Okay, okay what has been happening in the life of the Smiling Maven, this one that needs to smile more and who is regularly banged over the head with God’s incredible, relentless, insistent, redeeming, grace. Well, the journey has taken an interesting and exciting turn over the last year. It has been somewhat unexpected, definitely challenging, and with a sense of an open season and some open territory. It is probably a bit tough to share in one article or even in one newsletter. It seems like there will be more to write and share as this journey continues. So what is this journey? What is this new season? What is this new territory? It has to do with one and a half square miles of the City of Chicago that is called Hyde Park, the unique multi-cultural community where the University of Chicago is located. This journey has to do with both Hyde Park and the University Chicago; it has to do with, walking into the impossible.
In 1985 this Jewish young man came to Chicago as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. That school year he became involved in ministry with Jews for Jesus, and met and began dating his soon to be wife Sandy. During that time there was a tiny little spark that maybe someday he might be involved with the planting or establishing of a messianic work in the Hyde Park area. However, entrance into ministry, marriage, and the pressures of school finances, nudged him away from continuing graduate school and connection to the Hyde Park community. More than 30 years have gone by; Art has been widowed, remarried, children have grown to adulthood, and there have been years of various types of ministry as well as secular employment. Yet, the inclination or desire to finish graduate school has never quite disappeared and that tiny little spark about ministry in Hyde Park had never completely vanished either. These topics were never really part of Art’s regular conscious thinking or consideration; however, that was going to change in 2017.
Early in 2017, Art and his wife Deb visited with Foursquare Pastors Terry and Annette Cvengros. Just as a matter of general curiosity Art asked a question about whether the Foursquare had any type of messianic ministry. At the time Terry and Annette did not know if the Foursquare had any type of messianic ministry, but somehow the conversation shifted, and Annette shared that the Foursquare had a relatively strong burden to see some churches planted in Chicago. Immediately, almost like a flash, Art remembered the long ago spark about starting a messianic ministry in Hyde Park. At the time, he said nothing about this memory/flash. However, sometime within a month, Art took a devotional day away from Zion IL. He took the train into Chicago, transferred and took the Metra Electric to Hyde Park. For the first time in over 30 years he walked the ground of Hyde Park and the University of Chicago. That was the first of seven such trips devotional/prayer-walking trips to Hyde Park during 2017.
Hype Park is a multi-cultural community that is in some ways an oasis from the usual economic and social atmosphere of most Chicago neighborhoods. It may be an oasis from some of the economic struggles of other areas, it may have less crime than other areas, but the spiritual atmosphere is very dry. Here in Zion IL where the population is about 20,000 there are at least 20 evangelical congregations (where the Bible is held in regard as the Word of God). That is one church per 2000 people. In Hyde Park there are 90,000 people and at best there are 10 congregations that uphold the Bible as the Word of God. That is one church per 9000 people. That in many ways is discouraging, and even oppressive. Yet, something inside this Jewish grace fanatic reminds me that the lowly King is attracted and drawn to the dark places, drawn to bring light and life where it is needed most.
During a trip in November 2017 Art had an appointment with some staff from the Humanities department. The discussion was the possibility of Art returning to University of Chicago to work on a Master’s Degree in Hebrew and Greek. So, nu, seven trips in 2017 and four already in 2018, a burgeoning burden for the Hyde Park community and a movement towards going back to school; this has been an interesting journey. That might be an understatement
At 56, considering returning to school while living in Zion (travel to Hyde Park takes over two hours), and still working in medical sales; this crazy Jewish guy is seriously looking at and continuing this journey and unique adventure with Hyde Park and University of Chicago. The plan is to take the GRE (graduate exam) before April; apply to University of Chicago graduate school for entry fall 2018 (application deadline April 30). Art would go to school part-time, traveling to Hyde Park probably two days a week. Continue his work with SMT Health System, and continue to pray and see what doors open for additional ministry in Hyde Park. Looking at this from various angles; time, academic challenge, finances, travel, spiritual climate etc., etc., it looks like: ‘ walking into the impossible”. Thankfully, a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth said – “with God all things are possible.”
There is a lot more that can be said about this journey, but this seems like a good introduction to the New Mad Adventures of the Smiling Maven. (The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob was a humorous French movie made in 1973)