By Mark Kelly
GLEN ELLYN, Ill. (BP) – Cody Lorance doesn’t knock. He just pushes the door open and ambles into the apartment. A little girl runs to hug him and the rest of her family filters into the room to greet their guest.
They give each other a traditional South Asian greeting – the palms of their hands pressed together in front of them – but what they say in Nepali is anything but traditional: “Jay Masih,” which means “Victory to the Messiah.”
Lorance is a church planter in Chicago. Since 2005, he and a five-member team have been working among immigrants in the city. Since they started meeting as a house church four years ago, they have seen the Lord pull together congregations among Nepali, Ethiopian and Karen people who live in rundown little apartment buildings scattered around Chicago’s western suburbs.
Lorance makes himself at home, dropping casually onto the couch and peppering family members with questions in their heart language. He asks how jobs are going, talks about plans for a block party, and learns a family member has bought a car that may not have had all the appropriate paperwork to go with it. A young woman brings him a steaming glass of tea that gives off an aroma of cardamom, and Lorance sips it appreciatively. He will sit and chat with the family for hours.
He may be a pastor making a ministry visit, but he’s also part of the family.
Back on the street outside, Lorance gestures at the nearby businesses and homes.
“This is a white, upper-middle-class neighborhood, but these little apartment buildings are chock-full of refugees,” he points out. “So many church people pass by every day and have no idea what’s going on here.”
The refugees come from all over the world, and some churches are reaching out to them in ministry. Most of the visitors, however, don’t spend the time necessary to develop a real relationship with the refugees.
“This is not a superficial, drive-by ministry. You’ve got to be willing to move beyond the American 30-minute visit,” Lorance said. “You’ve got to get past the first cup of tea and eat a couple of meals with them. It takes three-hour, six-hour visits. You have to get to the point where you run out of the Nepali phrases you know and they run out of English – and you still stay with them. You become more a part of their lives – a fixture, a part of the family.”
Many millions … many tongues
“Chicagoland” is a gateway to the ends of the earth, Lorance said. Its 9.6 million residents speak a couple of hundred languages – 147 officially documented by the public schools – and many of those are the heart languages of overseas people groups that have never heard the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.
The work Lorance and his team are doing is helping forge a new path for North American missions – a path that leads directly into unreached people groups overseas, said Keith Draper, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Baptist Association.
“When the International Mission Board tells us the first church among an unreached people of the world could begin in Chicago, we are overjoyed and looking for partners,” Draper said. “Cody is doing that kind of ground-breaking work.”
What began as a house church in 2005 was followed by an Ethiopian congregation in 2006 and an English-As-A-Second-Language ministry and Karen congregation in 2007. The Ethiopian group spun off a daughter church back in Ethiopia and the Karen from a daughter church in Rockford, Ill.
The Nepali congregation began meeting earlier in 2009. They have baptized 18 so far this year, including 12 reflecting rare instances of high-caste Hindus publicly declaring their faith in Jesus alone as Savior.
Unexpected open doors
Lorance sees the Lord opening doors with refugees in the most unexpected ways.
He was working in partnership with Exodus World Service, a refugee ministry based in Bloomingdale, Ill., to help refugees from Burma’s Karen people group. The first family he met had been commissioned by their refugee-camp church to start a church in the United States when they arrived.
“We have prayed a lot and … started a home Bible study two years ago and have gone from house to house as others arrived,” Lorance recounted. “We had the first worship service here in December 2007 and a few months later helped start a church among Karen refugees in Rockford that had 300 in attendance for their first anniversary service.”
One Wednesday evening, Lorance walked into a Karen home to lead a Bible study and found four people waiting who were definitely not Karen. Two Karen teenage girls had met some new neighbors and invited them to the Bible study. The neighbors, who were Nepalis from Bhutan, came even though they wouldn’t understand what was being said.
Lorance, however, had focused on Hinduism during his graduate studies and was working at the time with the South Asia Friendship Center in Chicago’s Little India. He was able to greet the visitors in Hindi.
“I had been preaching to the Karen church about missions. They have neighbors from all over the world and I had been locating people for them on a map,” Lorance said. “The two girls invited their new neighbors and from that simple act of reaching out we now have a congregation of 70 Nepalis, many of them new believers. It started with a simple invitation.”
That Nepali congregation is the only organization in the city for Bhutanese Nepalis, Lorance added. When a new family arrives at the airport, the Nepali congregation picks them up and takes them to a home where they enjoy a Nepali meal. They help them get moved into an apartment, work with them on getting the necessities of life in America, and the next Sunday members of that new family usually are in the congregation’s service.
“It’s amazing,” Lorance said. “Eighty percent of the Bhutanese Nepalis in our county are in church with us on Sunday, even if they are Hindu.”
In a city the size of Chicago, with its millions of lost souls, the opportunities are boundless to see God replicate the kind of Kingdom advance Lorance and his team are experiencing, said Charles Campbell, who directs church planting initiatives for the Illinois Baptist State Association.
“We need more Codys to come to Chicago,” Campbell said. “My prayer is that as people see what he is doing, they will catch a vision for coming to Chicago and joining Illinois Baptists in the work there.”