Volunteers outside of Markham Courthouse offer prayers and support to those most in need

Within the concrete walls of the Cook County Courthouse in Markham, monumental decisions are made each day that cast long shadows on people’s lives. Defendants are found innocent and guilty, people are married and divorced, others win lawsuits or suffer drastic losses.

In this environment, the Rev. Elijah Adedire of Markham sees an opportunity. Wearing a straw cowboy hat and standing behind a table reading “Need Prayer?,” Adedire waits for passersby to walk the incline up to the courthouse’s front doors, asking each person if they need courtside ministry.

“Many of them, they request for life,” said Adedire, a Nigerian native who now lives in Markham. “Christ is the giver of life.”

For Adedire and the four volunteers who joined him Thursday morning, the ultimate mission is clear.

“My end goal is for them to accept Jesus Christ as their lord and their savior,” said Oluyemisi Ajasa, who is also a native Nigerian and lives in Tinley Park. Several Nigerian natives have settled in the south and southwest suburbs through mission programs and volunteer with courtside prayer programs.

For some, the idea of evangelizing to people at their most stressful moments may seem distasteful. Yet while conversion is a major goal — evidenced by one of the volunteers boasting about how many people she got to sign up to attend church service — Ajasa says it is not the only reason she volunteers.

“Those that do not accept (God), we still continue to pray for them,” said Ajasa. “This is the most rewarding work that I do.”

For two hours every weekday morning, Adedire and a rotating group of volunteers are at the courtside table and approach people heading to court, hand them a variety of biblical pamphlets and ask “Can I pray for you today?”

Most requests are met with shrugs, silence or “No thank you.”

But every so often, a person stops and allows the volunteers to take their hand, listen to their qualms and recite a particularly relevant verse or share a simple line in God’s name. The interaction usually lasts about 30 seconds before one side departs for court.

People request prayer for a number of tribulations. Some request prayer for a sick family member or a problem at home.

There is a lot of drama, said Patricia Mitchell of Matteson, who attends services at South Suburban Church of God. She laughed as she remembered some of the more salacious stories she’d heard.

Others need a prayer for life or direction.

“Some people don’t have a dilemma. They just want God to direct their path,” Mitchell said.

But most people request prayers related to their court appearance, she said. “A lot of them come and are praying that they get a shorter sentence.”

Mitchell told a story of one recent interaction that has stuck with her.

“One lady came to me, she was crying because her son went to jail. And I said ‘What did he do?’ and she named these things,” Mitchell recalled. “And I said ‘You have to be prayerful because God spared his life. You’re not going to a funeral.’”

People come to Mitchell and her fellow volunteers not just for prayer but also just to talk and vent about their situation. Those offering prayers see themselves as a shoulder to lean on before a judge decides the person’s fate or an often deeply significant matter.

One young man arriving Thursday spoke with Mitchell for more than five minutes. He detailed how he had been struggling with a string of bad luck. A family member had health issues and on top of that he was recently injured in a car accident.

Mitchell held his arm and looked him in the eye with a soft smile as he vented about recent events. He thanked her for her time and headed for the metal detectors.

“Do you believe in Jesus?” one of the volunteers, Helen Okunola, asked a woman dressed in pink who said her name was Tina Butler.

“Yes, of course,” Butler responded.

Okunola then asked Butler what she needed prayer for this morning.

“Me coming up out of here safe and this case getting thrown out, dismissed,” she said.

With their hands clasped together, Okunola described how much Jesus loved her and is watching over her.

“Thank you,” Butler responded, before walking up the ramp.

Conversion and advocacy for connection to Christ is certainly a large aspect of the process. But so is the reward that the volunteers receive on a daily basis for feeling they are providing assistance to people.

Their words and prayer through God is a part of what they offer. But another piece of assistance comes from their quiet listening and human touch.

One’s faith can be deeply personal, Ajasa explains. She holds the subject’s hand with one hand and places her other on their back before leaning in and asking them if they accept Jesus Christ.

“You have to touch to let people know that you really care for them,” Ajasa said.