Pastor Luis Reyes Encourages Men to Take Responsibility as Father-Figures
Pastor Luis (“Louie”) grew up in a neglectful, chaotic and impoverished home in Waukegan, Illinois, just north of Chicago. Louie and his two other siblings had different fathers. “Although my father was a pretty good man, he didn’t father me,” says Louie. “When we have no guidance in our lives, we experience the fear, insecurity, anger and anxiety that comes with it.” His mother worked long hours and was rarely home (she has since passed away). With little parental guidance, Louie stayed in trouble and struggled through special education classes. Rather than go home, Louie hung out on the streets. “I did a lot of stealing when I was a kid,” he says. “Poverty is a very fearful thing. It makes you do anything.”
When Louie was 12, a Christian woman in their neighborhood started offering food and games as a safe alternative to street life to all the young kids. She brought Louie and his friends to a Christian retreat where he heard Christian rap music for the first time. After the concert, Louie was given a tract with the message of the Gospel. When he returned home, Louie had a life-changing encounter. “I knelt on the floor and prayed the prayer on the tract,” he says. “I asked Jesus to come into my life. I felt God’s convicting power and presence and He came into my life.” A love for God was put in his heart that day. “I never drank. I never did drugs. I never chased girls. It was like there was a bubble around me. God kept me from it,” he says.
Louie’s family often faced eviction because they had no money for rent. When Louie was 16, he came from home school to an empty apartment. There was a note on the table saying, “Go live with your friends.” “I knew what that meant: they’re gone, we don’t want you coming with us.” Louie was hurt. “I felt abandoned. They left me,” he says. Louie moved in with his best friend’s family until he finished high school. They were Christians and took him to church every Sunday. After graduation, Louie enlisted in the Army. He got around Christians in the military and even got baptized.
While stationed in Colorado Springs, Louie became the children’s pastor at a church where he met and married Tricia in 1995. He felt the Lord leading him back to the very place he never wanted to go: Chicago. “That was the most difficult thing for me,” says Louie. “I associated it with pain.” But the Lord said, “I want you to go back and I want you to reach your people.” In 1997, the young couple founded The Church of Joy and started an outreach for at-risk youth around Chicago called Sidewalk Sunday School (modeled after Bill Wilson’s historic outreach in NYC). They traveled to parks and dangerous neighborhoods to share the Gospel with kids on Saturdays.
The church grew to 300 people in attendance and 1,000 children from the streets through their outreach. Then Louie felt the Lord wanted him to start picking up the children and bring them into church. “I wish I could say that all of the people who were attending welcomed our children from the street with open arms,” says Louie. “I cannot tell you that. It would be a lie.” Not only did they have to bringing them to church, but they had to feed them, teach them not to talk over others and to respect the adults. With the sidewalk children came profanity, drama and noise. Many people left the church. Finances were tight so Louie and his family had to live in the basement of the church for almost 5 years.
In 2005, after speaking to a few businessmen in a midweek service, one of the men gave them a check to buy a house and to fix the church buses! “In one moment, a financial weight that I had carried for almost 5 years was lifted,” says Louie. Momentum built in the church and by 2007, they were able to hire a full-time staff. “Our church was filled with people who were drawn to our ministry because of the impact we were making in children’s lives instead of being repelled by it!” says Louie.
With growing support for their ministry, Louie and Tricia were able to start a Bible college that helps young people for free. Recently, they received an $8 million donation to buy, purchase and fully renovate their existing building. Both of their children are active in their ministry.
THE SPIRIT OF ELIJAH
Louie, 44, reminds us that God is concerned about preserving a young generation. He used the prophet Elijah to engage the culture during a time when immorality, idolatry and values contrary to the kingdom of God were being promoted. “The spirit and power of Elijah is about setting in motion a mindset among men to place a priority on children, raising them up to fulfill their God-given potential,” he says.
Louie believes the time we are in now is in desperate need of this message: Men need to turn their hearts to the children so they can know Jesus. “It’s about the heart of a father,” he says. Many children are fatherless in our nation. “I speak to this because I am seeing thousands of men gravitating toward this message. When a man loves his children, whether or not he is married to their mother, it makes all the difference in the world.” He says when children can see their biological father’s love, it becomes natural for them to know God’s love. “If a child has a loving father, when that child is introduced to Jesus, the kid will say, If God is anything like you, then I will serve him. A child sees God through the love of their father.”
The timing of his message is critical for our culture today. “I can’t express the urgency in the importance of this message,” says Louie. “It’s an epidemic in all races, but especially through African-Americans.” He is seeing a response from black men all across the country. “These guys know the sting of fatherlessness; since they know how it feels, they are responding,” he says. Louie reminds us that the remedy for the breakdown in our society is not police. “If we go to the heart of the issue, people killing people is due to fatherlessness.” God is the remedy. “We have to champion this cause and awaken the church. If there’s ever a time to wake up the church, it’s now. Our young generation needs to hear a message that there are fathers who care about them,” says Louie. “I just want to be one of them to get this message out, to bring this generation to Jesus.”