Founded by the historic baseball player Bill Sunday, Wayside Cross Ministries has been a staple in Aurora, IL for over 90 years.
Their initial mission of serving the local transient male population has blossomed over the decades to serving all who suffer drug and alcohol addiction – from inmates, youths, single moms, and others in need of transitional living.
From the beginning, the organization faithfully committed itself to serving those whom society has marginalized.
But now, some local politicians want to run this ministry out of town.
Throughout the years, Wayside has proven itself a cornerstone.
The organization serves the Aurora, IL community under six divisions and has even moved into a second city.
Their growth over the years has provided additional services such as resale shops (which many of the program attendees work), the ‘Master’s Touch’ inmate release program, independent living arrangements, GED or college courses, and many life-skills programs.
Those who attend receive the Word of God, access to a network of churches, Christian men and women mentors, and the ability to transform their lives.
What community would not want access to this?
This God-centered and life-transforming organization has serviced its community for over 90 years and has an impeccable reputation. It offers services that no other organization provides— taking men and women off the street and teaching them valuable life skills.
Wayside Cross Mission has built itself on the foundational principles of Christ, faith, and serving others. Their vision is “…to be a Christ-centered ministry pursuing excellence through transforming lives for God’s glory.”
So why is an organization that’s served its community for almost a century being asked to leave?
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin has gone on the offense against Wayside Cross Ministries, launching repeated attacks on the ministry.
As one would expect from a ministry like Wayside, many of whom they serve have sinful pasts.
And the Mayor has made it his mission to highlight those sinful pasts and stir-up crowds of opposition among the citizens of Aurora.
There have even been protests staged outside the ministry’s headquarters.
The Mayor’s attacks are centered around five men who were convicted in the past of child-sex crimes, but who served their time in jail, completed the reform program offered at Wayside, and now serve the ministry as resident staff.
Richard Boer, who is a Wayside volunteer, drives these men to a church program every Thursday night and has gotten to understand the men and hear their stories.
According to the Chicago Tribune, “The men have formed a brotherhood, working, eating and bunking together.”
“My concern is for the welfare of these men and that they’ll be cast off somewhere that doesn’t give them a support system,” Boer said.
Adding fuel to Mayor Irvin’s fire, Wayside recently provided housing in their facility to a man named Thomas Kokolerais who was involved in a slew of rapes and murders that occurred in the area during the 1980s.
Although Kokolerais did not personally commit the rapes and murders, he admitted to being present when they occurred and, according to the Kane County Chronicle, “was convicted based on the accountability theory, which means he was held accountable for acts committed by other individuals.”
Kokolerais was sentenced to 70 years with the possibility of parole after 35 years good behavior, which he was granted this year.
“We are certainly aware of, and sensitive to, the concerns raised in the wake of Thomas’ enrollment in our Master’s Touch ministry,” said James Lukose, executive director of Wayside Cross Ministries.
“However, if we were to reject people on the basis of their background, or because their histories are high profile, we would be violating our mission as a Christ-centered recovery ministry of life-transformation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Gospel, which offers redemption for even the worst sinners, was offensive in Jesus’ day and is offensive now.
Jesus extended a servant’s heart and humility that was incomprehensible – even the religious leaders of His time questioned His actions.
When the leaders asked Him why He ate with sinners and tax collectors, Jesus’s response was simple, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Matthew 9:12 (KJV)
Christ’s ministry served those whom society deemed unfit.
His ministry was a flawless template of how we should serve others. He sought out those who needed help the most and provided forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love.
Jesus even extended His hand to those who didn’t know they needed it.
The sick, homeless, hungry, imprisoned, and those physically and spiritually dead were all called back as His sheep one by one.
None of us are worthless. None of our sins are unforgivable. None of our lives are unsavable.
Every single one of us was worth Jesus dying for. He wanted everyone to have eternal life.
Even Paul was once a murder. He murdered Christian without conscience. Yet, he was redeemed after meeting Christ and became one of the greatest of God’s apostles.
The value of the Christian Church and programs like the ones offered at Wayside seem to be fighting an endless battle with the world.
We want our problems to be unseen and out of eyeshot or earshot so as not to destroy the perfect life we are trying to create.
On the outside, it may look like the city of Aurora no longer values this Christian organization and its outreach to the community, but lurking below is a much uglier truth – unreached souls.
Our world may think it does not need Christ, but Romans 3:23 (KJV) reminds us, “we all fall short of the glory of God.”
Without Him, we are all sinners, unaware that we need a Lord and Savior.
That is the reason Wayside Cross Mission exists.
Their mission statement proclaims, “To honor God by loving and serving the afflicted and powerless through sharing the Gospel of forgiveness and hope in Jesus Christ by empowering them to be disciples of Christ.”
The community may not see a need for a Savior like those who attend Wayside Cross Mission; however, that is why Christ came. To save a world that was lost and did not know it needed saving.
Thankfully the men and women who serve at Wayside Cross Mission know this, and keep fighting the battle every day; bearing their crosses for all to see, even in the face of adversity.
Please pray for them and for those they serve. And please consider supporting their redemptive mission so they can bring the Gospel to those who are the most lost.