It's been a tough year.
Christ Cares ministry lost a Christmas dinner sponsorship, thanks to economic difficulties, and the program's director, the Rev. Scott Reese, has been dealing with some health issues..
But Reese is not new to challenges. A challenge started his ministry.
"As a 13-year-old, I began sharing my faith," says Reese. "I began spending my Saturdays going with other teenagers to some rough parts of Chicago. One of the first times we went, I went up to an older teenage boy and asked him if he were to die right now, would he be sure he would go to Heaven?
"The gang leader reached in his pocket, pulled out a switchblade and told me, 'Nope. If you were to die, do you know for sure you'd go to Heaven?' gratefully he began laughing."
From that point on, Resse's ministry grew. At 18 years old he had organized five Bible clubs across Chicago Heights, Ford Heights and Glenwood. By the time he was a senior in high school, Reese had helped organize New Life Baptist Church with David Gills. The ministry began in Ford Heights, then moved to Chicago Heights. In 1981, Reese and his friends took over an abandoned house to have church.
"We figured that the drug dealers took over abandoned buildings for drugs and prostitution," Reese said. "Why don't we do it for the Lord? I was young and crazy. We picked out an abandoned building, took a padlock and claimed it. We made a potbelly stove out of old garbage cans to get heat in there. Our first pulpit was a chitlin bucket."
Thirty years have passed, and Reese is still at it. He speeks of the low points just as much as he does of the mountaintop experiences, noting the number of times he's seen lives ended, rather than changed.
"I've known personally over 100 people that have been murdered," Reese said. "Nobody should know a hundred people that have been murdered. Some of them I was very close to, others I knew who they were."
Fifteen years ago, one of those deaths caused Pastor Reese to take a missionary furlough. "I went through burnout from dealing with people that were shot, or always in need," Reese said. "People need money, they need help, someone's been raped or on the verge of crisis. It's draining on a minister."
Reese is known in the Ford Heights and Chicago Heights area as a chaplain to the community, to help those in need. He speaks of the many homeless people who know they can "call Pastor Scott" if they have a spiritual need.
Christmas for Kids
This week, Reese is hoping to help make Christmas a little brighter for 1,000 children. For decades Pastor Reese has been collecting toys and getting them to the children in need, and this year he has a special opportunity to help.
New Life Baptist Church is part of the PADS program, in which homeless women and children can stay overnight at the church on predetermined days of the week. This year, one of those days will be Christmas Eve.
Reese says he could use some help from the community in building up gifts for his guests.
"There is always more need than we have toys," says Reese. "I want to help the children of the homeless. It's tough being homeless. It would be great to spread some joy and demonstrate God's love. For the moms we're looking for gift cards. When you're homeless it's hard to carry around a lot of things. Women have their own personal wish list. If they have a gift card, they're able to get what they need.
"The challenge would be as you go Christmas shopping for your children, ask, 'Can I bless one more child?' If you're children want to get involved, have them pick out a toy for a needy child."
Reese said he became inspired to give away toys after he visited a family on Christmas Eve one year.
"I saw they had a Christmas tree but no presents under the tree," Reese remembered. "It tugged at my heart. Here, two precious little girls didn't have anything for Christmas. I thought somehow I'm going to get some toys for this family. We found toys for that family. After that I said we're going to make a difference every year."
Full of stories, Reese related his giving heart to a tale about an old man on a seashore throwing starfish into the water.
"The ocean had washed up thousands of starfish onto the beach," Reese said. "The water had receded and the sun came out. The starfish were dying. This man was picking up and throwing as many as he could back into the water. The guy standing their watching asked him, 'Why are you doing this? Can't you see it's hopeless? You'll never get them all in the water.' The man on the beach picked up a starfish and said, 'I know, but at least for this one, it will make a difference.'"
To donate toys, gift cards or volunteer go to the Christ Cares website or call Pastor Scott Reese at 708-539-8939.
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