Heaven on Earth at North Lawndale's Hope House

By: James Keith Wright (seated front row on left)


I was born with muscular dystrophy, a disease that weakens the muscles. Struggling with drugs, alcohol and my physical condition, I lost everything. In time, my van that had $21,000 worth of conversions for me to drive with my disability and my integrity were all gone.

In 2005 I came from my hometown, Kansas City, Missouri, to attend a graduation in Chicago. Now I know God had something planned for me on that trip. Pastor Phil Jackson, my best friend, was a minister in the Lawndale Christian Community Church and Founder of the Firehouse Community Art Center on Ogden Avenue on Chicago’s west side. Phil told me about Hope House, a residential program right next to his youth center, that helps men who are recovering addicts and transitioning back into society after incarceration. Men in the program gain greater control and dignity in their lives through the outreach of the Lawndale Christian Community Church. A couple of days after arriving in Chicago I got a chance to attend the evening group meeting at Hope House and it truly spoke to my heart. That’s when I made the crucial decision to be a part of the program.

After staying in Hope House for a year I became a Pastoral Counselor in the Lawndale Christian Health Center right across the street for 9 years. Then one day I asked Pastor Joe Atkins, the Hope House Director, to let me be his assistant. To my great surprise he was excited to get my level of experience working with the residents at Hope House. So in March of 2017 I was hired as Hope House's Administrative Assistant and Lead Coordinator.

Then came July of 2018. Don Noe, a member of Old St. Patrick’s, called Hope House and asked if he and some members of his church could come on the second Saturday of each month to provide lunch and share kinship with our residents. We all agreed, and now under the direction of Jeff and Julie Albaugh and Don Noe, Old St. Pat’s members come regularly. We share delicious meals and warm fellowship with each other every single month. We watched a White Sox baseball game at Guaranteed Rate Field with a huge group from of Old St. Pat’s and North Lawndale in April of 2017. We assisted with the setup of the World’s Largest Block Party in front of Old St. Pat’s 2018. We also shared faith stories and good food with the Old St. Pat’s RCIA Group in April of 2019. At every 2nd Saturday gathering the men of Hope House give personal testimonies and then two members of Old St Pats share theirs as well. The heartfelt exchanges open up our hearts to what we have in common as human beings despite how much or little money we have or the condition of our clothing. Sometimes tears even get shed as we open our lives to each other and refuse to caught up in the separatism of the world. That’s what good neighbors do. Initially, none of us had an idea what the outcome of this arrangement would be but now we all realize it was the best decision for all who are involved.

The line in The Lord's Prayer that says, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven,” becomes a reality every time Hope House and Old St. Pat’s members get together. Men tossed aside by society based on their former alcoholism, drug addictions, incarceration and social isolation are blessed by these regular encounters. Nothing separates us as we share good food, conversations and laughs all the while becoming aware of how much we are alike deep down despite our racial, economic and cultural differences. There is intrinsic worth and glory of God’s creation in each of us.

Love is the greatest force for change, and God is love. The men of Hope House and I thank God for Old St. Patrick’s and the opportunity to come together in love. It is heaven right here on Earth.