New Life Covenant Begins New Year with Prayer, Fasting, and Faith
Normally, every year New Life Covenant Church (AG) in Chicago begins its year with 21 days of prayer and fasting. This year, Pastor Wilfredo "Choco" De Jesús and the church are giving “feet” to their fasting.
De Jesús, an Executive Presbyter for the Assemblies of God, says that the church’s main campus will remain open 24 hours a day for 21 days (Jan. 4-24), welcoming in anyone who comes, as the church proclaims 2016 as the “Year of Healing” for Chicago.
“Anyone and everyone is welcome to come in and enjoy some hot coffee, a danish, and some conversation at any time,” De Jesús says. “Gangbangers, the homeless, any community member can come in, stay for a short while or bring a book and even take a nap, if they want to.”
But more than just an open door that provides a place of warmth and safety, the church has felt led to make 2016 a year the provides hope and offers healing for Chicago.
“It’s possible to live 40 days without food, six days without water, six minutes without oxygen, but you can’t live one day without hope,” De Jesús says. “We want to offer our community a sense of hope . . . the same hope we’ve found in Christ.”
De Jesús explains that in 2015 there was a great amount of turmoil and distrust throughout the city, with an increase in murders (468 — a jump of more than 11 percent) and an overwhelming mistrust of government officials and police.
In addition to opening the church doors for 21 days, where staff and volunteers stand ready to serve and engage people, De Jesús and the church are making the healing of Chicago a prayer priority during their 21 days of prayer and fasting. The church has also connected with the police department, involving them in the effort to help re-establish trust between the community and police. Officers have been invited to stop by for coffee or a snack, to come interact with those visiting the church, and offered the option of picking up people in need off the street and dropping them by the church.
“We have already had the police department come and do morning roll call here at the church, with more roll calls planned,” De Jesús says. “The police are also going to be offering some free workshops on the weekends for community members.”
Although the mistrust of the police in Chicago is pervasive, De Jesús has a more moderate view. “There are a lot of good family men and women serving on the police force,” he says. “We can’t let a few bad officers dictate our perception of the entire force.”
The church itself is also using a grassroots effort to build up the reputation and trust of the police in Chicago.
“People in our community trust the church, but not the police,” De Jesús says. “So, that’s why we’ve invited the police and people to the church, a place of trust and safety, to come to really get to know one another, as police officers are just as frustrated with how they’re perceived. We are also holding a recruitment drive within our church [of more than 17,000 members] for people from the church to become police officers.”
The church isn’t stopping there. They are looking even further down the road. Each night, they offer a free dinner to all who might come. But it’s not just “free food.” De Jesús says the church is intentionally setting an example for children to demonstrate what family life could be like.
“So many children in our community are from single-parent homes,” De Jesús says. “So along with giving the parent a break from preparing dinner for these 21 days, we’re going to show kids what a family structure should look like, so 10 years from now they’ll say, ‘This is how I want to raise my family.’”
De Jesús says that each night prior to the meal, the church offers students tutoring. Then before the meals, electronic devices are asked to be put away, and each meal begins with prayer. Following the meal together, there is game time for families. A variety of board games are provided for families to enjoy, with Fridays being family movie night at the church.
“This is totally a church-funded initiative,” De Jesús says. “But the kingdom of heaven operates in the economy of faith. The Bible says that the workers are few, but never says that the resources are few. We believe God will be true to His Word and send the resources as the workers are coming out.”
De Jesús hopes that other churches in the community will follow New Life Covenant’s example, if not for 21 days, for 10, 5 or even 3 days. He believes it’s vital for city churches to be a bridge between the community and the police in order to rebuild trust, remove stigma, and provide the opportunity for God to work in and through them to see healing in Chicago — or in any community that needs to experience healing.“There’s a moral decadence in our society and the church has to respond,” De Jesús says. “There is a lot of evil and we most confront any evil with good . . . it’s not about increasing membership, but planting a seed of love and being Jesus to people.”