Holdin' On to That Hope - Clarence Walker
by Hannah Paasch '11
Ask Clarence Walker ’10 how he’s doing, and he’ll be sure to tell you—he’s "holdin’ on to that hope."
He introduces himself as Brother Clarence, with a wide smile and a hearty handshake, and it’s clear even at first glance that he really is holdin’ on to that blessed hope. After living in the same building with him for a whole semester, I am absolutely convinced that he could elicit a smile out of even the most downtrodden.
Until you get to know him, you can’t help but wonder what his secret is.
Clarence grew up on the south side of Chicago, raised by a single mom who is still his inspiration today. She taught him to strive for excellence in everything, and in every endeavor—from playing his sax to preaching on the streets—he lives with that daily motivation. When he preaches, he prays first that the Lord would help him “bring it.”
“I’m gonna have to know that Word,” he says, “and that’s why I’m at Moody.”
The Lord captured his heart at the age of 11, and during his high school years his character and lion-hearted courage began to surface. He attended George Henry Corliss High School, one of the roughest high schools in Chicago. Amid the gang activity, drugs and constant violence, the Lord kept him strong. While they were selling hard drugs in one corner, he was proudly preaching Jesus in the other.
From then on, he became known as “the preacher man” among his classmates. At his bus stop every morning, a group of Christian men would meet and pray before the bus arrived. Their influence kept him strong and devoted throughout his most formative years.
Clarence graduated from his beloved University of Illinois in 2007 with a degree in English and creative writing, and here he felt the Lord calling him to full-time ministry. After graduation in the spring, he enrolled at Moody in the fall, and doesn’t regret a minute.
“I’m hittin’ it straight!” he says. “Five years of rockin’ and rollin’!”
He’s pursuing a master's degree in urban ministry—an emphasis brought about largely by Dr. John Fuder’s influence, whose heart for the city has encouraged him to fall in love with Chicago again.
“This is my home; this is personal for me,” he explains. “It started with my practice of ministry class and Doc [Fuder] telling me that here is where ministry needs to happen. Wow, the city, you know—it comes alive!”
His first bus ride to the Cook County Jail with Fuder’s class remains a memorable turning point in his heart.
“We were going through the city, and I was just falling in love with it. It had never been so invigorating to me before,” he recalls.
A year later, he met Bryan from Chaplains for Christ, who was moved by Clarence’s passion for people and offered him a chance to keep up the good work. The gig is pretty simple: preach that Word! They take 100 copies of Moody’s Today in the Word every week, and every copy is gone by the end of the night. They lead an unembellished service that consists of some worship songs, testimonials from inmates, lots of prayer and the gospel. And the Spirit is moving. Forty to 50 men a week have been giving their lives to Christ, and they’ve seen about 800 come to know Him in the past year. Clarence loves what he does, and relates well to the lost and hurting inmates he meets every week.
“If it wasn’t for the [Lord’s] grace, that would’ve been me,” he explains.
Each week is an intense experience; even the security guards have begun to pull up their chairs to listen. As Clarence himself would say—“this is real!”
This summer has provided opportunities that even he didn’t anticipate. Lyle Dorsett’s A Passion for Souls has been on his mind a lot lately—the life and work of D.L. Moody. Clarence is the first to say that he doesn’t care what people think about him—he’ll be “Crazy Moody” any day for the cause of Christ. God, in His usual timely fashion, gave Clarence an opportunity to start an open-air evangelism ministry—much like his hero before him—and on any given Thursday, you’ll find him and Sister Joo ’11 working the street.
Last Thursday night was a routine downtown visit, and Clarence and Joo met up with a certain homeless man they’ve been discipling. He came to the Lord a while back, and has been a faithful follower ever since, in spite of his chronic arthritis. Brother Clarence brought him his usual cup of coffee, and began preaching from John 3. Halfway through, this man began rubbing his hands together quietly. Afterwards this man, overcome with joy, rushed over to tell Clarence and Joo that the arthritis in his hands was completely gone.
“The Lord touched him right there in front of Giordano’s," says Clarence. "There was no church, no instruments, but John 3 is all about new life, you know? It’s all about faith and renewal, and that very night this man had faith and he was healed. He’s been praying to the Lord for a sign, and that night he found out how real it is!”
Just as the interview was over, he suddenly remembered to tell me how he got his famous line.
During a difficult point in his own life, he wrote a sermon for his weekly visit to the jail, “The Living Hope and Assurance of Salvation,” based on 1 Peter 1 and the hope of our inheritance that "can never perish, spoil, or fade." Towards the end, he exclaimed to the inmates listening, “I don’t care what I go through… I’m just holding on to that hope!” He began to repeat that line, and so did the men with him.
“When you’re going through that hope of resurrection, that’s not a prosperity message, that’s the Bible,” Clarence reminds me. “The hope our forefathers didn’t know but now we [do] … it was a mystery, that’s Ephesians all day long! Holdin’ on to that hope … what else is there? The dream! Not the American dream, but the gospel.”
When he leaves Moody, Clarence plans to start a church on the south side of Chicago, his old home.
“Just pray that God would continue to touch hearts in and around the community," he says. "Pray that I would keep preaching about the living water, and giving them water [too].”
Clarence’s cup of coffee for his homeless friend reminds me of just that—a cup of water to the least of these (Matthew 10:40).
In the end, Clarence’s is a story of faith. There it is! He has faith that God is sending revival to his city, and God is doing it through His people. Clarence’s education is here for now, but he’s sure that this Bible education is really all about active faith, living life in the trenches.
“That’s what Moody has been teaching me, and that’s what I admire about Doc Fuder,” Clarence tells me as we both prepare to leave. “Because people need to hear it.”