“I’m coming home on kingdom business”: Crossing opening East Chicago campus

 

His name is Rudy. His tough guy exterior seems intimidating until you hear him talk. He’s soft spoken and polite – the kind of guy who says “yes ma’am” and “no sir”. He moves among the Crossing students he works with giving warm greetings, a slap on the back and fist bumps. They are drawn to his genuine concern for them – his telling of hard truths and the quiet, convicting way he says “I’m proud of you.”

He wasn’t always like this. There was a time when he spoke with his fists or his weapons, when his words were used to negotiate drug deals.

But change was coming.

East Chicago is one of those cities that seem intimidating until you get to know it. Once upon a time it was a railroad and steel town, one of the first truly industrial cities in the area. But economies go bad, the jobs disappear and the once vibrant city became a faded, worn version of itself. Poverty moved in where prosperity once lived and brought with it dead ends and despair.

But change is coming.

Look at any media outlet from the East Chicago area and there are stories of companies beginning to invest, looking to move in and new jobs springing up. Business isn’t exactly booming, but it’s definitely starting to rumble.

When you live life like Rudy used to, the odds are better than good that you have one of two destinies – early death or extended time in prison. Rudy almost had both. He was once shot 9 times and died on the operating table before being revived. He later went to prison for operating a vehicle while intoxicated and causing someone’s death.

But a change was coming.

Any city making a comeback faces obstacles in the present and challenges for the future. East Chicago has invested in a new culture of education and workforce development to address these challenges, and the Crossing is part of the plan. Our mission of empowering struggling students through academics, job training and faith-based character education adds another tool to the toolbox of administrators at School City of East Chicago. Our newest campus will open in July of this year and we are excited about participating in the revitalization of this city that has seen the best of times and the worst of times.

Change is coming.

During his third year in prison, Rudy attended a meeting of a prison ministry called “God’s Elected Warriors” and was pierced by the words of Pastor Hector Palacios. He gave his life to Jesus and the changes started. Fast forward several years and Rudy Ortega is a staff member at the Crossing, sharing his life and his experiences with troubled students. He loves his job, but there’s always been a pull to go back to where he came from – East Chicago.

Change is coming.

If you ask Rudy about his hometown, he’ll tell you he’s “East Chicago for life”.

That’s why he welcomed the chance to move back and help start the new Crossing campus.

“I’m ready to return home with a transformed heart and look forward to the opportunity to help guide youth in the right direction. Also I have stood by for so long while I have lost several friends along the way to the penitentiary and violence. Now I can come home on kingdom business.”

Change is coming to East Chicago – and so is Rudy.

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