By Melissa Schill, News Reporter
Since four students from the Chicago Evangelism Team (CET) filed suit against the city of Chicago in September, participation in the group’s evangelistic efforts in the city is on the rise.
The lawsuit received attention from national news outlets and politicians across the country, creating ample opportunities for students to share the gospel on public platforms. The four students involved in the lawsuit — sophomores Jeremy Chong, Gabe Emerson, Matt Swart and junior Caeden Hood — were able to profess their faith in an interview on the Tony Perkins radio show, which was streamed to over 300 other radio stations.
Following the radio interview, Swart was flown to Washington D.C. to attend the Values Voter Summit from Oct. 11 through Oct. 13., an annual conference that promotes traditional American evangelical values in politics. Over 3,000 people attended this year’s summit, drawing a number of notable attendees including President Trump and Wheaton alumnus Andrew Brunson.
Swart spoke on a panel called “No Fear: Real Stories of a Courageous Generation Standing for Truth.” “They were looking for a third student to finish out a panel on standing up for Biblical values in a hostile world,” he said. “I was thrilled [when they asked me to join]. It was the craziest experience of my life.”
In the past, CET, supervised by the Office of Christian Outreach (OCO), usually consisted of under 20 students, but on Friday, Oct. 4, 34 students went to Chicago to evangelize, and a few weeks earlier 37 students showed up. Because of the increase in student attendance, CET has had to create new leadership positions. These positions train students to be leaders as a part of the OCO’s student development initiative, according to Assistant Director of School Year Programs Jared Falkanger. Students who are new to street evangelism are paired with more experienced students.
“I don’t know whether it’s the lawsuit, the news articles, the freshman class or a combination of everything, but we’ve had the biggest turnouts I’ve ever seen,” said Chong. Falkanger, who accompanied CET on a recent trip to the city, said, “I think this is in part due to students who are trying to figure out how to share the gospel and how evangelism currently fits into our identity as Christians.”
Other than creating new leadership positions, Chong said that the group has not changed as a result of the lawsuit. Some members of the team spend the majority of their time having a conversation with a single person while others hold “free prayer” signs and pray with people who request it. Others have continued to engage in open air preaching but do so outside of Millenium Park, where the conflict with the city of Chicago began.
“The vast majority of what we do has been holding conversations. Only myself and a couple other guys participate in [open air preaching]. I don’t do it if there’s anyone with me that is uncomfortable with it,” Chong said. “If we use another method, praise God. As long as the gospel is going forth, that’s amazing. We want to preach the biblical gospel and preach the biblical gospel in love.”
Chong, who attended his second hearing on Oct. 10 at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, said that former governor of Illinois, Patrick Quinn, has intervened in their case. In the past, Quinn has had petitioners kicked out of Millenium Park and is supporting the Wheaton students in the case. The case goes to court in November.
“I would be overjoyed if we win this,” Chong said. “This is an important case for religious freedom and for the First Amendment and for all Americans. I would be happy to go back to minister in Millenium Park. I’ve seen glorious things happen there.”