In the winter of 1998, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit graced a local church on Chicago’s north side called Cross and Crown. For months, high school and college age students were coming to faith in Jesus, devoting their lives to fasting, prayer and evangelism, and learning increasingly about the broader vision of the Kingdom for their generation. Among these students was a young man named David Popovici, whose radical encounter with Jesus transformed his life and opened his heart to God’s call. David moved to Pensacola, Florida, after graduating high school, and became one of the first graduates of FIRE School of Ministry in 2001.
Back in Chicago, Pastor J.L. Rivera and then-Youth Pastor Jeff Hubing, were sensing that the time was right to launch a school that would disciple and mentor students for ministry, right in the heart of the city. An initial step was taken in this direction in 1999-2000 when the Cornerstone Program welcomed some 15 young adults for a year of biblical, theological and ministry training. Among these young people was Danielle Sullivan, later to become Danielle Popovici, whose decision to abandon herself to Jesus was instrumental in the awakening of many souls to Christ.
Though this program did not last beyond its initial year, the vision for a ministry school in Chicago remained alive in Jeff’s heart. Over the next decade, he and his wife Carol, herself a graduate of the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry, continued to pursue God’s call on their lives by ministering in local churches, and entrusting themselves to His timing for the unfolding of the vision. During this time, Jeff completed a Ph.D. in New Testament and Early Christianity at Loyola University Chicago, and the young couple gained wisdom and insight through ministry experience and starting their own family.
During this same window of time, a church had been planted in Chicago by a man named Steve Bartlett, whose vision for revival and the transformation of the city had driven him to leave a prominent ministry in the suburbs, and initiate a work on Chicago’s north side. He, too, was gripped by the idea of developing a training center in the city, for the city.
In 2006, David and Danielle came to work alongside Steve at Abundant Life World Outreach, and began to reach and disciple young adults through the proclamation of the Gospel and living lives of radical devotion to Jesus. In time, Steve and David agreed that there was an urgent need to train some of these men and women for Kingdom work. With this in mind, in early 2009, David contacted Jeff about the idea of launching what would eventually become FIRE Chicago. In September of 2010, this idea became reality, and the partnership the Lord had been preparing over a 12 year period of time was born.
FIRE Chicago was established as a school of ministry with its own leadership, charter, financial accounts, state and federal licensing, and accreditation status. On a strategic and philosophical level, however, FIRE Chicago shares many of the same convictions and objectives that characterize FIRE School of Ministry in Charlotte. The relationships that already exist between the leaders there and in Chicago are the inspiration for the founding of a FIRE school in Chicago, and these connections will continue to shape and influence FIRE Chicago as it grows.
One practical expression of this strategic partnership will be the regular integration of instructors and curriculum from FIRE Charlotte into the academic schedule of FIRE Chicago. In addition, students at FIRE Chicago will have opportunities to partner with their peers from Charlotte in missions, conferences, webcasts, and other contexts for ministry, fellowship and mentoring.