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Each semester, you will find an ever-growing number of Moody students living in a variety of apartments in low-income neighborhoods all across Chicago. These students may have grown up in the peace and quiet of a middle class suburb or a rural farming community. Now, many go to bed at night, tired from a day of classes and study, trying to sleep to the sounds of traffic and sirens. The surprising thing is that they do this voluntarily, without pay or class credit and often without recognition. Why? If you ask them, they will say it is because this is what God has called them to do.
The Moody Bible Institute Urban Cohorts program embeds students with ministries located in some of Chicago's most challenging neighborhoods. It is designed to spiritually challenge students and give them the experience of living and working in an urban ministry.
According to Clive Craigen, the Moody faculty director of the program, students can go through culture shock when they relocate to these neighborhoods.
"Likely, it's not like the place they grew up," says Craigen. "Students experience all of the spiritual opposition and daily challenges that are a part of an authentic urban ministry. They learn both how tough and how rewarding this kind of ministry can really be."
Launched in fall 2011, the program began with four students working through one partner ministry. In only a year, the program has grown to 21 students serving with six ministries in four Chicago neighborhoods.
Each student in the Urban Cohorts program is selected from applicants that have good academic standing, attended orientation classes and passed a series of interviews. The students are then matched with a ministry and a group of other students with whom they will work and live during the program.
The students are also assigned two mentors; one is a faculty or staff mentor who has cross-cultural life or ministry experience in a context similar to the one in which the students will live, and one is a neighborhood mentor, someone with at least seven years of "boots on the ground" experience working in the neighborhood.
During the program, the students will work through church-based ministries that have been selected by Moody. They receive training, coaching and evaluation. Currently, these ministries are Fellowship Baptist Church, the South Asian Friendship Center, New Life Community Church in the Little Village neighborhood and Christian Fellowship Church in Roscoe Village.
"The Urban Cohorts program could very likely become a Moody distinctive," says Craigen. "Few other Christian Colleges have such a program and none are as intentional as Moody's."
According to Craigen, he would like to see the program involve as many as 200 Moody students serving in 40 Chicago neighborhoods every year. He estimates that this growth would require 60 groups of students and up to 40 partner ministries. Given the popularity of the program among students at Moody, this goal may not be too far off.
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