The Koinonia House (or K-House for short)
It’s an unassuming house situated amongst more stately homes, manicured lawns, and well-appointed streetlights. Perhaps the most conspicuous thing about East Indiana Street is how quiet it is. Compared to the constant noise and activity of the large, urban center it’s adjacent to, or even the traffic on nearby Roosevelt Road, the serene setting surrounding 818 East Indiana Street stands in stark contrast.
Located in Wheaton, a suburb west of Chicago, the house has been there for 93 years. It only became the subject of legal dispute in 1991 when Koinonia House National Ministries sought to make use of the space.
Koinonia House National Ministries, who specializes in providing post-prison aftercare resources, was seeking to provide a dwelling place and overall holistic care to ex-cons. There were limits: no murderers, no rapists, no child molesters; none of the potentially most insidious threats to a residential community. But ex-gang members and thieves, for example, could be amongst those seeking to rebuild their lives there. And while these might be the people in the employ of the construction firm hired to do a remodel or of a landscaping outfit hired to maintain the well-manicured lawns, they certainly would not be desirable as neighbors.
Wheaton boasts of having the “most churches per capita than anywhere in America”, so it’s not as though places of worship or ministry are uncommon there.
However, it’s also often cited as one of the safest and best cities in Illinois and even the U.S. to live and raise a family, so it’s perhaps understandable why residents of the affluent, west-suburban community opposed the intended use of the home.
“This is certainly a laudable concept, but people bought homes here to be insulated from this” said John Fuller, a neighboring resident. The city fought the use of the space as such, but its opposition did not hold up in a court of law, and thus, the ministry commenced.
Not all ex-cons can benefit
Since that time, Koinonia House Wheaton has served over 30 ex-prisoners offering them a Christian family home, mentors, connection to a local church, biblical discipleship and assistance with suitable employment in an effort to help them transition back into mainstream society, live a life free of crime, and grow in their Christian walk. Not all ex-cons can benefit from this ministry, but Christians who’ve been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ. As such, there is a nine-page application, and acceptance into the program is subject to the approval of ministry founders, Manny and Barbara Mill, and resident pastor, Nephtali Aaron Matta. Key characteristics they are looking for include humility, genuine repentance, a desire to learn, and the willingness to work hard at building a new life.
When asked why he accepted the role of resident pastor at the K-House, Nephtali said: “A lot of these guys just need a shot at rebuilding their lives without having to worry about where they’re going to live and how they’re going to pay for it. I looked around and said: ‘I can do something. Even if it’s just one guy, I can do something.’ But then”, he adds with a chuckle, “I’ve never been content with just one guy, so yeah, there’s that.”
The K-House Complete
Koinonia is a Greek word used to describe a depth of community in relationship, and that’s exactly what the K-House is for as many people were impacted by Jesus, but the disciples who lived with Him had the most potential to be shaped by all He had to offer. Shelter is good, but koinonia is better.
Of course, the K-House would not be complete without its residents, and the most recent addition is a man by the name of Romeo. Formerly a member of a street gang, he was incarcerated at age 17 and served 12 years before being released. He speaks often of being free: free to live without bars, free to go to church and worship God there, free to live in a real home, perhaps the first real experience of this he’s ever had.
As we travel from the home to his first church gathering outside of a prison, he’s unaware that one of the items on the agenda is to celebrate with and pray for him. So, he’s a little caught off guard when the speaker directs everyone to do this, but the first thing he does is kneel before the Lord. It’s a poignant moment as many believe being free means answering only to oneself, but Romeo’s voluntary posture of submission to God indicates he’s not only free on the outside but is also free from within.
Nephtali says it’s moments like these that make his job so rewarding:
“I just have a deeper love for people, because I get how God loves sinners as much as He does. We all commit crimes against God and humanity, granted with different consequences, but they are still crimes; that’s how God views it. We’re the ones who put gradations on them. I get that much better now.”
Gifts to the community?
Men who’ve lost everything and have been saved while incarcerated have little else to draw their identity from or do with their time, Nephtali points out, than to study the Word of God and seek to know and obey the Lord Jesus Christ. “They essentially live like state-paid monks”, he says. As such, they have much to offer the communities that welcome them. Humility, the ability to live in close community, a firm reverence for the Word of God, and a profound appreciation for the riches of God’s love and grace are just a few of the gifts they bring.
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