Little Village - it’s a quaint enough name for this neighborhood of nearly 90,000 on the south-west side of Chicago. But amongst the cute bungalows of the formerly Polish neighborhood, Little Village houses decades of brokenness. Here the predominantly Mexican population, trapped in the cyclic poverty pandemic, seeks a place of rest and belonging. Unfortunately, many turn to gangs, drugs, and prostitution. But Little Village hasn’t escaped God’s attention. Neither is it evading His grace. Our team, led by Chris Orphus, cares deeply about meeting the needs of the whole person. One of the team's ministries, BLING, offers its participants a way to earn money and engage in conversations about Jesus.
Beads, string, wire and markers scatter the two foldout tables where eight teenage girls sit laughing and chatting. Heather begins the study and Connie volunteers to read the first verse, Jeremiah 29:11.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future,” she reads. Discussion commences.
“If you could do anything you wanted to and were not limited,” Heather begins, “what would you do?”
The girls take turns around the table imagining themselves doing great things and serving for great causes.
Their eyes are filled with hope and dreams as they’re given permission to step out of the expectations of their environment - poverty, drugs, gangs and prostitution. And the interaction is beautiful as one understands what this meeting, B.L.I.N.G., is all about. (Building Leaders in the Next Generation)
Bling started in 2009, in a Chicago neighborhood, as an option for girls to respectfully earn money rather than resorting to prostitution or selling drugs. Young women gather weekly in this safe environment to talk about Jesus and life while making jewelry as a source of income.
Bling came to Little Village in July 2012 and has touched many lives. Girls like Connie will testify to this.
“I was born here in Little Village,” Connie freely shares, “I’m not gonna say it’s easy; it’s kinda tough just being here - the violence and the gangs and the drugs. I myself have a lot of access to drugs and gangs and violence and alcohol.”
But before Connie could get wrapped up in that lifestyle, she met Heather and learned about Bling. She began attending and was paired with her mentor, Samantha. Having seen the impact it’s made on her own life, Connie enthusiastically acts as an unofficial spokesperson for Bling.
“How lucky I am that I met Heather and Samantha. I don’t know if I would still be alive if I didn’t meet them. I probably would’ve been out there with the gangs, the drugs. Because that’s the easiest way out of things, and that’s the easiest way to earn money,” Connie explains.
Bling impacted Connie in ways that stretch beyond meeting her physical needs. She heard about Jesus and was able to ask questions and explore what it looked like to follow Him.
“Now I know who Jesus Christ is and I know that God gave up His only Son for our sins. [I know] that God gave us many opportunities, and we have the opportunity to be with Him, beside Him, one day.”