Loving The Unloved

       It is a bad and sticky Friday night, but members from Inner City Church of Minneapolis are singing with fervency as the battered van they are riding in rumbles through downtown. The singing subsides as the van turns onto a thin side street where gang members, prostitutes and drug addicts loiter.

       From the backseat, Charlie, a former addict now interns at the church, challenges everyone to preach the gospel boldly. "Focus on Jesus tonight," he says. "If we reach just one person, that will be someone who is not going to hell and that will be worth it."

       With that, the team members take to the street. Within minutes they are laying their hands on others and calling out to the Lord for provision, deliverance and peace.

        "I'm tired of this," a man named Roger tells Charlie, his voice cracking with emotion. "I have to get high to hide the pain."

       Charlie places his hand on Roger's shoulder and prays. As he does, his booming voice carries down the street.

        "Will you come to church on Sunday?" Charlie asks after he has prayed.

        "I'll be there. That's a promise," says Roger, as he wipes away tears. "High or otherwise - I'll be there."

       Reaching those who are struggling with addictions, despair and hopelessness with the message of Jesus Christ has been the mission of ICCM since it started in 1994.

        "We are dedicated to love the unlovable," says Monica Delaurentis, who pastors the church with her husband Chris.

        "We tend to reach those who have drug and alcohol addictions," says Chris. "When we started the church, we determined to reach people where they were. If they can't hear the Word of God, they can't change."

       To that end, the Friday night team enters a homeless shelter. None seem bothered by the stench so thick in the air. Lying on vinyl mats on the floor are more than 40 men. Team members kneel down to talk and pray with every resident who is willing. Forty-five minutes later, team members gather in the center of the room with several residents and say the Lord's Prayer before Shem Daniel, a team member, sings "Amazing Grace."

        "I used to live here two years ago until people from ICCM came and prayed for me," Shem says later. "Ever since then I've been part of this church. Today, I am studying to be a minister at their Urban Bible College. With God's grace everything is possible."

       When the team returns to the van, the sun has set, but team members are excited because two more stops remain. At the corner of Chicago and Franklin avenues, team member's minister to drug dealers and prostitutes. Rap music palpitates from passing cars. Police are ever present, shining their spotlights and working their bullhorns. Monica approaches three men and asks if she can pray for them. The men dismiss her quietly before leaving their stoop and crossing the street.

        "It's time to make a change," she yells after them.

       Two years ago Cassandra Ferrell says she made "the change" when she asked Christ to be Lord of her life. In doing so, she says, she was delivered from her addiction to crack cocaine. Tonight, as most Friday nights, she goes to the streets to minister.

        "I come out here and tell people my story," she says. "I tell them they can also make a change by coming to Christ and that He will supply all their needs and more."

       At the last stop, nearing midnight, team members gather in a circle on a busy corner and sing praise songs. Within the circle are two homeless men and a drunk woman.

       "God put us here to believe in people who stopped believing in themselves," says Monica. "He is going to continue to raise up people from this city to reach this city."

"Reprinted by permission Pentecostal Evangel".