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Out of the Dorm and onto the Streets

Frontlines marks 20 years of student ministry to Chicago’s homeless
  • Jamie Janosz
  • April 5, 2023

Scott Ruth Moody Bible Institute


What would make a college sophomore roll out of his bed at night and walk the city streets in search of the homeless?

Scott Ruth remembers the night God called him to start Frontlines, Moody Bible Institute’s student ministry that is celebrating 20 years of serving the homeless in Chicago.

In 2003, Scott came to Moody as a transfer student in search of Bible and ministry training. “I admired Moody’s respect for Scripture,” he said. “It was sacred and special. I knew if I went to Moody, I’d get professors who would try to help strengthen my faith, not break it down. Moody’s location in the city also appealed to me for its cross-cultural opportunities.”

‘Seek out the lost right at that moment’

During his second week at Moody, Scott had been reading a book about evangelism for class. As he was about to go to sleep, the message of the book kept running through his mind.

“Suddenly I wasn’t at peace about going to bed,” Scott said. “God had brought me all the way here to Chicago to do kingdom work. I felt God prodding me to go out and seek out the lost right at that moment. I felt like Moses, trying to convince God this wasn’t a good idea.”

It was after dark. He was new to the city. How could he go alone? He soon found himself knocking on random doors on his dormitory floor. The first guys turned down his request to do some “random acts of evangelism.” Finally, he met Jason, who agreed to go.

The two men walked through Moody’s famed stone arch onto LaSalle Boulevard. Since they were both new to Chicago, they weren’t sure which direction to take. The first man they approached walked quickly away from them. Then they were spotted by a homeless couple sitting on a stoop. The couple yelled over to them, “Hey Moody!”

“We went and sat down and spent time talking to them,” Scott said. “It opened my eyes to see that homeless people were right outside our doors, they were literally our neighbors. After our talk we prayed with them. They were hungry, so we took them down the street for a burger and talked a bit more. Then we hurried back to school before curfew.”

On their way back to the dorm, Jason said to Scott, “If you hadn’t asked me to go out and do this, the whole day would have been a waste.” Scott felt the same way. “I realized that if we just read books and do class but never do anything, then it is pointless. This was why we came. It was satisfying, fun, and exhilarating to serve God that way. So, we agreed to do it again.”

A homeless ministry begins

From that simple act of saying “yes” to God, Frontlines was born in 2003. Founded by students, the organization’s goal was simple: to show God’s love to those experiencing homelessness. To go where they are. To befriend them, care for them, and pray with them.

The impulse quickly spread to involve other students. Following the closing night of Moody’s annual missions conference, Scott and others stayed behind, asking students to join them in reaching out to the homeless on the streets. “I told them, ‘We can respond to the message we just heard; we can go do missions right now,’” Scott said.

Members of the fledgling Frontlines ministry team in 2004, including Scott Ruth (back row, middle) and Rebekah Sovilla (front row, far left), whom Scott eventually married. Photo courtesy of Scott Ruth

From the beginning, Scott wanted to organize the ministry in such a way that it wouldn’t “fizzle out.” The group had a charter, officers, and regular meetings. They picked certain days of the week for street outreach. They visited local rescue missions and organized a clothing closet. When they needed food, Scott approached Moody’s dining hall director, who agreed to help. Several students volunteered to make sandwiches.

“We’d walk down the streets with bags of food in our hands,” Scott said. “Conversations were easier if you had something to give people.” They gathered other resources as well, including socks, hats, gloves, and Bibles. “We’d take whatever we could,” he said.

‘It was important for us to be present’

At first Frontlines’ street outreach efforts remained close to campus, but soon the students discovered groups of homeless individuals residing on Lower Wacker Drive. “One key thing we learned is that more than just bringing something, it was important for us to be present, to show up consistently,” Scott said. “We were willing to talk to people for hours outside on cold, windy nights. We’d shake their hands and hug them, even if they hadn’t been washed in a while.”

They became acquainted with regulars, wrote down prayer requests, and gathered as a group to pray for these new friends.

‘Far-reaching consequences of being obedient’

Scott, a 2005 Moody graduate, met his wife, Rebekah Sovilla, who graduated from Moody in 2006, as students when she became treasurer for Frontlines. Today, the couple are raising their three boys and three girls on a rural homestead in western Michigan. They are both grateful for those hands-on ministry experiences they had at Moody. Scott is also pleased to know that the organization is still active after two decades.

Scott and Rebekah Ruth with their family at their home in Michigan. Photo courtesy of Scott Ruth

“I want to stress that when God is telling you to do something, it is very important to be obedient. If I hadn’t gone out that first night, Frontlines may not have started. I might not have met my wife and had six children,” Scott said. “There wouldn’t have been 20 years of consistent Frontlines outreaches. I want to stress that none of that would have happened if I had just curled up and gone back to bed. You never know the far-reaching consequences of being obedient.”

About the Author

  • Jamie Janosz

Jamie Janosz is managing editor of Today in the Word and content strategy manager for Moody's Marketing Communications department.