Called to Chicago’s South Side
After accepting Jesus as Savior as a result of an evangelistic Bible tract given to him by a fellow bank employee where he worked as a security guard, E. Charles Moodie started attending the multiethnic Yonkers Christian Assembly in New York.
Pastor James A. Williams discipled Moodie, who eventually became a youth leader at the church. Three years later, Moodie took over as principal at the church-affiliated Yonkers Christian Academy, overseeing 17 staff members and 200 students. He also served as Assemblies of God New York Ministry Network sectional youth representative for Bronx, Manhattan, and Westchester, as well as youth pastor at the church.
With his wife, Kehinde, a well-paid public schoolteacher, Moodie lived comfortably. But Moodie says he felt God prompting him to live among the down-and-outers in the worst urban area.
So, with his wife and two elementary school-aged sons, Joshua and Josiah, Moodie stepped out in faith and moved to the Englewood community on the South Side of Chicago, which is 97 percent African-American. Ironically, when Moodie first became a Christian he says he didn’t feel comfortable attending a single-race church because his best friends growing up in New York were Hispanic and white.
“People tend not to start churches with alcoholics, the homeless, drug addicts, gangbangers, and prostitutes, but those are the ones the Lord called me to reach,” says the 37-year-old Moodie.
It turned out that Assemblies of God U.S. Missions Planters and Developers missionaries Chris and Monica Delaurentis already had established a ministry in the same neighborhood. So Moodie joined the white married couple — who have planted half a dozen inner-city congregations in the past decade — as the African-American youth pastor at Chicago City Life Center.
“Charles had a similar vision,” says Monica, a North Central University graduate who served as lead pastor at the church. The inner-city Minneapolis church the Delaurentises serve is 95 percent African-American. “His theology matched ours.”
Last year, Moodie became an ordained Assemblies of God minister. In March 2016, he started serving as a Missionary Church Planters and Developers missionary candidate. Moodie looks forward to taking on the role full time upon completion of the U.S. Missions candidate process.
A Tuesday night outreach attracts an average of 120 people seeking food and clothing. Sunday worship services draw about 80 attendees, most of whom live in Section 8 housing. Many in the neighborhood consider City Life Center their church, even if they only show up for a free Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas present giveaway for their kids.
“It’s important that people feel they can come to church whether they are smoking crack or prostituting,” says Monica Delaurentis, herself a former heroin addict. “Jesus didn’t say, Come back when you have it together. Part of our ministry is to keep the door open. People didn’t want me in that condition.”
Among other ministry, nine times a year Chicago City Life Center mobilizes mission teams to go into public schools to assist teachers. And Kehinde has started a Bible-based preschool at the church that provides scholarships for a child whose parent is seeking employment or trying to enroll in college.
“The parent is the greatest model for a child,” Moodie says. “If the child sees mom or dad working or going to school, it becomes a normal part of life for them.”
Admittedly, Moodie sees more people stuck in destructive lifestyles than transformed, but those whose lives begin to turn around keep him going. With patience, he has come to recognize that spiritual growth happens incrementally among people who have so much to learn about the basics of the faith.
Moodie knows the neighborhood is rough, yet he says there is a respect for a minister among the residents. Still, he doesn’t let his sons play outdoors at night.
Delaurentis says race isn’t a key factor in why Moodie is the new lead pastor at Chicago City Life Center.
“The fact that he’s black isn’t why we’re turning it over,” Delaurentis says. “The heart is the criteria. He has a heart for broken people, and the people love him.”
The City Life Center property, formerly owned by the Catholic Church, now is held by the Illinois AG District Council. The Moodies live in a rectory once inhabited by a priest.
“Chris and Monica have been exceptional mentors,” Moodie says. “They have trusted us by passing the mantle for a work they’ve been doing for 16 years.”
Pictured: Providing a presence on Chicago's South Side are (from left) Charles Moodie, Kehinde Moodie, Monica Delaurentis and Chris Delaurentis.