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Faith: Naperville Church of Christ reaches out

Naperville is usually recognized for its top-rated restaurants, quality of education and choice of housing. What isn’t as widely promoted is the city’s wealth of options for practicing one’s faith, religion or spirituality. This column is aimed at taking some of the mystery out of the many choices, in the hope that the more we know about each other, the more we will understand each other.

The first in the series starts with Naperville Church of Christ, which was founded in 1970 and initially operated from a home.

Today, the congregation of about 400 members meets at its third location, at 75th Street and Ranchview Drive, according to co-minister Shon Smith, who has led the church for two and half years.

Traditionally, each Church of Christ around the country functions independently of each other. However, members share the belief that each of them has been placed on Earth to “make a difference.” They welcome members of other faiths to join them “on their journey,” Smith says. That invitation is consistent with the church’s mission statement: Reach up, Reach in, Reach Out.

One of the most visible examples of that mission at work is the Extended Hands project, coordinated by Duane Sprowl. It takes place twice a year, in February and July.

The name is meant to evoke a picture of one person extending a hand to another who is reaching out for help. Take that imagery one step further, Sprowl says. If one puts his hands straight up, he is now holding his hands up to God, whom Sprowl and his fellow members credit for the opportunity to give help and assistance to their neighbors.

Members of the community who come to Extended Hands are provided with a pre-packaged bag of personal hygiene products, along with toilet paper, paper towels, dishwashing detergent, laundry detergent and a household cleaning product. Diapers are donated for families with infants or toddlers. They also receive canned goods and other food items.

Sprowl suggests they leave with much more than those tangible items. Church of Christ ministers are on hand to pray with anyone who requests it. The program provides help to about 350 households a year.

James Lippe leads another ministry called FriendSpeak. It is an ongoing effort to teach conversational English to a diverse group, sometimes representing as many as 10 different countries a day.

“There are things people need to know, like how to help their kids at school,” Lippe says. “We help people take their driver’s test, study for their immigration test, or fill out a utility bill.”

He has helped people from Burma, India, China, Japan, Egypt and Korea. Both FriendSpeak and Extended Hands depend on the commitment of the church membership.

Lippe and Sprowl agree members benefit as much as the people they serve.

“It’s better to give than receive,” Sprowl says.

“When we say give of yourself, the whole body is involved in giving. (That is) a powerful message.”

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