Brian Dye traced the trajectory of a stray bullet lodged in his bedroom wall to a hole in the roof. His wife, Heidi, began to shake.
If the bullet had traveled at an angle two inches lower, Brian measured, it would have struck sleeping Heidi. Six months after they moved to West Garfield Park, one of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods, the Dyes now grasped why friends and family had reasoned with them not to live there.
The intruder had given Brian and Heidi a reason to flee. Yet, years dedicated to inner-city ministry would make that difficult.
After they reported the shooting to the police, the Dyes spent the rest of the night in prayer.
Next week in Chicago, nearly 1,600 people will gather for the ninth annual Legacy Conference, which Brian directs. The event is one of the most influential for Christian hip hop, due to the dozens of artists who teach and perform there. Legacy may not exist today in its current form, though, had the Dyes come to a different conclusion that frightening night almost a decade ago.
The Dyes’ journey to West Garfield Park
The sounds of late-night gunshots were mundane to Brian, who grew up around violence. In Chicago’s Humboldt Park, most of his friends joined gangs. He refrained, thanks to the guidance of Christian mentors.
His mother and grandmother dragged him to church three times a week. His alcoholic father, however, declined attendance, giving Brian a reason to be apathetic about Christianity.
“It was hard to hear that God was a loving father when my framework of what a father looked like wasn’t very ideal,” he said.
After Brian turned 12, though, Paul Terry and his wife moved to Humboldt Park and joined Brian’s church. The first time Brian saw a family eat dinner together happened at the home of Terry, who became the male role model that Brian lacked. For two years, Brian watched Terry walk out the Christian faith, whether it be as a husband or at his carpentry job.
At 14, Brian dedicated his life to Jesus. While Terry soon moved to Atlanta, Brian found another mentor at the Christian ministry Inner City Impact — Dave Woodier, who encouraged the ninth grader to start a Bible study for younger children. Brian did, and as he dug into the Bible, his faith strengthened.
The experience also matured him into an effective mentor himself. He majored in elementary education at Cedarville University, but Woodier recruited him to work at Inner City Impact, through which Brian continued to share with kids what changed his life. Early in his time there, he met Heidi, then a student at Trinity International University.
In college, Heidi had developed a burden to serve others — single mothers, AIDS patients and more — but a friend convinced her to try serving in the inner city. The sounds of late-night gunshots were not mundane to Heidi, who grew up in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The town of less than 10,000 people, minimal diversity and one stoplight failed to prepare her for Chicago.
Through the first nine weeks of her summer internship with Inner City Impact, Heidi felt like an alien. She walked to and from work in fear, and, in general, experienced stress adapting from small town to big city.
However, her culture shock wore off in the final week of the program — enough for her to return the next summer. When her second stint ended, Heidi knew that she wanted to dedicate her life to inner-city ministry.
She had also started talking to Brian. They dated for a year and a half and, in July 2000, married and settled in Humboldt Park. The Dyes continued to serve through Inner City Impact until 2003, when Brian had an epiphany.
“I was looking around and just realized that the reason parachurch organizations exist is because the church isn’t really stepping in and filling the void,” he said. “It’s easy for churches to focus internally.”
Around that time, Brian was studying the book of Nehemiah, who had assembled a group of leaders to rebuild the Babylonian-destroyed Jerusalem. This inspired Brian.
“I started thinking of our city,” he said. “I grew up in an inner-city community and saw the gangs, fatherlessness and the lack of education and employment. I really knew that the solution to that was through the church and through leaders in the church rising up and seeing their call to rebuild a portion of the city.”
To rebuild Chicago, Brian started Vision Nehemiah and a network of youth pastors that gathered monthly for discipleship training. The Dyes also looked to move.
Gentrification had begun in Humboldt Park. Most students who the Dyes mentored lived on the West Side. Brian and Heidi took steps toward the unthinkable: Moving to a more impoverished, dangerous neighborhood to be a Christian presence — which drew cynical reactions.
“When we were talking about moving from Humboldt Park to West Garfield Park,” Brian said, “the talk was, ‘Even though Humboldt was rough, it was changing. Why not just stay and enjoy the change?’ … They were telling us, ‘Don’t do it.’ These are Christians saying this. ‘You need to protect your wife and watch out for her. You can minister in other ways.’ With all respect, we really feel God calling us to this.”
I-told-you-so’s were inevitable after the Dyes’ new home in West Garfield Park took bullets in 2004. As Brian and Heidi prayed the night away, it would have been easy to decide that another, safer neighborhood made more sense to call home. Around 5 a.m., though, Heidi thought otherwise.
“You know, Brian,” she said, “I know people don’t think we should live here, and I know people think we’re crazy for living here, but this reinforces to me that this is why we need to stay — because there needs to be people who care about this block.”
Heidi had never been closer to death, and she walked away feeling safer than ever.
“It was just amazing the way [the bullet] came close, but it didn’t harm me,” she said. “And so at the same time I was shaken up, I felt so confident in the Lord’s protection. It really just took away a lot of fear that I did have because I knew the Lord was always near to us and was looking out for us.”