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New strip mall testament to Miller church, pastor
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New strip mall testament to Miller church, pastor

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GARY — Jonathan Harris, a co-owner of Beggar’s Pizza, recalled a meeting two years ago with the Rev. Maurice White Jr.

The pastor of Beyond 4 Walls Christian Center in the Miller area approached Harris about opening a business in a strip mall beside the church at 847 S. Lake St.

Harris, already opening a pizzeria in Gary, questioned the pastor’s suggestion, only to learn, “When God says something will be, it will be.”

Two years later, Beggar’s Pizza is among eight businesses moving into that strip mall. Harris, other future tenants, other business and city officials broke ground Sunday for the 12,000-square-foot Harvest Square Strip Mall.

“I give all honor and glory to the Lord today,” White said amid a field of balloons and honking car horns.

The project, scheduled for completion in six months and expected to create 80 jobs, according to White, will cost roughly $1.2 million. All of that, White stressed, is coming from church households without any fundraisers.

The pastor said this project “could be something special,” with its message carrying well beyond Gary borders.

“My point,” White said, “is that this project is not about makings us rich, but to enrich the lives of those who surround us.”

Those businesses include Beggar’s Pizza; Lil Coffee Cabin; Chef Blaque Steel City Bakery; Harold’s Chicken; Don’t Be Scared, a hair cuttery; Blast, a laundry cleaner; and beyoinChicagoland Popcorn.

At least two of those businesses, Beggar’s Pizza and Lil Coffee Cabin, collaborated with Beyond 4 Walls on food and other supplies delivered to the staff at Methodist Hospital’s Northlake Campus last year.

Maurice “Blaque” Shelton, owner of Chef Blaque Steel City Bakery, started his business around Chicagoland online, then started competing on television cooking programs. Of opening an in-person site, Shelton said, “I’m super excited. Let’s continue to grow.”

Ulysses Chew, owner of Harold’s Chicken, is a Miller product and Wirt High School graduate. Chew opened a Michigan City site, only to see it close due to the pandemic.

Looking ahead, Chew said, “We’re here to stay, and this is only the beginning. There are more chapters come. My brother’s (White) got a vision, and I’m behind him.”

White also cited the importance of having minority-owned businesses on the property just south of the church parking lot.

As Deacon Jauron Fields explained, the strip mall’s name comes harvests reflecting “God’s provisions for us and his blessings for others.” The project is also intended to break up misconceptions, including the notion that churches just want money for themselves.

Jessica Fields, his wife, noted that Beyond 4 Walls has worked in the community through donations of such items as bicycles and beds. The church also participates in a weekly food giveaway.

Gary Mayor Jerome Prince called Sunday a “great day” for the community. Prince said his election team asked citizens to reimagine Gary, but White and Beyond 4 Walls “had a vision before we assembled the team.”

The mayor added, “You are the example of what we talked about. In order to build a community, it takes a community. It’s everyone.”

Noting that Beyond 4 Walls has not sought any governmental financial assistance, Prince said, “We’re here to support you, 100% of the way.”

General contractor on the project is Chester Inc. of Valparaiso.

City Councilman Ronald G. Brewer Sr., D-at large, applauded the church for remaining in the Miller-Aetna community.

In a letter, Fellow Councilman William G. Godwin, D-1st, called the church-sponsored project a “transformative business center” and a “model of religious leadership.”

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