I walked into 4707 N. Malden in Chicago [location of Jesus People USA/JPUSA] in the early 80s--my life at JPUSA was about to begin. I was very young; full of energy and this was the place to be.
My early memories include gearing up for the first Cornerstone--"Cornerstone '84." Life was crazy, but oh how great it was! That first Cornerstone was a mess and we were just starting out--come rain, high water (and it all came), but we weathered the storm. We learned from our experience and made "Cornerstone '85" even better.
I quickly grew accustomed to the goings on at JPUSA. Then the community was very new, still trying to figure out who it was and how to lead several hundred people just getting over their "hippie" stage. The pastors were young and made mistakes--just like any new church trying to find its place in the world and amongst one another.
JPUSA grew quickly. More people kept coming--long-term people. We were constantly expanding and growing. We were alive; the doors open--neighborhood children walking in and out like we were their second home. And maybe we kind of were.
God was in control and he kept us safe from harm--there was no need to keep the homeless out then and there was always Stryder--our mangy Great Dane. He kept everyone at bay, even in his old age, barking at people that weren't there and obeying only Frank Simmons. What a wonderful dog he was! I won't go on about the other dog Duke.
Church was held within our dining room and it was becoming more packed every week in those early days with newcomers anxious to find out what these "Jesus People" were all about. We were so alive with our doors open to the world. Up on the third floor at Malden kids ran through the hallways, or should I say ruled the hallways. Old movies ran in the living room, someone was always frying something in the kitchen and people were making things.
Magnolia, the laundry place, was a long walk every week--or at least it seemed so me to do laundry. The occasional request from a single sister, "Can you carry my laundry over there?" Some of the single brothers did and probably still do. They complained, grumbled, but prayed subsequently to get their heart right and proceeded to carry over the pounds of clothes that were necessary for many families.
The Leland Street building, not the Leland you know now--was then the testosterone no man's land of somewhat clean, but still stinky single brothers. It was there territory--no women allowed and most often no woman cared to go there. Go in and you would think you were in some Tim Burton [Edward Scissorhands] film--a dark staircase leading up to who knows where. Each room different from the next. One room might have several rats; not wild rats mind you, the tame white hair kind with red eyes, but really creepy. Hey, they loved those guys, they really did. The next room might have birds--many birds with many nests and babies. Leland was a temple, a monk's dream or more precisely a bachelor's pad and a woman's nightmare. New guys might come through the ministry and they would be sent there--never knowing if they would return for dinner at the Malden dinning room that evening.
In those days the foreigners were somewhat of a new experience. The early 80s were a time, which included what JPUSA now often refers to as "Those Germans." Strange talking and strange acting foreigners who would caravan from their country, bringing with them their nuances and subtleties. They made our America, no JPUSA, a little more fun. Soon many others would follow, not just from Germany, but from Sweden, Spain, South Africa, Brazil, Finland, Denmark and France--the list goes on and it kept growing.
Outreach, ministries and businesses
We still grew; Cornerstone was growing more in popularity and becoming the newest and best Christian music festival around. Moving into the mid to late 80s--no one could stop us.
A shelter was spun off from our lobby/dinning room of Malden. It became one of Chicago's most prestigious shelters for women and children. That shelter would also give birth to a new breed of JPUSA guys called the "Shelter Guys" or "Shelter Drivers." But now I'm getting ahead of myself.
Lakefront Roofing Supply [a JPUSA related business] was then taking off too--it started up right across from what would be the new JPUSA. That building is now the infamous Chelsea Hotel. Lakefront Roofing was that place where you would get money--that precious green stuff that was once unfamiliar to JPUSAs. I could get $3 lunch money on Mondays and Tuesdays and though that is a very small amount--back then food was cheaper. Ask a "Lakefront Guy" how much they get now.
Since we are on the subject of businesses, let's talk about a few of those ill-fated businesses that went under without anyone realizing, or even knowing until they were told. First we had those wonderful roofers--everyone loved that elite group of JPUSA men who "Got It" like no others. That's all we'll say about them. Then let's not forget the Painters. There were also the JPUSA Movers or something like that. Oh, and The Porch People--a group of ex-roofers who were just as mean and tough as anyone, but really like big huge teddy bears.
Now I will move on to the late 80s. Things were changing at JPUSA then--we were growing too fast and needed a bigger a building. Everyone wanted to be together. But it was time to start looking. Chelsea, a huge building at 920 W. Wilson in Chicago became available. Rumors flew. The rooms there were twice the size of those at Malden/Maggie or so they said. The infamous "They." Does anyone know who "They" are? Anyway, when we moved it was a point of change for JPUSA--a move that would determine the future of this Spirit-filled, God-centered community. This was the point when the mission would become--the community.
Strange and unsettling
The next few years proved to be strange and unsettling, but after the move things were still good. There was a sense of loss--the loss of an old home, old memories and perhaps the best memories. JPUSA was now changing and we would settle in our new home during the renovation process. This process was quick for some people, but slow for many more. Gallons of stripper for seemingly endless paint removal. Often JPUSA's women were the ones who told their husbands to strip this window, that floor, windowsill and baseboard. Does this sound familiar?
After months of work we were in and the Malden and Maggie buildings seemed to become almost lifeless places--this was strangely foreign for JPUSA, which was used to so many people with no privacy at virtually all times of the day.
Even though we got through all that people began to leave again--some for good reasons and others for not so good reasons, but God was with them. That was life, people came and people left. But it was supposed to be different here--how could anyone want to leave JPUSA? We had it so good, everything provided for us--what more could anyone want? What were their reasons for leaving? This was a very popular, but unspoken question. A question with an answer that was none of our concern, but we still needed an answer. Being JPUSAs we generally found out through one source or another. That was how things worked. You heard about everything, whether you wanted to or not. After all, most churches have their grapevines. So, life moved on--for a while.
Now attack came--unfounded rumors from someone who had never even visited JPUSA. We were outraged and somewhat scared, but prepared to face accusations with everything we had. These accusations would send many away, close many doors, but open many more. The aftermath was strange--suicide, attempted suicide, a possible church collapsing before us and a new property catching on fire.
But "every church has its problems, nothing was wrong and needs were being met." This became a pat answer often used when issues were not really being specifically confronted and addressed.
We moved on, changed and became different. Things were vastly different from those early days at Malden/Maggie. Gone was the open front door--the new Senior's residence would not allow it. The door shut and the guidelines said, no coffee, no sandwiches--someone else somewhere can help them and they don't need caffeine, only water and they are fed at Wilson Care.
Our new yard was graciously paid for through a grant. We built the walls high, so high no one could see over--for safety reasons. We had to protect our children and ourselves. But what had happened to God's protection, which we once talked about before at Malden/Maggie?
Communication collapsed even further along the way. There were a few unsuccessful 10-year members meetings that could not be controlled, even with a mediator and an agenda. People spoke up and there were uncontrolled outbursts. But they had to be controlled--so no more members meetings. The council didn't like them anyway.
The Internet soon was discovered as a new, wonderful tool at JPUSA. But we also learned about Internet abuse, which we dealt with and it was forgiven. But things kept changing. Your computer was shut off after a certain number of X-rated errors, or bad words/ phrases--innocent or not, without you knowing or being asked, or you agreeing. Many computers were shut down. People were watched. Watched while they surfed the net--their personal information logged in a computer somewhere and the right to privacy somewhat altered. Gone. But people didn't pay for their Internet service so JPUSA had that right. But did they? There is that infamous "they" again.
Email became yet another great way for newcomers and foreigners to keep in contact with friends and family. Used by many, but often shut down because of a few misuses. No discussion about it--just shut it off, taken away and no one asked--no communication. Small though these issues may seem to be by themselves--these few issues became many over the years and had a cumulative effect.
More people kept leaving. But nothing is wrong at JPUSA. Except in the eyes of those leaving--just disgruntled ex-members who are crazy anyway. People began to talk amongst themselves, "Why are people leaving?" "Oh, it's just that time again." People disagreed with this, or they disagreed with that, so "it's better if they move on," they said. Those people tried to bring up their issues to authority, but nothing happened. Some even went to the Covenant Church, and so they said, "These people wish ill will towards JPUSA" and "They want to sow discord." But doesnt the bible say something about going over someones head if you do not feel things are not handled right? I think it does.
Some answers to the many questions
Solid long-term members of JPUSA, seeing how things needed to be changed here and there came to talk to authority, which is what they say they want. But you can't go over their heads despite their inaction or disinterest. If you do you may be asked to leave.
The easy answer is--"Every church has its problems, it's everywhere." And "every church goes through this."
No turnover of leadership and no new pastors--were we so comfortable with the same leaders? There never seems to be a need for change in this area. But of course we are told that we can always go and talk to them if we feel a need to. But even though almost fifty couples in the past three and one half years have left JPUSA--still nothing is wrong, everything is good and of course as always "needs are being met."
Some are told, "Many newcomers [at JPUSA] are provided for here and they are doing good." And so they are, but let me offer this analogy--a child often does not see its parent's problems, but still is provided for. And that child's parents may have serious problems in their marriage, which have existed for many years. Often as that child grows older such problems become more obvious.
Where are those happy times, those good memories at JPUSA? They are there, few and far and in between. Mingled with the memories of several guys who were thrown out of their building because of a fire and not allowed back in because of false accusations--that they had a "Different Vision." No questions asked. Just completely false rumors that started through hearsay--the kind of hearsay that drove away many people. No meetings to discuss this were allowed. After all, you cannot control a mob--so kill the fire before it starts.
Changes at JPUSA?
Then came the signs up in the lobby/dinning room. "I'll pay ten bucks for someone to do my shelter slot." Did we have to pay each other to do work in a mission division of JPUSA? Someone said, "Hey, I'm going on a golf trip." Well that's not inherently wrong, but where are our priorities? Are they in the 27 or 32 inch screen television sets that are the new rave. Again, not bad things, but where are our priorities?
Cornerstone Festival is changing too. Reports of major drug use. People writing letters outraged that their child could be exposed to such garbage at a Christian Festival, which doesn't happen at the Creation Festival. But some say, "Creation doesn't have the bands we have, they are a big CCM festival anyhow. Cornerstone is bigger, better with more people and more money. Right.
Cornerstone Magazine, another mission division of JPUSA--with two issues a year if you're lucky. It is now a half-hearted magazine that talks about the same issues again and again, but it used to be cutting edge years ago. Everything has to go through the Senior Editor, "Oh, they're gone this weekend, push the deadline up three more weeks" someone says. "Good, I'm going on vacation anyway, I dont think they liked that color anyway."
But after all, "JPUSA is just going through a hard time right now."
One day someone said, "Oh, I have to go--were adding an extension on my trailer." And "Is there a reason why the PrimeStar is not working?" Someone will take a look at it when they come down.
Anther person says, "We just finished the room, but I think we are leaving the community. We are just not happy here."
But we know that "all churches have problems, every one of them, you won't find a perfect church anywhere."
What do the older members who are not pastors think? What about the kids who have grown up here? What do the kids think about how JPUSA has changed? Well, of course they too can supposedly always go and express their views or thoughts to the council or those in leadership--after all their doors are always open. Whatever.
JPUSA has spent years through Cornerstone Magazine attacking others--making accusations that others are corrupt, but when someone points the finger at them there is denial and silence. Doors are shut and the reigns are pulled back.
The Sleepers must awaken
How much wrong can one live with before its too much? How much can a person overlook and really be comfortable?
What about Uptown Christian School?
It seems that the authority there really tries to be the parent whether the child is in school or not. Why do the principle and the leaders at the school--without consulting parents first make decisions for children? Why are a child's actions at home penalized at school? School authorities claim that those disciplined must be kept away from the other children. Keep the thorns from the roses.
After all, don't you know that "all churches have problems, every one of them, you won't find a perfect church anywhere."
People may ask, "What happened to the years at Malden/Maggie?" They are often answered, "They're gone, we're different now, don't you know were always changing." Indeed. Where is the communication? Is the authority meeting with individuals for input? Well, they say their "door is open." But that's not the same thing as meaningful communication. They excuse this and say, "We are dealing with a big issue right now, wait a few weeks." Didn't one of the pastors have to leave years ago for this type of behavior? Doesn't there seem to be a pattern here?
They say things like--"Everything will be fine, it just takes time" and "What would you change if you could?"
Look beyond the bubble that you're in, strain hard, it may hurt your eyes. Give it time and your eyes will get used to it if you are patient. Weed the garden before the weeds choke out the remaining flowers. Some may say that certain flowers are unwanted, but whos to say any flower is unwanted in Gods garden--often more aptly called, The Church.
JPUSA's "FEST 4 US" is a great party, a good time, but it will not fix the broken or nourish the hungry. When the party is over our problems are still there waiting.
JPUSA people claim, "God is really doing something here." Well I agree, but it's time to wake up. None of these problems are new, it's been going on for years and it's just coming to a head.
There have still been wonderful things about JPUSA, but lately the bad is overshadowing the good and that means the bad is not being dealt with. Many people at JPUSA will defend and rationalize--that's only natural since they continue to live there. That doesn't mean they should move--I believe God is still doing something there.
For those within JPUSA who recognize these problems--it will be hard to speak out and it will hurt. But silence equals support. If you see wrong and you remain silent and/or leave it up to someone else or are doing nothing because you don't feel like it--then you may become a an accomplice by default.
Let the sleepers awaken
"Authority in a community is not all-powerful. There are always limits to it. The responsibility of the leaders should be well defined in the community's constitution, and that constitution must also guarantee the right of all members to express their concerns about the way authority is exercised. If it does not do this, the door is open to division and dissent." --Jean Vanier, Community and Growth
As it stands now, Jesus People USA is falling apart. Current members of course will deny this statement across the board, but more and more members have left and are leaving.
Deception has many faces and often the most prevalent one appears as VIRTUE. JPUSA paints its face quite well--if you visit them the surface will seem fine. But in my experience the leadership is perhaps the most two faced people that you might ever meet.
Again, of course they would ACT like nothing could possibly be wrong. They say, "We are not a cult." Whatever.
But they have run out of excuses and the sleepers are beginning to awake.
"Authority in a community is not all-powerful. There are always limits to it. The responsibility of the leaders should be well defined in the community's constitution, and that constitution must also guarantee the right of all members to express their concerns about the way authority is exercised. If it does not do this, the door is open to division and dissent." -- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth