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On the Frontlines

How God led a small-town Midwestern freshman to learn from and lead a homeless ministry operated by Moody students
  • Nancy Huffine
  • April 28, 2023

Caleb, Moody Bible Institute Alumni

 

If Caleb has learned anything over the last three years, it’s this: Nobody wants to be invisible.

Caleb came to Moody in the fall of 2019 as a Pastoral Studies major. After a semester with his first PCM (Practical Christian Ministry) assignment, Caleb felt he wasn’t a good fit for the outreach, and he requested a ministry change. His academic adviser suggested he check out a group that was meeting that same night—Frontlines homeless ministry. 

An encounter that changed his life

A “kid” from Hobart, Indiana (population 29,000), Caleb had never even been to Chicago before coming to Moody. He had no experience with the homeless, and he was sure they were not much more than a collective group of unkempt outcasts with addiction issues. Warily, he followed along with the Frontlines team.

“I was a freshman in Bible college. I knew all there was to know about the Bible, right?” he says, rolling his eyes. But during that first night out on the Chicago streets, Caleb struck up a conversation with a young woman who surprised him with her knowledge of the Scriptures.

“She absolutely schooled me on the Bible, things I didn’t even know,” he says. “I went back and did my own research, and it turned out that she was absolutely correct. It just really struck me that all these misconceptions I had were just that—misconceptions.”

‘We may be the only people they talk to that week’

Frontlines began in the fall of 2003 when a group of Moody students took the inspiration they received at that year’s Missions Conference and put it to work on the streets of Chicago. “They got together, and they started getting food and supplies,” Caleb explains. “They started going out into the streets, talking to homeless people. And then they went to the PCM board and said, ‘Let's make this a PCM!’ And they said, ‘Okay!’”

Caleb is grateful for not only the foundation that Moody provided for the group but also for the ongoing support. Having a budget means that teams can distribute bags with bottled water, hygiene supplies, and food provided by the Student Dining Room.

Frontlines typically leaves the Moody campus and travels three routes: north on LaSalle Boulevard, north on Michigan Avenue, and south on Michigan Avenue. Teams focus on building relationships through casual, compassionate interactions with the homeless, and Caleb loves that approach. Conversations often begin with “Hey, I've got some gifts for you. Here's some food. Here are some hygiene supplies. How's your day going?”

Even so, some on the street can be skeptical and suspicious of the group’s motives. “There’s obviously that immediate distrust,” Caleb says. “But after we talk with them for a little bit, we ask them their stories. We may be the only people they talk to that week.”

“They want social interaction. They want to know that they're not invisible. And so that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to show them that they're not invisible, that they are loved and that we want to be friends with them.”

Rewarding but challenging

Three years after his first ministry venture into the Chicago streets, the kid from Hobart is now the president of Frontlines homeless ministry. And Caleb has learned that Frontlines can be rewarding but challenging.

“It’s an easy PCM physically, but emotionally it can be extremely difficult. You're seeing poverty, you're seeing drug abuse, you're seeing a single mother with two babies on her lap struggling to feed them.”

While it’s important to the Frontlines team to build relationships that lead to deeper discussions and opportunities to present the gospel to the homeless, it’s also a priority to offer resources that address those immediate physical and emotional needs.

“We have these (business) cards that our academic adviser made, and they have a list of churches, homeless shelters, just resources like that,” Caleb says. “We give the cards to people and say, ‘Hey, if you need a place to stay or if you need help, this is the place to go.’ We're trying to eventually get connected with at least one or two churches and homeless shelters in this area so that we can say, ‘Tell them that Frontlines sent you.’”

Impacting the homeless one person at a time

When asked how Frontlines is impacting Chicago, Caleb doesn’t have to think long. “One person at a time,” he says. And one particular person comes to mind quickly.

“We were walking down State Street, and there was this man living in a box on the corner of State Street and Wacker. And when we first started going up to him, he wanted nothing to do with us because he didn't trust us. He just wanted to be left alone. And then by the end of the semester, he didn't want us to leave. Just seeing how we can impact the lives of the homeless in Chicago makes it all worthwhile.”

 


About the Author

  • Nancy Huffine

Nancy Huffine is a long-time freelance writer for Moody Bible Institute and Moody Alumni & Friends magazine.