A mission trip to Africa led Cindy VanderLaan of Frankfort to serve those in the poorest Chicago neighborhoods.
"I remember going to a church in Africa near an orphanage of 700 kids," said VanderLaan. "The church didn't even talk about the orphans or were involved. I remember being mad at the church wondering why aren't they helping these orphans.
"God hit me over the head and said, 'What are you doing with the needs in your community? Help those first before you come to Africa.'"
VanderLaan, a volunteer coordinator for the Orland Park Christian Reformed Church, contacted a pastor she had known for 10 years. Pastor Scott Reese is the founder of Christ Cares, a ministry that works in urban areas. The talk resulted in a Make A Difference Day held Nov. 17 at the Orland Park church.
Pastor Reese brought over 100 moms and children from the Roseland neighborhood and from Chicago Heights to enjoy a day of food, fun and fellowship at the church.
"What are we doing to help poverty in our area," said VanderLaan. "That's how Make A Difference Day started in our church. It actually makes us different. We set the day up just caring for them and have a day of development. We teach moms how to pray scripture for their children and teach self esteem to the teenagers."
As VanderLaan showed the various classes going on, Reese shared his ministry goals.
"This is a great partnership between the Orland Park Christian Reformed Church and Christ Cares," said Reese. "There are 80 moms and kids from Strong Tower homeless shelter in Roseland, the rest are from Chicago Heights. These are the people that Christ Cares works with. It is a great example what one church can do."
As children made their own winter scarves, they chatted about favorite sports teams and whats new in their world.
"We know a lot of kids in Roseland and Englewood don't go outside in the Summer because the neighborhood is not safe," VanderLaan said."So this actually started as a summer picnic."
Volunteers from the church cooked a hot meal for the guests including several roasted turkeys.
"The church is not about caring just for yourselves, it's about opening your eyes," said VanderLaan. "The church is the hope of the world with a Gospel message. We need to get more involved with the needs of the community."
As Reese walked about the gym speaking with the moms and children, a request for a turkey came from a mom of nine.
"We usually have more need than resources," said Reese. "If anyone is thinking of donating gifts, toys, school supplies and anything else, our ministry could use it."
The Orland Park Christinan Reformed Church hosts about five Make A Difference Days a year. They want to do more.
"We live in rich white suburbia. We don't always understand the needs of Englewood and Roseland," VanderLaan said. "I need Pastor Scott (Reese) to bridge that gap. Our church has embraced this ministry. The people at this church have a real desire to help the less fortunate."