My family recently took our annual family vacation. Two years ago we visited Branson and had such an amazing time that we almost went back this year. However, we took a trip to Chicago instead. The last time we went there was in 2011. Neither of our kids really remembered it, and I suggested that we take an Amtrak train out of Bryan. This pretty much led to an immediate buy-in from both of them.

We had an amazing time! Each of us claims a different experience from the trip as our favorite. Steph enjoyed our walk along Lake Shore Drive from the Shedd Aquarium to Navy Pier, as well as watching the kids’ faces as they experienced new things. Both of them loved taking public transit, which surprised us!

Connor really enjoyed seeing the beluga whales at the Shedd. Cami loved our nightly visits to Sprinkles Cupcakes, especially the first night when we used the cupcake ATM (seriously, it’s so cool, look it up!).

For me, my favorite part was our visit to Sushi+, a rotary sushi restaurant. In essence, small-bite plates of sushi travel along a conveyor belt around the restaurant. When you see something you want to try, grab it and enjoy! Plates were color-coded, so we told the kids they could eat whatever they wanted to try from their assigned plate colors. Connor and I split tako nigiri (again, look it up!), which he actually liked quite a bit (me, not so much)! I loved the experience so much that I suggested a day trip back to Chicago just to eat there.

Life in Chicago

The majority of our time was spent near Michigan Avenue, otherwise known as the Magnificent Mile. We limited our subway travel exclusively to the Red Line subway. Most of our bus routes were between the stuff along Lake Michigan and our hotel. I highlight it because we were careful while there: we kept the kids in our sights at all times, were in by 9pm, and visited only the safer areas of the city.

Nevertheless, there were things I noticed even in our relatively sanitized trip to Chicago. Metropolitan culture is so much different than the rural society Steph and I grew up in. Ironically, I wanted to live in the big city my entire life until a 2003 trip to Chicago burnt me with heavy traffic.

I guess a bit of background is important: both of my degrees are in behavioral sciences. Studying social interactions fascinates me, and with my recent background in pastoral studies, I observed people with different eyes during this trip.

Everyone person we walked past, sat beside, or talked to is in need of a Savior.

Make Disciples

This isn’t to say there aren’t Christians in Chicago: in fact, one of our Uber drivers was a Christian. I struck up a conversation with him as we drove from our hotel to Union Station. I discovered that he attended Willow Creek, one of the churches on my bucket list. It was cool to have our trip bookended by a conversation with a fellow believer.

Our first driver was a super nice Muslim woman who made a living driving for Uber. We didn’t discuss religion: I actually didn’t notice her faith until after she dropped us off. Rather, our conversation reflected the principles from Matthew 28:19a.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations…

Notice Jesus didn’t say to make converts. Nor did He say to evangelize everyone you meet. He said to make disciples. How do you do that?

You plant seeds. You show kindness. You develop relationships.

Empty stares

Granted, it is unrealistic to expect to develop a relationship with a random stranger on a short trip to another city. Nevertheless, surely there’s a way to be a city on a hill to those who need it?

On every bus and subway trip, I noticed how riders almost immediately pulled out their smartphones and spent the entire time on them. I realize that, in some cases, people are using them as a literal defense mechanism: if your eyes are fixated on your phone, you’re less likely to be approached by someone with ulterior motives.

But even when embarking and disembarking, people seemed stressed out. Lost. Empty.

Maybe I came across as a tourist by doing so, but as often as I could I said “thank you”, “excuse me” and “have a good day” to those around me. Some people appeared to be taken back by it; others seemed to appreciate it. These interactions were nothing more than seeds — a sign to let them know there is still good in the world.

Earn the right to preach the Gospel

Despite my pastoral call, I’ve tried my best to preach the Gospel to the unchurched not with words but through my actions. Earlier in my career, I made the conscious decision to separate faith and work. I didn’t discuss church or what I believed in any way, shape or form. Yet, one of my contractors picked up on my beliefs through my actions and the way I treated my newspaper carrier force.

What I failed to recognize is that was an open door. I didn’t evangelize; I simply lived my life. The moment my contractor let me know he saw Jesus in me, I could have used that as an opportunity to ask him about his relationship with Jesus.

Our first Uber driver might not have realized we were believers, but hopefully whatever kindness we showed resonated with her. It’s up to the next Christian who meets her to water the seed we planted.

Perspective

I came home from our trip to Chicago with a different perspective than I had when I left. It’s a place full of opportunity for the church to serve. This is true of any city really and that’s what I want to leave you with today. Ask yourself if the unsaved can see Jesus through your actions? Are you planting seeds, or is God calling you to do the watering? Or, do you need to make a course correction and approach people differently?

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Most importantly, I am just an ordinary man saved by an amazing grace I do not deserve. I believe integrity is of the utmost importance. Personally, I am a husband and father. My family matters immensely to me and everything I do is because of and for them.

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