On September 28, 2008, a group of young adults from the suburbs took over the courtyard in front of the CDW building, beside Union Station and the river downtown Chicago, with three main goals: celebrate the un-celebrated, see the unseen, and restore identity to the ignored members of Chicago’s streets. That day, an epic birthday party uniting members of two polarized segments of society birthed something no one was expecting: an authentic expression of community.
Over the next two years, weekly trips from Naperville to Union Station were taken by dozens of young adults. Through consistency, authenticity and availability, when they were together the lines that divided these vastly different populations smudged into light traces resulting in transformed lives.
As a true pioneer spirit compelled the group forward, this complex community went from being defined by strict guidelines and clear missio-logical framework to being defined by relationships. All the while, the overwhelming question was; “why did you bring us here God?” Aside from the obvious fruit that was born in the lives of those who spent any time in this community, there was this feeling that something less organic and more formulated lie ahead.
While those who looked on from the sidelines championed this unique expression of Spirit-led community, they constantly asked “what’s next?” Those most committed to the organization and leadership of this weekly meshing of lives, sought God consistently. They believed if God had led them to begin gathering together, He would clearly direct them in what would be next. There were prayer meetings, long talks and dreams abundant, however, God was quiet.
Although no concrete entity was ever established at Union Station, life long friendships were formed and lives were altered forever. In April, 2009 God finally began to lay the foundation of something sustainable; unexpectedly several miles north of Union Station in the neighborhood of Uptown. In June 2010, the two young women who had put together the birthday party in 2008 moved into Uptown following God’s leading.
The first months in Uptown were full of learning and listening. Basic acts of relational investment were made: handing out baked goods around town, eating at the local soup kitchens, playing cards at a shelter. Through an already established relationship at one of the shelters in Uptown, monthly birthday parties began being thrown for the residents: celebrating life in a simple but intentional manner. Soon, a partnership with a nurse from Aurora was forged providing the leadership and experience needed to begin monthly foot clinics for the Uptown community. Around the same time Conversations About Jesus, a group created to provide a non-threatening environment to discuss spiritual things, began meeting regularly.
The fruit of an incarnational lifestyle has proved lasting and abundant. Other ministers in the community were refreshed by the new life and ambition of these young missionaries and their friends. It became clear in November, 2010 that the Holy Spirit was finally revealing the long ranging vision inspired by a birthday party years prior and a faithful journey of submission and obedience. On Christmas Day, on the McDonald’s on the corner of Wilson and Sheridan, JUSTembrace was born!
Our Current State
In July 2011, Sherilyn Sheets and Emma Boucher strategically moved into an apartment in a part of town where hospitality could be done with ease. This move provided a larger apartment with tremendous entertaining space as well as room to grow. The large front and back yards are often visited by neighbors for barbecues, bonfires or just chats on the porch. It is not uncommon for a family meal to be served around the dining room table or a ladies luncheon to bring women from many different walks of life together over a hearty quiche. This step for JUSTembrace is an opportunity to live the principles of the organization. Through opening their home, Sher and Emma are communicating that ministry isn’t delegated to the programs and services in institutions, however through a foundation of hospitality, those programs and services, when offered are anchored in incarnational principles.
July 4th was their first celebration in the new apartment and nearly 100 community members gathered for an old fashioned barbecue! This initial step in the community set the stage for service providers (birthday parties and sole care clinics) to be missionaries on the block as well. The future is bright as a foundation of relationship continues to bear fruit each week.