How Emmaus Began
John Green traces the seed of what would become Emmaus Ministries to a moment on a street corner in Chicago in 1985.
While a freshman at Wheaton College, John was volunteering for a ministry that worked with women involved in street prostitution. To thank John for volunteering, the ministry’s director took him out for lunch. Giving him a tour of the neighborhood, she pointed out the streets and corners where women prostituted and drug dealers sold their wares.
Then she pointed to a cluster of men on a street corner, and said the words that gave birth to Emmaus Ministries:
Those guys over there are prostituting, too. But nobody works with them; nobody cares about male prostitutes.
She continued with the tour. To her, those words were a by-the-way detail, but they profoundly impacted John. Nobody works with them. Nobody cares. It was a moment he would never forget.
John dropped out of college a year and a half later to work with runaway and homeless youth at Covenant House in New York City. Many of the girls and boys he worked with sold their bodies to survive. He remembered those words: Nobody works with them. Nobody cares.
John felt the Holy Spirit calling him to show the members of this marginalized community that they are loved—by God and by God’s people. He returned to Wheaton College to complete his degree, and began envisioning how to provide care and support for the people no one else would help.
John started doing street outreach in Chicago. Over time, he was joined by several other students and two professors. After a grinding season of going to school full time, working nights at a local hospital, and doing street outreach three nights a week, John went on a five-day silent retreat. At a Trappist monastery in New York, God spoke to John, saying that he should develop a ministry to men in prostitution.
John and his fellow volunteers organized, raised support for, and named this new mission: Emmaus Ministries. They put their work under the guidance of MidAmerica Leadership Foundation (now called Goodcity), and Emmaus was officially born in November of 1990 as an outreach and support network to men involved in street prostitution in Chicago.
After a two-year incubation with MidAmerica, Emmaus gained IRS 501(c)(3) status and officially became independent. During this period, Emmaus had developed a board of directors, hired a full-time director, and developed an extensive volunteer outreach effort. In 1993 Emmaus opened its doors in the Uptown neighborhood; this would be home until the spring of 2015, when Emmaus moved to its current location in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood.