College kids these days, you never know what they’re into. I’ve had French students ask me to recommend a jazz club, Blues bar, or the best tavern to watch soccer. Imagine my surprise, when a group asked me to find them a church to attend: Specifically, one with gospel music. 

I immediately thought of Living Word Christian Center. I had never attended a service there but had heard good things. Because Living Word is a mega-church, I didn’t expect our group to receive any special consideration. However, from the time I called Kim Clay, Director of Communications, the church made extraordinary preparations for the French students. 

As the snow kept falling, I feared the students wouldn’t make it to Forest Park on Super Snow Sunday. However, seven students braved the blizzard to take the Blue Line from the North Side. It was no picnic for my wife and me to meet them at the station. We trudged down the street, the snow stinging our faces and the wind giving us “ice cream headaches.” 

Living Word’s shuttle bus picked us up at Des Plaines. When we pulled up to the church, they had professional photographer, Jessica Rifis, there to record our arrival.  Kim led us to our reserved seats in the second row of the sanctuary. She then took us into Pastor Bill Winston’s office, where we posed for a photo with him and his wife. As the students filed back into the sanctuary, they were handed headsets. Living Word had hired Karina Lashley, a professional French interpreter, to provide a simultaneous translation of Pastor Winston’s sermon.

Before hearing the message, though, we were blown away by the church’s choir and band, as they delivered powerful renditions of praise and worship songs. As if that wasn’t enough, liturgical dancers made synchronized moves to the music. One student was so overcome by the stirring music and the church’s warm welcome, she needed a box of tissues. 

Pastor Winston began his remarks by greeting the students in French. He alluded to the students several times during his sermon, congratulating them on their faith in coming through the blizzard. He spoke for about an hour but it was never boring. Preaching without notes, he never sounded “preachy.” He was unafraid to talk about his humble beginnings in Tuskegee, Alabama and his financial struggles as a young man.  He also demonstrated his encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible, calling up one verse after another to be displayed on the screens. 

At the end, he extended an altar call for those needing special prayer. I was surprised when four of the French students came forward, including a young man who doesn’t speak a word of English. They were led to a special prayer room, while the rest of us, clutching our “gift” bags, went to a room where food was laid out for us. After this continental breakfast, Living Word drove the students back to the Blue Line.

I assigned the students to write a paragraph about the experience. One wrote, “Yesterday was my best day in Chicago.” Another handed in a three-page paragraph. Her last line was, “I visited many churches in Europe and Africa, but honestly Living Word was my best experience.” 

So, I’d like to thank Living Word for their incredible hospitality and salute the “Magnificent Seven:” Franck, Corentin, Karen, Timhene, Ombeline, Joseph and Hamed, for making it through the snow. I wonder where they’ll want to go next – the library?

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.

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