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One of the Jesus People: Alex Ling spends two months working in intercity missions

Alex Ling

WORTHINGTON -- In uptown Chicago, there is an apartment building that serves as a Christian community.

Jesus People USA is a Covenant-affiliated group of 450 Christians. The individuals pool their money so that everyone is equal. To support the community financially, Jesus People has a coffee shop, a roofing supply company, a record company and also a printing company. It also does a lot of outreach programs, including two homeless shelters and a low-income housing program. The biggest event is the Cornerstone Music Festival that takes place every summer.

Alex Ling, 19, of Worthington, spent time this summer there volunteering his time to learn more about the mission field.

Ling is a student at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus, and a graduate of Worthington High School. He is also an active member of the First Covenant Church.

"I wanted to go somewhere intercity and learn about homelessness, because I would like to go into intercity ministry," Ling explained. "So I went there to see it firsthand. I got involved when I found them under the Covenant mission's page online, and my pastor had recommended it previously."

Ling left shortly after summer began and spent almost two months living in the community.

"It takes at least that long to get your bearings and get used to the community," he said.

Ling shared a dorm-style apartment with two roommates. The building is set for the single men living in the community, and there is also a place set aside for visiting youth groups.

"It was a decent-sized room, it was like living in a small apartment, and both my roommates were awesome," he said.

Once there, Ling was given a set of tasks to do around the community itself.

"The very first thing they have you do is the guys go on home crew, the girls are assigned to house crew. Home crew is basically doing the dishes, clean the dining room, the bathrooms and the main floor. You are basically the work force to keep the home clean," said Ling.

The upper levels of Jesus People are reserved for low-income seniors to rent, and another job was tearing up carpet or painting the walls before a new resident moved in. They also have daily devotions and Bible studies that participants are encouraged to attend.

Outside the community, Jesus People members reach out to the people in their individual field and minister to them. There are a bunch of smaller outreaches everywhere.

"I spent a day driving around Chicago in a truck picking up donations that were given to the Cornerstone Community outreach homeless shelter. We picked up a bunch of mattresses and carpets and stuff like that," Ling recalled.

He also did things outside the community to expand his exposure to different Christian efforts.

"I got together with a group of people that met every Saturday in downtown Chicago, and we would go and spend time with the homeless people. We'd bring food, and we'd have a Bible study. We would walk around, hang out with people, figure out how their day was going and pray with them if they wanted it. It was good to see their views on life and their situations," he said.

Because Jesus People is a Christian community, he said, the members are constantly challenging each other's religious views. Jesus People refers to its program as "church done different" because everyone lives together, so church lasts all week.

"It was different than anything else I had experienced here," he said. "It opened up my eyes to community living, and it also helped me to understand where homeless people are coming from far better than when I first got there."

One of the major events in which Ling got to participate was the Cornerstone Music Festival, which draws about 13,000 people each year. It is an annual event in Bushnell, Ill., this year from June 29 through July 4. It featured more than 500 bands that played all sorts of music.

During most of the Cornerstone Music Festival, Ling worked on the garbage truck.

"We went around and picked up all the trash, but we had a good crew," he said.

On nights off, he would walk around and see some of the bands and spend time with friends. Most of the people coming to the festival camped out in the empty field used for the event.

"It's more than just a music festival -- it's a Christian outreach event," he said.

During the festival, there are also different sports and games that are open to everyone.

For Ling, being part of Jesus People offered a variety of lessons and experiences.

"My favorite part was hanging out with the people in the community; it was like one big family. You get to know a group, and you get to hang out with them a lot because you live together. It was really interesting to see community living. It's a sense of family and knowing that someone is looking out for you," Ling said.

"The biggest surprise for me was that the community wasn't solely devoted to outreach. It wasn't a missionary camp; it was a community and a home for people, so a lot of the work to be done involved ministry within the community," he added. "You are constantly around the same people, and the biggest lesson is learning how to deal with people."

Ling hopes to continue gaining experience in intercity missions and to grow in his faith.

"I'm following wherever God leads. I went there to learn and I was greatly blessed by their ministry and by what they taught me."

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