An interview with church planter and entrepreneur Jamie Thompson
Jamie Thompson was born and raised in Humboldt Park in Chicago. By the time Jamie graduated college, Humboldt was a completely gentrified neighborhood, and many former residents moved to Garfield Park. Jamie knew he wanted to be a church planter, but did not feel called to a gentrified area, so he and his family followed the exodus to Garfield Park to plant Reborn Community Church.
On Mission: Tell me about your move to Garfield Park.
Jamie Thompson: We had been married for two years, going on three, and we had our first baby when we moved into the community. Now we have four kids, so they all know this as home.
OM: What did you know about the neighborhood before you moved here?
JT: I grew up in Humboldt Park, right next to Garfield Park, and when I was growing up it was one of the worst areas of Chicago. We were in a very bad neighborhood. My parents moved there to minister to at-risk kids and youth, so, we moved into a very broken community—gangs, violence and shootings were the norm for me growing up. I was used to being one of the only White boys in the neighborhood. Since most of Humboldt moved to Garfield Park after it was gentrified, I felt like I knew the community pretty well already. You have to understand, when you grow up in a bad area, the goal is to get out. So it was a lot to process when the Lord called me to move further in—not move out. When Humboldt changed, and I knew where God was leading me, moving to Garfield Park just made sense.
OM: Can you talk through some of the tension you felt when moving your family into this community?
JT: You go through a lot of scary moments. It’s one thing to risk your safety or your own comfort, but it's hard when you have to risk the comfort of those you love. I remember people at my wife's job before we moved saying that I wasn't loving her by doing this, so you have to deal with a lot of those kinds of things.
I remember seeing a guy out of my back window being jumped by a group of guys at 1 a.m. I was overwhelmed with fear. I remember having racial slurs yelled at me, and people telling me to get out of the neighborhood as I drove down the block or just walked into my home. There were times when we were trying to engage the block, and people didn't want to talk to us. There was a lot of rejection and a lot of fear.
The spiritual warfare in the community is thick. I never felt such spiritual attack. We've had times my whole family has been overwhelmed with fear—kids waking up with bad dreams, and it gets real, you know. You are constantly asking yourself if you have to stay. Coming back from a vacation one summer, my wife broke down in tears the moment we pulled into the neighborhood. It was such a drastic shift from a peaceful few weeks and coming back to the stresses of ministry here. You have to walk close to the Lord, you know. Ministry like this is going to test your theology.
OM: How do you encourage your family when they are feeling these tensions?
JT: One night after Bible study, I had just dropped my kids off at the house, and was going to give some other people rides home. But as I drove away, I heard a gun shot. I turned back around to check on my family, and the bullet had gone through my window, hit our couch and gone into the wall. When I walked in, the kids are all looking at me frightened—realizing that they almost got a bullet. It could of hit one of them, but they were safe.
I looked at all my kids, and I just said, "Praise God! Praise God! You know, He didn't let the bullet hit you guys." And in that moment, I was overwhelmed with fear. And I'm looking at the fear on my wife's face, but I realize this moment is an opportunity to give the right perspective. God's is just as much in control as He was before the gunshot and after the gunshot. He is in control of all things at all times. And I needed my kids to know that God was in control, and the bullet didn't hit them because God was in control of that moment. So we prayed, and we praised God, and the kids went to bed with this perspective.
Then I walked into the kitchen as my wife was bawling, and we prayed, and tried to come back to the right perspective and have faith that God's in control.
So ministry like this tests what you really believe about God. You can talk about it, but when you're living in a neighborhood like this, you're going to have to live by faith that God is in complete control. He is sovereign.
OM: Have you seen any signs of Garfield Park becoming gentrified? How do you feel about that?
JT: So the east side of Garfield Park is already recovering economically, and development has started again. It's hard to buy a place in East Garfield Park. But the west side of the community isn't close to being gentrified. We have the most appeal for people[MF1] , because we have a 290 expressway that goes right through the neighborhood, and two train lines that go through the neighborhood. So it's just easy access to the downtown community.
What we're trying to do is buy homes, buy buildings and get a process in place where we can sell these buildings to community members, so they have a stake in the neighborhood and don't need to be pushed out. I've watched gentrification happen in multiple areas, and we would love to be part of something that would not allow it to happen completely here. I believe diversity is healthy. So I think some movement and some addition of different groups and cultures is helpful. Diversity is healthy. But to push everybody out is a failure on our part. I think we need to create jobs and help get people employed, so they have money to buy homes. We need to help them take that step.
Are you interested in becoming a bivocational church planter like Jamie? Brad Brisco, director of bivocational church planting at NAMB, gives his top three reasons why he would recommend planting bivocationally here.