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I had a teacher in high school that would use the education system in China as an example whenever we were being lazy in learning a new equation or algebraic function.  She would talk about the tenacity with which they learned. How they really wanted to learn the information. She would contrast it with our attitudes towards learning, which was anything but tenacious.  We didn’t want to know how to actually solve the problem, but rather what we needed to input into the calculator to get the right answer.

When we look at the topic of prayer, we tend to want to take the easy way or pray the easy prayers.  We want to pray “calculator” prayers. We want to pray 2+2=4 prayers. We want to pray the prayers that come the easiest to us, the selfish prayers.  We love to pray the “give me” or “bless me” prayers, and that’s understandable because we typically focus on what we need.

I know because I’ve been doing that for a long time.  Sure, I might pray a “deep” prayer every so often, but lately, my prayer has mostly been like this, “God, please give me a new job.  I really liked that one I interviewed for, please give it to me.” But, what if, like doing math by hand, we “showed our work”. What if we focused on progressing past the “bless this food” prayers, and we focused on following the other prayers modeled in the Bible.


I am taking a page out of Mrs. Bushley’s textbook.  The American church generally has a weak prayer life.  And because we have a weak prayer life, we have a weak witness.  There are underground churches around the world, risking their lives to pray bold prayers.  Risking their lives to affect change in their houses, communities, and countries. What if we prayed bold prayers?  What if we prayed for our leaders, whether we agreed with them or not? What if we prayed for our neighbors, coworkers, and family members?  What if we prayed like the early church?


Let’s changed those questions from hypothetical to real questions.  Let’s change the “What if” to “Why don’t we”. I’ll be honest, for me its because I’m selfish.  I don’t want to wake up any earlier than I already do. I don’t want to give up any of my “personal” time.  When the truth is I could make prayer my personal time. I’m not going to die if I wake up 30 minutes earlier.  I’m selfish, and if I keep being selfish I will never experience the full life that is found by communicating with the Maker of the universe.  


So I am issuing a challenge to everyone reading this.  Set a reminder, set an alarm, make a clear effort to increase your prayers.  Don’t just fit in prayer before meals and after your head hits the pillow. Spend time telling God how awesome and wonderful He is, just like the psalmists did.  Spend time praying for those who lead your work, your city, and the country, no matter if you agree with what they are doing. Spend time praying for your neighbors, coworkers, and family members.  Tell God all about these people and situations with the same passion you tell your friends or your social media followers. Pray for justice. Pray for righteousness to prevail over evil. Pray for compassion to silence hatred.  Just pray. If we want to see a change in our families, communities, cities, country, or the world, it starts with us spending time in prayer.

Kevin Hammell


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Recently, I underwent a six-week long fitness challenge that guaranteed a loss of twenty pounds or five percent body fat.  These results were achieved by following a strict meal plan and participating in Crossfit classes at least three times a week.  During this time, I not only wanted to lose weight but also wanted to see what Crossfit was all about. I used this time to ask God to reveal to me things about community, health and fitness, and myself.  One of the biggest things that I took away was what the Church could learn from Crossfit.

Crossfit is a culture, a lifestyle.  People don’t typically sign up for Crossfit on a whim like they would with some other gym.  People sign up for Crossfit because they have bought into the culture. A major part of that culture is the community.  Every workout is designed to push you to your limits. Sometimes it is you versus the clock, or you versus your previous score, or you and a partner fighting to accomplish the required work.  But every workout it is you in the trenches with everyone else in the class. That builds community. Every class we would gather up and introduce ourselves, and it didn’t matter that most of us were in the same class together multiple times a week, we still introduced ourselves and typically answered an interesting question.  Every class we got to know each other a little bit better. Every class people would hang around and cheer on the last person finishing. I know because often I was one of those last people finishing. Crossfit is all about community, and more than that, Crossfit feels like a family. We as a Church get too consumed in our own lives, our own problems, that we forget to get to know the people in the trenches with us.  I know I’m guilty of it. Honestly, there are times when I will meet a new person and I have forgotten their name as soon as they have finished saying it. We need to put aside our natural “me” tendencies and grow our community.

In any good community, accountability happens.  Part of this challenge was accountability. Every week I would have a chat with my coach to talk about my progress.  Luckily, I continually progressed, but if I had stalled or gained weight, my coach would have known immediately that I was not sticking to the plan.  He would have called me out on what I was doing wrong and helped to get me back on track. Accountability is a popular word in church circles, but it is an action that is difficult to accomplish.  People say they want accountability, but when the honest questions start getting asked, it’s easier to give up and walk away. Accountability is hard because it takes honesty on two parties, one willing to ask the difficult questions, and one willing to tell the truth.  If we were more accountable with each other, think of the work that could be accomplished for the Kingdom. When people are honest and accountable, people grow and start to carry out that in others.

What if we took more time to focus on getting to know the new person that walked through the door, instead of thinking about lunch while we are shaking their hand?  What if we hung around to encourage the person who is struggling, instead of racing to our car to beat traffic out of the parking lot? People feel welcomed to workout at Crossfit because the trainers and everyone in the class are genuinely there because they want to see lives changed for the better.  How often is that the case with church attendance? Shouldn’t that be the case? Shouldn’t we as Jesus’s followers desire to see everyone’s life be changed by the life-shaping power of the gospel? Maybe I am preaching to the choir here, and maybe I am convicted because I have seen myself become lax in recent years, or maybe we could all stand to grow in building community and fostering accountability.  

When you see a new person at church, talk to them.  Genuinely. Get to know some of their favorite things.  Get to know some of their struggles. If you don’t have an accountability partner, get one.  If you already have someone keeping you accountable, find a person to keep accountable. Imagine the unstoppable force that would sweep through our churches, our communities, and our nation, when we put ourselves aside and focus on others.

Hope Summer Chapter 1

This past week Freedom Hope took its first bike ride, sans training wheels. We hosted a group of students from Cleveland to carry out outreach and ministry on our behalf in the Albany Park community. Until this point, we’ve always been under an umbrella. Sheltered and guided by a sending church, or an internship. But this week was uniquely Freedom Hope. Our team, our business cards, our ministry.

We’ve spent so much time dreaming, planning and praying, but this time the rubber was ready to hit the road. Monday through Wednesday we were blessed with a group of 12 teens and 4 adults from Parkside Church, which is just outside Cleveland, Ohio. They assisted us with conducting a Community Needs Assessment, a prayer walk and an end-of-school-year bash in the park. They got our name and purpose out there in a way that would’ve taken us months to accomplish on our own.

It was so exciting to connect with the Parkside students and staff. Their tirelessness and high spirits made the seemingly difficult work truly a blast. Despite hot weather and uncooperative passerby, they made the most of everything. And their positive attitudes and eagerness to serve really breathed some new life into our core team.

The last day they were here, we focused all our efforts on serving this local park, and the kids in that neighborhood. From soccer to kickball, from blow-up bowling to a six-foot-tall beach ball, we had tons of local kids laughing and playing. Many of the kids did not speak English, but this was no barrier to them enjoying themselves. God’s provision was clearly seen in these few days as we put together activities and supplies for the team. Our blessings were manifold.

We would like to thank World Changers for sending us this amazing group. And a SPECIAL, HUGE thank you to the Parkside Team who have blessed and served us so well this week. We miss you already!!

Here are some photos from the week:

Freedom and Hope

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In our desire to exercise our freedoms as a nation, Christ-followers often allow that societal knowledge to overflow into the freedom that Jesus brings and I would encourage you to be very cautious of that. Freedom in the United States is a personal independence to do whatever we so choose within the boundaries of the laws that exist. Our American freedom can often become a license to treat people differently because of race, creed, class or gender. This freedom that we experience can lead us to make poor decisions or good ones that can bring us together. That type of freedom is great and I am grateful for it but there is another freedom that is universal, echoes throughout time and space and can be yours today if you would trust and believe that Jesus is The Christ.

Our church is about teaching others to celebrate and utilize the freedom that only Jesus brings. Jesus has come to set the captives free, seek and save those who are lost, redeem the outcast and so much more! In this day and age, people exercise their freedoms in ways that show a broken heart and soul that is yearning for something so much greater than themselves (Gal 5:13). Without Christ's sacrifice on the cross for you and I, we are slaves to sin, unable to do what is right and true. Christ sets us free from the penalty and power of sin (John 8:36).

When Kevin and I were asking God to give us a name for His church in Chicago, He placed FREEDOM in my soul like a tattoo. I couldn't stop thinking about it, praying about it and talking with anyone who would hear about the freedom that we receive in Christ. As we submit to Christ, sin loses its power over us — Christ's power consumes and redeems us. As we decide to trust and follow Christ, our sinful disciplines, thoughts, and attitudes lose their control. Guilt, shame, worthlessness, lack of identity disappears, and peace of mind reigns supreme. Holy habits become the new normal in your life. That's freedom — true freedom!

Larry Fowler wrote, "Freedom is not the right to do what we want, but the ability to do what we ought."


I love our church’s name, Freedom Hope Church, but I truly love the “hope” part of our name.  Hope is so important.  Hope is something that we all understand.  Hope is something that we all have and want.  We all need hope.  We all have hope for things on this earth.  We hope for things like relationships, wealth, justice, or possessions.  Sometimes these hopes can make our lives seem whole, but other times these hopes are empty.  Hope is the basis for most superhero movies, which are incredibly popular right now!  These movies are so popular because we all want to see good overcome evil.  We want to see the hero overcome adversity.  It gives us hope that we will be able to overcome the adversities in our own lives.  

However, there is a difference between an earthly hope and a heavenly hope.  There is a difference between a hope for a better future now, and a hope in eternity.  A heavenly hope is rooted in Jesus and the feat that He accomplished by defeated sin, death, and hell.  Our hope in Jesus is crucial when things are tough.  It is a hope that is true, no matter what is going on in our lives.  When our lives feel dashed on the rocks, the hope that we have in Jesus is what keeps us going.  When times are great, our hope in eternity with Jesus is something to shout about! The beauty of this eternal hope is that it never fails.  

Lastly, let me leave you with this thought.  I have been listening to the song “Hope is the Anthem” by Switchfoot on their album Where the Light Shines Through.  The chorus of the song says this:

My heartbeat, my oxygen
My banner, my home
My future, my song
Your hope is the anthem
Your hope is the anthem of my soul

This chorus is a beautiful description of who Jesus is, and what Jesus does.  Jesus is our supporter, our cheerleader.  He prepares a place for us in heaven, and will one day come back to get us.  Hope in Jesus means that no matter what our situation looks like, Jesus is always with us.  Let Jesus be your praise in the amazing times, and the one you cry to when times are tough.  Let hope be the anthem of your soul.

Written by Dom Martin and Kevin Hammell

Launch Team Highlight- Kris Sowa

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This is a tricky one to describe. I’m me. I’m her. So, I am too close to be objective. I also have a real problem with filtering myself and tend to ‘overshare’ as my often horrified friends will tell me: brace yourself for a bumpy ride.

I love Jesus. Seems obvious, but needs to be said, because some people are shocked to hear that when they get to know me and then find out I am part of a church plant team. I am an extreme extrovert so I never really stop talking and as I said before, I seem to have little control over what I say. I am scarily comfortable with strangers and I can build rapport with anyone. At the end of the day, I just love people. I really love talking to people, learning about people and serving people. That’s probably how I ended up in social work. That, and my love for endless paperwork; which is not sarcasm, I genuinely love forms and data, rules and policies.

I try too hard and I give too much, but that’s what gives me joy. I never feel more fulfilled than when I am spent, totally exhausted and empty from serving. From how I see it though, I’m trying to give like Christ gave to me, which is somewhat irrational and impossible. But a good goal, nevertheless.

I am looking forward to Chicago for 5 reasons; 1) Polish food (esp. pierogis). Also my polish relatives, most of whom I’ve never met, reside in Chicago. 2) Stand-up comedy #secondcity. 3) My masters in Social Work, I am currently deciding between two programs, both based in downtown Chicago, and both daunting. 4) Starting over. I’m running out of people to tell my tired old jokes and anecdotes to, I need a fresh audience. Because my life is a stage. 5) Hoping to see lives be transformed through the work of Freedom Hope Church!

Written by Kris Sowa

 

Launch Team Highlight- Kelley O'Neill

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What is your favorite appetizer? Fried. PICKLES. (no hesitation at all on that one)
What is your favorite “have on in the background” tv show/movie? Hallmark movies. Me and
my parents have been working through some of them while we fold laundry, or while I was
writing my papers for school. Also, any criminal justice show: NCIS, Law and Order, etc.
If you could wake up tomorrow and know another language, fluently, what language would
you add to your brain? That’s a tough one, either Spanish or Arabic. Spanish so I could
communicate with my neighbors and fellow citizens here in the US, and Arabic to communicate the Gospel to people who haven’t heard it.

What song do you know all the words to that may surprise someone? I love Karaoke. Shania
Twain, “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” is my favorite Karaoke song, hands down. I also love “Piano
Man” by Billy Joel too.

How old were you when you decided you wanted to spread the gospel all over the globe?
Probably elementary school, when I went through things like AWANA, the Lottie Moon
offerings (IMB), Girls in Action (which is like Girl Scouts for churched people). Hearing about
traveling the world, and the thought of seeing other countries was so exciting. I just had a
desire to travel and live outside the US. After undergrad, my passion developed further. My
parents would make comments like “Kelley will probably be moving out of the country soon” in
passing and that sort of cemented that I was going to make it happen.

Give me a brief run-down of all that tremendous missions work you’ve done.
My first stateside mission trips were through World Changers (IMB), doing community projects and
service projects in the states and Canada for mainly low-income areas. I did that 4 years of high school. Then I went on a two-week missions’ trip to Czech Republic after high school, where we taught English which sparked my love of teaching a bit. I did some more brief trips throughout undergrad. I went to China for the first time with Image Church for 2 weeks, then I moved there the following summer to live and teach English. Duijiangyan is a small city (100,000 people) outside of Chengdu (home of the panda bear). After China, I lived in the Middle East for a year and half. I also taught Syrian refugees (adults and primary age students). I was in Lebanon in the Bekaa Valley. The spiritual warfare was intense over there.

Why Chicago? My first thought: God. God called me to it. I fully expected to return to other
countries overseas. The seed was planted September 2016, when I met with Dom and Tiff.
Things kind of fell apart with my plans to stay overseas, and I wasn’t feeling like God wanted me to stay in my situation. As I pursued what God wanted, I ended up reconnecting with Dom and Tiff; around that same time, I went to a conference for ESL in Chicago. I flew in, and I left
changed. There is so much diversity and so many ethnicities and languages in Chicago. There
was so much to do and see. In September of 2017, I spoke with them again, and I knew after
talking with them, I was joining the team. The idea of being part of a church plant, and
pioneering a new ministry is really exciting to me.

What are some of your biggest strengths? I really love kids. Relating to younger generations,
being able to adapt and relate to them is really easy for me. Essentially, I really love listening. I
could strike up conversation with literally anyone. I love to sit and listen to people telling
stories, and talking with new people. Words of affirmation is my love language, and I truly find
purpose and motivation in being open with people. I try to have a learner’s attitude when I talk with a new person. I enjoy learning about other cultures and allowing people to show me what
their culture is all about. Also, I am highly organized, and I love post-it notes.

What has God been teaching you? To expect the unexpected… lol

Launch Team Highlight- Samantha

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Samantha Hammell

Have you ever heard the phrase “go-to”? Like, he’s the ‘go-to’ person for all things fly-fishing? Sam is our ‘go-to’ person. She is a hard worker. She doesn’t let things fall through the cracks. She is always considerate, and she is always ready to help out. Her servant’s heart is what makes her the perfect addition to the Freedom Hope team.

                SamSam joined our ranks in two ways: 1) By law; meaning she married a vital member of the team, and 2) Her calling lined up with ours. God does crazy stuff like that. She has a huge passion for kids. She teaches, loves and tolerates them. Bless her, the rest of us breathed a huge breath of relief, kids can be the worst. Their hands are always sticky, how are they always sticky? Are they perpetually playing in a jar of jam?!

                Back on track now; Sam is the newest part of our Freedom Hope family, but she fits like a glove. It seems like she has always been a part of this, somehow. As we transition to Chicago, I know that she will become a sister to us all (except her husband, which would be weird).

Written by Kristen Sowa

Launch Team Highlight- Dom

Dom, or Donny Knockemdown (as he is affectionately known in the elementary school circuit) is fascinatingly dichotomous. He is both incredibly intimidating and deeply compassionate. He looms over you with a terrifying gaze, but also cuddles with all the kids in the church nursery. When people first meet him they feel confident that he is hard and callous because of his size and his resting angry face. But as they get to know him, they see that behind that threatening exterior is the biggest nerd you could ever hope to meet. His knowledge of the Bible is only rivaled by his knowledge of comic book and nerd culture. He can tell you all about the lineage of Christ (or most any biblical topic, really) and then in the next conversation have you believing that Magneto is actually the real protagonist of the X-men comics.

                I first saw Dom in philosophy class at Liberty University and I was certain he was a line-backer, based on his stature. But the first time I truly met Dom was when, was when he was pacing around outside my best friend’s dorm, waiting to take her out on their first date. He was praying and clearly nervous. And he is definitely going to kill me for putting that little tidbit in here. But they are married now, so it’s probably fine. *gulp*

 He considers everything, and he prays over everything. He walks with purpose in every sense of the phrase. He literally walks with purpose, he moves quickly and is careful not to crush us lowly townspeople under his size 18 feet. Not a joke, he really has boat sized feet. And he figuratively walks with purpose in the same way all great theologians do. He teaches and lives out correct theology and biblical truth. He, like his best friend Kevin, is steadfast and above reproach. And in that he is a leader that is easy to follow, because he is constantly keeping all of his flock bathed in prayer.

                Dom and Kevin prayed years ago about their calling in life. And separately, the Lord called them each to Chicago. As prayer continued, and time wore on, the vision became clearer, and clearer. Dom has walked with purpose towards Chicago and towards Freedom Hope for 6 years now. He has led our team with diligence and wisdom. I feel like a broken record, but we would follow him anywhere and we, his team, trust his every move. Because we know he doesn’t act on his own accord, he is an outstanding leader because he is an outstanding servant of God.

Written by Kristen Sowa

 

 

 

 

Launch Team Highlight- Kevin

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 Kevin Hammell

“DJ K-Hamm in the morning, hitting you with the dope beats, and the honest Truth.” That’s the way I was introduced to Kevin, during a dorm meeting at the university we both attended. He was being introduced to the residence halls where he led spiritually for the following year, and he was being introduced by Dom Martin, his best friend and hype man. These two gentlemen were one unit in my mind, since they were always finishing each other sentences and laughing at inside jokes that no one, I repeat NO ONE, else knew. After months of trying, I finally weaseled my way into their club, and got to know who these guys really are.

Kevin is the most loyal and steadfast person I think I’ve ever met. He holds his cards close to the chest, which makes strangers believe he is shy, but he is more of a quiet observer. He sits back and reads the situation and the people. He and I are opposite in that way, and I thought that he hated me for the longest time, but I now understand he just doesn’t blurt everything out like I do. He considers what he says and he contemplates and listens better than an extrovert like me. I’ve watched his sermons and counseling sessions have deep and lasting impact on the students in the youth group we currently have the pleasure of serving together. He is dependable and above reproach.

Warning: emotions ahead. Kevin married Sam this last year. And being a millennial in the age of Snapchat and Tinder, it was so beautiful to see a young man pursue a young woman in a patient, prayerful, and intentional way. Their relationship is what has always been described to me by Christian couples who have been together for years and years – running hard after God and finding someone who is striving just as hard as you are along the way. Kevin’s focus on loving his wife and serving the church have made a huge impact on me. As a team member for this long-time-coming church plant, I have doubted many things: planting dates, fundraising strategies, and font size. But not once, has my trust in Kevin ever wavered. Because Kevin never wavers.

 

Why Care About Chicago

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Three years ago, I wrote about this topic, and I felt now was a good time to revisit this question to reflect on our position as a team. I would not do this post justice if I didn’t come out getting straight to the point.  Why are we going to Chicago?  Simply put, we believe it is a calling from God.  Something that we believe was written in each and every one of our hearts, and if we did not pursue then we would be living in sin, blatantly disobeying God.  That is the simple answer, or as simple as it probably can be.  However, God has greatly emboldened and burned Chicago into each heart on this team.

            Honestly, I wanted to come into this post with crime statistics to display the brokenness of the city, but in my research, I was overwhelmed with what has happened this year alone and it is not even close to being over yet.  All that I can say is Chicago is broken.  The system is broken and the people are broken.  Gangs run rampant, and with that drugs and violence.  We hope to impact that.

            Our name is Freedom Hope for a reason.  We believe that Christ brings freedom from bondage, sin, and brokenness, and with that a freedom a hope.  A hope in a being greater than ourselves.  A hope in life that none of us can achieve on our own.  I love our name.  I think most of all I love “Hope”.  I think of verses like Romans 5:5 which says, “and hope does not put us to shame because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” 

            So, why Chicago?  Because God loves Chicago.  Jesus died for the people in Chicago, for the gang leaders, murders, and drug addicts, for the victims and their families.  Chicago is a broken city, but we are hopeful that God’s grace and love will be shown like a light in the darkness, and we are excited to be a part of God’s mission there!

Written by Kevin Hammell

Launch Team Highlight

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Tiffani is my favorite member of the team, although I think I am biased because she is and has been my best friend since 2012. It’s very easy for me to describe her, her strengths and her passions, but it is very difficult for me to do it concisely, so here we go. She is so approachable, people feel comfortable around her instantly, because she is just a warm, fun, genuine person. She is a wonderful counselor (I can’t use that phrase without thinking of the Amy Grant song “Emmanuel” and it makes me laugh, heartily). She is also the ethical and biblical backbone of our friend group. She stands solidly in the Word of God, but not in an obnoxious, preachy, soapbox kind of way. She is just filled with truth and wisdom, that’s all.

                She has many passions, and I shall list them for you now: Jesus Christ is always number one, Doctor Who, strong female comic-book characters (who manage to keep their clothes on), working with young women (specifically helping them to love who they are and love Christ), Jimmy Fallon and his many hysterical antics, Mexican food, not getting indigestion from Mexican food, keeping her already clean home even cleaner (so that people feel welcome) and pouring into her friends and husband before she pours into her own self. There are many other things, but I’ll spare you the fan-girling.

                Tiffani has been dreaming and working towards founding/running a youth center, working in tandem with the Freedom Hope plant, and this dream of hers speaks to who she is as well. She wants to facilitate a place of safety, nourishment, and support for the young people of Chicago. She wants to help meet all their needs, just as Christ has met all our needs. This place will be called the Refuge Center and I’m certain there will be a blog post about it soon.

Written by Kristen Sowa