Chicago plant invests itself into community

By Tobin Perry 

Qusai Mahmud
Qusai Mahmud (right) and a team from his church prepare for a ministry project related to the recent Chicago Marathon.

Qusai Mahmud sits at a table near a window in a small coffee shop on the north side of Chicago. As he listens to a new Chicago church planter share what he’s learning about the city, he takes a few sips from his coffee. With his thick, bushy goatee, shaven head and dark-rimmed glasses, Mahmud’s look fits right into urban Chicago. 

It’s home for the lifelong Chicagoan. Yet Mahmud’s life isn’t just tied to the city of Chicago. His life and ministry is also tied to a working-class Lower West Side community known to everyone in the Windy City as Pilsen.

Sixteen years ago Mahmud—‑whom everyone calls “Q”—and his family moved to the neighborhood from the other side of town because it was one of the few places in the city where the father of seven could find a place for the whole family on their budget. Yet God was up to something even bigger when he brought the family—which didn’t know Spanish or have a Hispanic background—into one of the most culturally Mexican communities in the city.

“We definitely felt God’s call to invest in this community, this neighborhood—in every aspect that you would do so,” Mahmud said. 

In time, God began to lay on Mahmud’s heart a call to plant a new church in the community. He says that in a two-mile by four-block neighborhood of 35,000 to 40,000 people, there may be only one other English-speaking evangelical church.

Leading different ministries at his church had demonstrated to others—including his pastor—that God had gifted him as a leader. He saw his neighborhood’s great need for new churches and longed to see it reached with the gospel.

Yet Mahmud resisted God’s call at first. “It was then a matter of whether I was going to yield to God’s call,” he said. “He had been making it very clear. I did the typical. I kept making excuses.”

Mahmud’s excuse number one: he had no time. He owned a messenger business that was just beginning to take off. It was taking all of his time and energy. That’s when, according to Mahmud, God began clearing his schedule. At its height, the business had 90 employees. Today, it has 15.

Mahmud’s excuse number two: he had no formal theological training. So God opened up an opportunity to go back to school at night.

Finally, about four years ago, Mahmud ran out of excuses. Realizing with certainty that God was calling him to start a church. He went to his pastor and shared the vision. Excited about what God was doing through Mahmud, he pledged his total support—and even gave the planter-to-be permission to share his vision with other church members and let them join him in the effort.

“We all talk kingdom,” said Mahmud, noting that the church had about 80 in attendance most weeks. “But it’s a whole other thing to live it out. My pastor was a kingdom guy.”

By August of 2011 Mahmud’s five-member core team had already moved to Pilsen. Even before that, they had started holding Bible studies together. With everyone now located in Pilsen, they held a series of six “preview services” in Mahmud’s backyard. Despite the fact they were still small, the church wanted to continue meeting in Pilsen. Itching to get started, Mahmud rented a place to meet and moved his messenger service in there to give it weeklong occupancy.

Since Mahmud planned to continue running his business on a full-time basis, the young church could afford to handle its small budget in a radical manner—splitting it 50/50. Half the church’s budget would go to internal needs and half would be given away to a variety of causes—including the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program offering, local church planting efforts and local and international ministry projects.

“We’ve got a great sense of sacrifice and generosity going on,” Mahmud said. “For not a very big church, we’ve been able to do some pretty incredible things, in terms of financially blessing people and ministries.”

As an example, Mahmud pointed to a destitute girl with cancer in Indonesia the church had heard about through an in-country missionary. She needed only about $1,000 to get treatment. The church was able to help her with those expenses.

“For our church it’s been very encouraging to realize that you don’t have to have 2,000 people in the church to really impact and make a difference and be Christ to people,” Mahmud said.

In addition to its Cooperative Program and help for other local church plants, the church feeds more than 80 homeless people every week by partnering with a local ministry to the homeless.

Mahmud believes bivocational ministry is the key to reaching urban areas like Chicago. The expense of living in the city and the small size of many urban churches makes full-time vocational ministry tough—and may limit the number of churches that can be planted in the city.

“You now have a fertile witness field where you work,” he added. Mahmud noted that he’s led several of his employees to Christ—including at least one couple that’s attending his church now.

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. 

Date Created: 10/12/2012 12:22:36 PM

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