A Chicago police officer — and part-time pastor — planning an Oct. 10 prayer vigil for peace at Soldier Field said she spent $38,000 of her own money to rent the field, but is still $350,000 short.
Shelisa Jones says she is counting on God to take care of the details for the Oct. 10 event.
The story begins in June: “One evening I was watching the news, and saw a little baby get shot,” she said. “I instantly started crying, and got on my knees, and started crying out to God, ‘What can I do?’ ”
She says God led her through the Bible to the book of Jeremiah — a prophet who described the slaughter of the community’s children, and who urged the people to come together and cry out to God.
“So, I was like, ‘OK! What does that mean for me, God?’
“And He said, ‘I want you to gather all the people, and come to Soldier Field, and cry out.’
“And I said, ‘Wow!’ Soldier Field?’ And he says, ‘Soldier Field!’ I was like, ‘OK.’”
Jones said she called Soldier Field and reached someone.
Whoever it was, Jones recalls, “She said, ‘I got a real crazy one today.’ She was like, ‘Lady, do you know how much it costs to rent Soldier Field?’
“I said, ‘No, that’s why I’m calling you for the particulars.’ ”
The project, of course, sounded crazy to the person on the other end of the line: A prayer vigil. On God’s orders. Tickets for free.
“And she said, ‘For free?’ And then she said, ‘Well, when are you supposed to do this?’ ”
Jones thought God had Aug. 27 in mind. But that date was already booked for the Bears’ pre-season opener.
“I was like, ‘Wow! OK. Um—what’s next, God?’” Jones says. The person on the other end of the line “started going through the calendar with me, and she was like, ‘Let’s ask God about October 10.’ ”
Jones got the sense God was on board with that date. She would have to pay $50,000 to reserve the Field. Incidentals — including lights, sound, staffing and insurance — would bring the total cost to $400,000.
She posted an appeal on GoFundMe.com, and raised about $800 in the first few weeks. Then, nothing.
“And I said, ‘God, it doesn’t looks like anybody’s interested in this but me and you!’” Jones says. “And He was like, ‘Shelisa: You need to start with yourself first.’ ”
Meaning, she had to put her own money in.
“I’m a blue-collar worker,” she says. “I drive a Honda Accord, 2003, with 250,000 miles on it.”
She pulled together $38,000 — largely, she says, by raiding her retirement account — and a non-profit she founded put up another $12,000.
That was enough to reserve Soldier Field.
She says on Sept. 2 she “walked the check over there, and got a chance to look at the field, and I was like, ‘God, you got a lotta work to do.’ He was like, ‘Your work ain’t done yet, either!’ ”
She tried to recruit churches to participate. No luck. And still, no money.
In mid-September, she tried putting tickets up for sale, via Ticketmaster, for $10 each. None had sold by Sept. 23, and Ticketmaster took down the listing. The remainder of the $400,000 was due Sept. 26.
“Soldier Field was like, ‘Maybe we’re considering giving you your money back? Because this is not working out too well?’ ”
Her friends urged her to consider taking the refund, or at least postpone the event. She said, no. “I”m walking by faith, not by sight here.”
Then, over the weekend, Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell wrote a story about Jones and her Hail Mary crusade.
And on Monday the phones started ringing with media and an executive from the Chicago Community Trust, Peggy Davis, expressing support.
But Davis couldn’t promise money — especially not on a tight timeline. Like everybody else, she suggested Jones at least consider pushing the date back.
“I said, ‘I don’t have the liberty to do that,” Jones says. “If God wants this date, it’s gonna happen for this date.”
She says she’s in regular conversation with God. “We check in all the time.He lives inside of me.”
Jones says she was mentioning to God how tight the deadline is — and how so far, there’s not much to show for her efforts.
“Of course people think I’m crazy,” she says she told Him. “And I don’t mind that, God, because I love you like that. And I know you’re going to do this. But could you just let me in a little bit?”
She got her response, she says, when “The thought came to mind: ‘Girl, I parted the Red Sea. You know? I created the universe, Shelisa, in six days. I’m really not on your people’s kind of time like that.’ ”
Which was enough for Jones.
On Wednesday morning, Jones got an email from her contact at the Chicago Community Trust.
“I had an opportunity to speak with some of my colleagues about your wonderful efforts,” the note says. “We agree that it will be impossible to produce the kind of event you envision by October 10.”
This note does not in the slightest dent Jones’s cheerfulness, or her belief that the event will happen, Oct. 10. The sheer, absurd impossibility, for her, is proof that only God can make it happen.
An additional $360 got pledged to her GoFundMe page in the days following the Sun-Times story, and Jones plans to go on Windy City Live, on ABC Chicago Friday afternoon.
Dan Weissmann is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow him @danweissmann.