Rev. Edwin Barber sits outside his old church building most mornings to counsel his neighbors. Credit: Kayleigh Padar//Block Club Chicago

HUMBOLDT PARK — Most mornings, the Rev. Edwin Barber sits outside the old Salvation and Deliverance Ministries International church building with two chairs, offering counseling to people who come for advice and comfort. 

The church, 1540 N. Spaulding Ave., closed in 2018 after the building was sold to developers. But Barber has remained a fixture, setting up shop outside so he could keep connecting with his congregation, CBS2 first reported

“When the church closed, I just knew I couldn’t lose this community,” Barber said. “Preaching from the pulpit has its purpose, but people need personal leadership, someone to look them in the eye and ask, ‘How are you really doing?’ But what God does, how he shows up, I can’t take credit for that.” 

Neighbors facing the hardest moments in their lives come to Barber, he said. They share their experiences with gangs, abusive relationships, homelessness and other struggles, he said. 

Above all else, Barber tries to listen without judgment, he said.

“I don’t want you to think that I’m perfect — I’m far from it — but I know how to listen to people,” Barber said. “I’m just on the mission to help people. I’m an electrician here to help you get connected to the power of God so it can work in your life. It’s an honor and a privilege to serve God’s people.” 

Barber also helps connect people with housing resources, employment opportunities and other community aid, he said.

“Ministers, more than anything, are here to help people find hope inside of them,” Barber said. “People lose their hope and they lose their fight. That’s the fullness of what it means to come to Christ; it’s about having compassion toward everybody.” 

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Barber moved to Chicago in the early 2000s and started working in the church because he felt called to help people and “couldn’t look away” from the pain and suffering in the world, he said. The military veteran became passionate about religion while studying the bible in prison in the early ’90s, when his faith helped him to work through his fears and trauma, he said. 

Throughout this work, Barber has seen how showing compassion to people who are struggling can help create positive change in their lives, he said.

Barber befriended a mother who was trying to leave a gang and an abusive relationship, then supported her as she found safe housing, he said. He also encouraged her to share her experiences with other abuse survivors to help her heal and find community, he said. 

“I’d always make sure to give extra encouragement to her 14-year-old daughter. I’d say, ‘’By the time you’re 25, you can have multiple degrees under your belt,’” Barber said. “I feel like that’s why I’m here on this corner, to tell young people the things they need to hear, that they’re not getting from other places.” 

Barber often feels overwhelmed by the appreciation people show him for his counsel, he said. He said he hardly has room in his refrigerator for all the home-cooked meals his neighbors provide him. 

“When you’ve got people, and I mean a whole community, loving you and feeding you, it boggles the mind,” Barber said. “I’ve got police loving me, homeless people loving me. When God turns their life around, they come looking for me, crying, saying ‘thank you.’

“ … I’m still here on this corner and I’ll continue to be here. God has impacted the community through me. I would never have thought to do this or imagined it on my own, it would never have crossed my mind.”

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