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Minister’s walk to D.C. highlights poverty in America

Published: Friday, March 21, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

The Rev. Lou Ness didn’t want to listen to God’s voice telling her to march nearly 800 miles from Rockford to Washington, D.C. But in nine days she will heed to the call and embark on the journey for the sake of people living in poverty.

“I’m going to march to Washington, D.C., and say, ‘you have not heard the cries of my people,’” Ness said. “I don’t know what I’m going to say or what I’m going to do, but I really believe God has called me to do this.”

Ness will share the story of her looming pilgrimage at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Sunday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 900 Normal Road, DeKalb.

Ness is the executive director of Shelter Care Ministries, a nonprofit based in Rockford that serves the homeless, unemployed and mentally ill. She won’t use any of Shelter Care’s funds for the walk, but instead has started a fundraising effort.

When she embarks on the march, dubbed “Hear Our Cry: Marching for America’s Poor,” Ness will either stay in a tent or in churches, where she can share her message about the state of poverty. 

“We talk in polite language about things that are not really polite,” Ness said. “I’m tired of hearing about the American dream. Let’s just tell people the truth about how people live up in the world or they don’t.” 

Before she starts spreading her message in churches across the country, she will stop in DeKalb. She was invited to speak about her journey by St. Paul’s Rev. Stacy Walker-Frontjes, who listened to Ness’s story about hearing the voice of God with Christian discernment.

“My initial reaction was to believe her because I know what a tireless advocate she is,” Walker-Frontjes said.

Beyond believing in the call Ness received, Frontjes said the message to end poverty in the United States is one relevant to DeKalb and DeKalb County. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 16.9 percent of DeKalb County residents live below the poverty level, compared to 13.7 percent across the state. 

“There’s a real need in the community and people sometimes look past the poor,” Frontjes said.

Walker-Frontjes hopes Ness’s speech will make people realize part of the Christian faith is not neglecting the plight of the poor.

“I think sometimes it takes stories to take people out of complacency,” Walker-Frontjes said. “Faith is not just about your personal relationship with God. Faith calls us to action.”

The journey will be a first for Ness, who will be joined in the march with some others passionate about bringing an end to poverty. She plans to walk about 20 miles a day and arrive in D.C. by the end of May. An itinerary and route will be posted on the Shelter Care website before her journey begins. She also plans to blog and use social media to chronicle the march. 

“I just hope to change local hearts and minds to be more caring and merciful,” Ness said. “We could end poverty in this country if we wanted to.” 

For more information on her march, visit www.shelter-care.org.

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