Alan is my husband, I am always among the first to volunteer to be at the literature table we have at this event.
When we arrived, we noticed that the coordinators had placed our table directly next to that of one of the local Reform Jewish congregations. Since our shirts proclaim “Jews for Jesus” in two and one half inch letters, people need not wonder who we are. It didn’t take long for our neighbors to move down to the next table, leaving an empty one between us. They were very polite about it. It’s just that many (but not all) Jewish people still believe that one cannot be Jewish and believe the claims of the New Testament that Jesus is the Messiah. I was sorry for the distance our neighbors put between us, but it reminded me of why I do what I do and I was encouraged to pray harder.
I prayed that the Lord would use us to help people think about Jesus. Of the various conversations I had that day, one stands out as unique. A man stretched his hand across the table in welcome so I reached back and we shook hands. “Hi, I’m a Dolphin,” he said with a grin.
“Oh,” I replied, “Our daughter’s camp name is Dolphin.”
“No, my name is not Dolphin, I am a Dolphin,” he insisted. I assumed the young girl standing next to him with a rather bored expression was his daughter. It seemed as though this little drama was being performed for her benefit. He continued to explain, “This cap is hiding a blow hole; usually I am in the water. I really love the water.” As soon as he “came up for air,” I interjected,
“Yes, I love the beach too, but tell me, what is the Dolphin Theology?” “Theology?” he questioned, as though unaccustomed to the word.
“Yes, theology,” I repeated. “What do Dolphins believe about our Creator?” At this point, the man moved in a bit closer and proclaimed loudly,
“I am not really a Dolphin—saying I’m a Dolphin doesn’t make me one any more than you saying you are a Jew makes you one!”
If he hadn’t stomped off, I could have told him that it is not what he or I say, but what God says—not only about being Jewish, but about believing in Jesus—that counts. And there is no culture, Jewish, Gentile or dolphin, that can change who Jesus is.
Obviously, the conversation did not go as he planned, or even as I would have liked, but you never know . . . perhaps the girl realized that I was not asking her father what dolphins believe about God, but about what he believed. And perhaps she was not satisfied with his answer. As long as we’re more interested in pointing people to God than proving ourselves, I believe He can and will use even the strangest conversations to His glory.
by Alan Bond (p. 7, top left)
The transition between spring and summer in Chicago is not especially subtle. Sometimes in April, the weather map shows that everywhere else knows it’s spring; while Chicago baseball didn’t “get the memo!” But when the scales tip, and we again surpass Alaska and Canada in degrees of mercury, our neighbors’ thoughts turn to the outdoors, and our thoughts turn to outreach.
The Chicago area has a lot to offer short-term volunteers who want to join us outdoors for a taste of direct street evangelism. Last spring we figured it must have been “a God thing” when, without consulting one another, a dear church body from the South Side noticed the opportunity to reach out at the very same festival that we did—the first ever, all-night merchant-driven Looptopia block party in downtown Chicago.
“The Loop” is named for the square set of elevated train tracks surrounding the heart of the Windy City, which makes the block party five blocks by seven blocks square!
Trying to coordinate a time when we might link up with our church friends to reach out together was not easy. I had hoped to get a group together to begin the outreach at 8:00 PM ; but our partners in ministry had a different schedule and we ended up bringing the good news to this all-night block party between 11:00 PM and 1:00 AM (oy!)
However, it seemed the Lord had us arrive at just the right time as we “happened” upon the closing of a show at Daley Plaza, at just the right moment. As the outbound crowd strolled out, we stood right in the middle of barricaded Washington Boulevard, under the nervous and watchful eye of a police department portable command post. There we distributed broadsides, our version of God’s good news in the form of a snappy gospel tract.
We just would not have come across this flow of pedestrians on any normal day or night. I could scarcely believe the willing hands receiving our tracts (“God For Dummies” and “What’s Up With Spiderman?”). It was like a time warp in terms of the crowd’s unfamiliarity with Jews for Jesus and, I might add, unfamiliarity with the gospel. The late hour put us in contact with a youthful and countercultural section of the population. We were finding an “un-reached tribe” of sorts.
We ran out of tracts sooner than expected, so I returned to my van, looking to see if any of the free literature I’d planned to use at my church meeting that Sunday was suitable for handing out that night. That’s how we met Kara, a Jewish college student (near where the van was parked!). She had one of our tracts in her hand and seemed to be experiencing a spiritual tug-of-war. She was admittedly in the process of “getting plastered,” yet at the same time, compelled to know more about Jesus. We were able to have some meaningful conversation before she was coaxed away by her party friends, one of whom claimed to be a Jehovah’s Witness.
Kara resembled many that night who seemed drawn to Y’shua AND conflicted by friends who did not share their interest.
I was reminded of Matthew 11:15-17:
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear. But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’”
The Holy Spirit showed me that He would help us be at the right place at the right time to be a part of a divine encounter. We can trust the Lord in prayer that the seed planted with Kara won’t be snatched up until it has accomplished its purpose in her heart.
SINGING THE BLUES
by Amer Olson (p. 7, top center)
Each summer, the Chicago Blues Festival is held in Grant Park, along the waterfront. Chicago— known as the “Home of the Blues”— welcomes crowds of people from near and far to hear legendary performers sing and play the blues. While the origin of blues music cannot be traced to its inception, its earliest manifestation emerged among African-American communities in the southern United States, probably in the decades leading up to the year 1900, taking its form from spirituals, praise songs, field hollers, rhymed Scots-Irish narrative ballads, shouts and chants. Traditional blues songs often expressed the singer’s personal woes in a world of harsh reality: cruelty and oppression at the hands of one’s employers, economic hardships and, of course, lost love.
Now, not only do some of us Jews for Jesus at the Chicago branch enjoy blues music, but we also realized that this event would be the perfect place to tell people about God’s case of the blues. That’s right, God has been singing the blues!*
So much of Scripture describes God entering into a relationship with His people—sometimes illustrated as His bride (Isaiah 62:5)—only to find that shortly after she says, “I do,” she is gallivanting with other lovers.
“But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,” declares the LORD . (Jeremiah 3:20)
The prophet Hosea was instructed to marry an adulterous wife in order to show Israel that God’s people had become guilty of committing spiritual adultery (Hosea 1:2). What is God going to do about this breach? Many blues songs not only express the singer’s sorrow over the state of affairs, but also point to a reaction. God’s response is clearly recorded:
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:2)
Nevertheless, despite His just anger, God extends love and mercy:
“Return to me, and I will return to you.”
We wanted fans of this festival to know that all of our “blues” can be traced to the fact that we live in a world that has turned its back on God. When God’s people acknowledge their sin, and earnestly seek his face (Hosea 5:15), there they will find unfailing love and full redemption (Psalm 130:7). What is God’s cure for the blues? He loved the world so much that He sent His One and Only Son, Y’shua (Jesus) the Messiah, who bore the punishment for our sin in order to restore our relationship with Him (John 3:16; Isaiah 53:5). God loved us enough to do all that it takes to cure us of our lowdown ways, and to make us a faithful bride:
“I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness; then you shall know the LORD .”
Last summer, it was great to be able to hand out a special “Blues Brothers” broadside tract I had made for the occasion, and to talk to people about God’s solution for the blues. We look forward to bringing the good news back to the blues festival this year as well.
Don’t get me wrong; as long as we’re living in this world, there will be plenty of reasons to sing the blues. But Y’shua has overcome the world (John 16:33), so I guess we can cheer up!
*Ed. note: We hope that our readers realize we mean this figuratively! Through the Scriptures, we know that God expresses distress when those He loves spurn Him. At the same time, we believe that God is perfect and complete and does not need us to “make Him happy.” Rather, we have the opportunity to be in a right relationship with Him, and that relationship blesses us as well as blessing God.