Chicago | The idea came to him after preaching through the book of Jonah. If the prophet’s preaching judgment on Nineveh made the whole city repent and turn to God, Pastor Phil Nelson thought, what would happen if someone preached not just judgment, but hope?
Nelson and a small team from his church, Lakeland Baptist in Carbondale, took hope to Chicago in May during a two-week prayer walk through the city. Carrying a wooden cross, Nelson, his daughter, Hannah, and Steve and Trish Whitaker, walked through some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods, stopping to pray with people and share the gospel.
During the first week of their “cross walk,” six people accepted Jesus as savior.
“When we decide to go out and become public about our faith, not in an abrasive way, but when we decide to make Jesus known and make him famous, God sends people in our direction,” Nelson said.
The team wore T-shirts with the words “Hope for the city.” On the back of their shirts, a paraphrase of Deut. 2:36: No city too difficult for God. The cross they carried was 10-feet tall and weighed 80 pounds.
As they walked, people saw the cross and came over to talk about it. People called out to them from car windows, Nelson said. A Chicago Tribune reporter came out to interview the team. Some local Christians and pastors joined them as they walked.
At the end of each day, the walkers went back to their host church for the evening and led a prayer meeting simulcast on Facebook. During the first week, 400-500 people joined them nightly online, Nelson said.
Beacon Hill Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Rick Dorsey helped facilitate the walk from Chicago, enlisting host churches and posting updates on the Facebook page of the Chicago Metro Baptist Association. Dorsey’s wife, Cheryl, a prayer coordinator for the Chicago association, shared an encounter from day one of the walk:
“The very first interaction of the day came from a young woman who was surely sent by the Holy Spirit, because she said, ‘I saw your T-Shirts and the cross, and I came over because my life is messed up, I’m troubled and confused, I want my life to change and be better, and I just need someone to pray for me,’” Dorsey wrote.
“We spoke with Cynthia for several minutes, tried to encourage her through her disappointments, shared with her the hope of the gospel, and we did pray for her. She said that she wanted to know Christ in her heart, and she said yes to the Lord, and gave her heart to Christ quite sincerely.”
The prayer walk reflected an important truth, said Phil Miglioratti, IBSA’s prayer ministries consultant: Prayer should be connected to evangelism.
“Talking to God about people should always lead us to talking to those people about God,” Miglioratti said. “His mission, coming from southern Illinois to Chicago, was tremendously encouraging to the hard-working pastors and church leaders here in Chicagoland.”
For their journey’s second week, the team moved to the city’s north side, carrying the cross through several communities before traveling back to Carbondale.
As they met people along the way, Nelson said the response to their effort was similar, whether or not the person was a believer in Christ: “This is exactly what the city needs.”
“Whether they’re a believer or an atheist, they’re all in agreement that Chicago needs prayer,” Nelson said.